All recipes paired with wine, Healthy and tasty condiments, Salads, Veggies based & Vegetarian

Guacamole and salsa, or let’s call it Gualsa!

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On Sunday, I posted this  picture on Facebook ans asked my friends to guess what I was making. And yes, it totally looked like guacamole – and/or salsa. I lately decided to save some time and combined the two  – because what’s better than getting all the guacamole and tomato salsa on the chip at the same time, right? Ever since, that’s the only way I am making it. Who has time to make guacamole, and then tomato salsa to go with it?

I call it my “Gualsa”. If you want to try it, here is the recipe (the amounts of each ingredient are flexible, it all depends on your personal taste, and how many people you want to serve). Down side: just like guacamole or salsa, it doesn’t keep well, so it’s better to make less and make a fresh one again soon!

Vera’s Gualsa


4 ripe tomatoes (I like campari tomatoes, they seem to have the most flavor)
1/4 red onion
1 lime
1 green bell pepper
1 jalapeno pepper (or, when you don’t have one when you feel like Gualsa, you can use Sriracha for heat, instead)
1-2 avocados
salt and freshly grated pepper
2-3 tablespoon of high quality olive oil
bunch of chopped cilantro

Start with tomatoes and cut them into small dices (personal preference here, if you like bigger chunks, that’s fine). But smaller are better to get on the tortilla chips. Place into larger bowl.

Seed the pepper and cut  into strips first, then small dices. I like to use green pepper for the color, but any peppers are fine. Add to the tomatoes. Do not mix yet. Next, finely chop red onion and jalapeno pepper. If you like spicy, leave the seeds in jalapeno, otherwise take the seeds out and chop just outer pepper. It’s still going to add heat to your Gualsa.

Wash and chop cilantro (I like plenty, again make it to your personal taste and preference), and let cilantro join the party. Season with salt and pepper. Do not mix just yet.

Last, halve the avocados. Take out the pit with your knife, and with small pairing knife, carefully cut stripes into the avocado, all the way to the skin, while holding the half in the palm of your hand. Be careful not to cut through the skin and not to cut yourself. Then repeat crosswise, so you’ll end up with dices of avocado. Repeat with the other avocado. For my own taste, I like to leave avocado in bigger chunks – since they are soft and will be inevitably little broken when mixed anyway.

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With table spoon, carefully run it against the skin, and take the avocado flesh out, straight above the bowl with the rest of the vegetables. Sprinkle all over with the lime juice. I use juice of whole lime for that. You can squeeze the juice ahead of time, and then just pour it all over. Make sure to cover the avocado evenly; the lime juice is not added just for the taste, it also prevents avocado to oxidize and turn dark. When everything is in the bowl, sprinkle with olive oil and mix carefully together. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
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Cover with plastic foil, and let cool in the fridge for 1/2 hour. That is, if you can wait – or dig in right away, and enjoy with your favorite tortilla chips! I also use this as super bright salad on its own.Oh – and as for wine pairing – when I go this road, although devoted wine lover, in this case I reach for nicely chilled bottle of Corona with a slice of lime. What would be your choice of drink? How about some great margarita?!!!


Healthy and tasty condiments, Salads

Why I never buy salad dressing in store again

We all believe that salad is a healthy option for lunch, perhaps even dinner. But there are salads and SALADS. Some may contain even more calories than a full meal. How is that possible?


Well, it’s all you are actually putting in with the salad. With the lettuce, I mean. By the way, did you know that the darker the greens, the better and more nutritious for you? There was a time when I thought the best salad ever was iceberg – just to learn that this lettuce has such a low effect on my health that I stopped using it altogether. I always loved it’s crunchiness, so I replaced it with Romaine and experienced with different lettuce to find my ideal mix. It is a personal choice for everybody.

I love to use baby spinach in my salads, and yes, lately, as it is fashionable, also baby kale. But my absolute favorite is probably arugula – which I discovered by accident, when I kept asking my friend what it was she always had in her salads that made it taste so, I don’t know – fresh and different. Arugula is packed with flavor (unless you mind the bitterness of it). The only downfall is that once I open the container or bag, it usually withers quickly.

But back to calorie content: aside lettuce, what else do you like to add to your salad?

Chicken salad

Let’s start counting – do you like it with cheese and what kind of cheese? (check), croutons? (check), bacon? (check) or God forbid, the highly processed bacon bits (auch). You know, the ones that claim to get the bacon flavor without all those calories. So let’s take a closer look at what it’s made of: soy flour, high oleic canola oil, salt, Artificial and Natural Flavor (whatever that means), artificial coloring, aside of vitamins (niacinamide, thiamine mononitrate, calcium, pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, B12), minerals (zinc oxide, ferrous sulphate) – based on their own seller’s information. Thanks, but no thanks. I would rather have a good old and real bacon (preferably organic without animal’s exposure to all those hormones and pesticides).

The caloric intake is also influenced by the proteins we like to pair our salads with – those are mostly healthy choices (talking about quality tuna, hard boiled eggs, grilled shrimp, salmon or chicken). Great sources of omega-3 and healthy protein! That’s what makes it a meal for me, out of an ordinary salad. Chia or sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and other healthy choices are a plus for your health.

Random seeds

But then, the whole category opens when it comes to salad dressings. We like our salad to taste good. I know some people that like to pour a lot of salad dressing all over their healthy lettuce, mixed with kale and all that healthy stuff they read it’s good for them – to make it taste like anything but salad.

I used to buy salad dressings. It was so easy and there were so many to choose from! Until I started to pay attention to the list of ingredients, listed on the back label. And the more I studied about healthy options, the less bottled dressing I kept buying.

Until I stopped altogether.

You can probably tell by now that I am kind of control freak. I like to know what goes into my body and if it means more work for me, so what. My health and the health of my loved ones is worth it, isn’t it?

Here is why I never buy bottled dressing again:

Even the ones labeled “natural, made with olive oil” are not the healthiest choice. Notice made with Extra Virgin olive oil … but when you turn the label around, you see highly processed soybean, canola or other vegetable oils are listed as the main ingredients. The same nasty ingredients like in any other commercial dressing. Olive oil is somewhere at the end of the list. That could mean even a little drop of olive oil, and the producer will still list it on the front label as a “dressing with extra virgin olive oil”. Why?

Because it sounds good! It sounds healthier and it sells better!  Scam? Absolutely! I certainly fall for it myself. But if they truly used extra virgin olive oil only, that dressing will be expensive. It will cost more than the majority of people are willing to pay. So they use cheap oils instead and trick us into believing otherwise.

What else makes those commercial dressings taste good? Sugar! Or even worse, high fructose corn syrup (isn’t that lately everywhere?). To finish the list of ingredients up, we would have to add all sorts of preservatives and artificial chemical additives to make it taste good and prolong the shelve life as well.

So I changed my course. I invested money and buy myself a good quality olive oil. The one that is the first cold pressed (the least processed), and preferably organic. There are now stores in our town (love, love, love) where I can come and taste olive oils from around the world, before I pick my favorite. And balsamic vinegar. These two ingredients combined will make your salad taste great and you are consuming a healthy omega-3 oils that helps to release nutrients from your veggies to your body.

Salad dressing shakerOr, if you don’t mind a little work once in the while (it takes like 3 minutes to put it all together), buy yourself this simple salad dressing shaker. (I got mine in Bed, bath and beyond). Make a salad dressing that my customers crave, that one I use for myself and that lasts even when left on the counter (because if you put olive oil based dressing to your fridge, you would have to wait for it to soften up every time you need it). That’s another way how one can tell how much olive oil your commercial dressing really has.

I do eyeball the ingredients, because then you can taste and adjust any flavors to your personal liking. Here are the ingredients:

My favorite salad dressing:

  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard or mustard powder – I like using mustard powder because it’s slightly spicy
  • 1 clove of garlic – smashed with a tip of the knife and pinch of salt into fine paste, or pressed
  • 2-4 tablespoons of Champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano

Fill up your shaker with your quality olive oil.

Shake like cocktail and taste a little.

Add more acidity if too sweet, or more agave nectar if too acidic. I recommend more acidic because it brings the salad flavors up much better.

Shake it again and you’re done. What do you say – isn’t it the best salad dressing ever !??

I know, the champagne vinegar isn’t the cheapest. But it will give you so much flavor, it’s worth it. You can use any other vinegar you like, each of them will give a different taste to your dressing. Red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar – whatever you like. I use them for different recipes but for this salad dressing, I picked the champagne vinegar for it’s delicate yet flavorful taste. And you really don’t need much. This is an estimated amount for full shaker that will last you weeks – depends how often you have your salad and how much dressing you use. You can also replace vinegar with lime juice, if you’re going to use the dressing quickly.

Do you have your favorite salad dressing you make? Do you recommend a healthy option from the line of store bought dressings?

All recipes paired with wine, Salads, Veggies based & Vegetarian

Warm mushroom salad

If you love mushrooms, this is a simple, but ultimate gourmet way to elevate their typical delicious taste and aroma. This super easy recipe will make you look like you spent hours in the kitchen or you just graduated from the French Culinary Institute. You can serve it as a non-traditional appetizer or, accompanied with a hearty, crusty bread, as a light summer dinner.                                                                                                       

Warm mushroom gourmet salad


1 box organic Chef’s Sampler (I got mine in Whole Foods)
Or 1 pound of different mushroom mixture
6 white mushrooms  (heads and firm parts of legs only)
6 shiitake mushrooms (heads only)
½ lb snow peas
½ cup crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh marjoram
olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup of microgreens for garnish
few drops of aged balsamic vinegar

Clean all mushrooms and cut into similar size pieces. Little mushrooms can be left whole. To blanch fresh peas, bring water to a boil in a pan. Prepare yourself a large bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water. Add peas to boiling water. Let cook for just about 30 seconds, until they start to turn a brighter green, and drain immediately. Place in ice bowl to stop cooking. Remove and let it sit aside.
In large frying pan (I used wok) heat a small amount of olive oil and add all mushrooms. Sprinkle with sea salt. Stir and turn with wooden spoon for about a minute or two, until all mushrooms softens but don’t let them to become mushy. Take from the heat and mix with chopped fresh marjoram and freshly ground pepper.

Spread handful of snow peas on each plate and add a pile of mushrooms. Sprinkle whole dish with crumbled goat cheese, good quality fruity olive oil and a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar. Garnish with micro greens and serve.

Wine pairing suggestion:
It is a well known secret that mushrooms improve flavor of almost all red wines. But to me, the most fantastic wine pairing with warm mushroom salad is Pinot Noir. I opened Acacia Pinot Noir Carneros and it was a marriage made in heaven. Try it!

All recipes paired with wine, Fish and Seafood, Salads

Seafood Party Salad

Seafood Party Salad
1 bag of frozen calamari, thawed (or about one pound of fresh)
1/2 pound of crab/lobster meat
1 pound of medium shrimp (cooked)
half of the bulb of fresh sweet anise (optional)
red peppers in oil (about 1 piece, just to add color)
handful of olives (your choice)
3 sticks of celery
cup of each fresh parsley and basil, chopped
4 tablespoons of white champagne vinegar
1/2 cup of olive oil (more if desired, based on the weight of seafood used)
2 cloves of garlic
juice from half a lemon
salt and pepper

Clean calamari and chop into small pieces, tails to short pieces, bodies to rings. In a large pan bring water to boil, add salt and throw in calamari for just a 30-45 seconds – cooks al dente. Fish them out and throw in ice bath to chill instantly. This way they stay nice a crisp, instead of overcooked chewy style.

In the salad bowl mix chopped celery, chopped crab/lobster meat, cooked shrimp, finely chopped anise (or use mandolin to get thin slices), chilled pieces of calamari rings and tentacles, chopped red peppers, celery sticks cut into thin rings and sliced olives.

In a food processor mix garlic, parsley and basil leaves. Pulse and start adding olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar while processor is running. Season with salt and pepper if desired. You can taste and sweeten a slightly, if desired. Mix with the salad, toss everything together and serve chilled.

Wine pairing suggestion:
To match this delicious seafood salad, I picked delicious Italian white wine from Veneto, made by Inama family – Soave Classico “Foscarino”. The complexity of this wine totally blended with the salad and together created a symphony of lovely flavors….

All recipes paired with wine, Salads, Summer Grilling, Veggies based & Vegetarian

Grilled summer salad

Grilled summer salad

I have seen Giada on TV once, making something like this as an Italian antipasto. I didn’t take any notes and believe it was originally combined with orzo, cheese and meat. Well, it looked delicious so I tried to create a meal based on that inspiration. It served us as a delicious light dinner with few grilled shrimps and we loved it! Use your fantasy with different veggies or serving suggestions.

Grilled summer salad

2 medium green zucchini
1 small eggplant
1 green bell peppers
1 red bell pepper
1 large red onion
2 large Portabella mushrooms
1/2 lb of snow peas
1/2 cup combined of chopped basil, parsley and tarragon
juice from half a lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Bring water in large pan to broil. Rinse snow peas in water, then cut the tip of each snow pea and pull out the tough string that runs along its side. Add peas to boiling water and quickly blanch them for 30 – 40 seconds. Drain and let cool.

Preheat your grill. Clean all your vegetables and cut into about 1/2 inch thick slices – zucchini and eggplant lengthwise, bell peppers seeded and cut in half or quarters, red onion in thick slices and mushrooms caps leave whole.

Sprinkle with olive oil and grill on each side until soft. Take off the grill and let cool a little. Cut each veggies into small pieces (about the same size) and mix in a large salad bowl with blanched snow peas.

Add chopped herbs, sprinkle with a generous amount of good quality olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and balsamic vinegar, mix well and serve at the room temperature. As the warm flavors of veggies blend with aroma of herbs and oil, this is a mouthwatering experience.
Grilled summer salad
For a non- vegetarian version throw a few shrimps, sprinkled with olive oil and a sea salt (devained, but unpeeled) on the grill and dress up your salad with a delicious seafood. Enjoy a light, great summer dinner.

Wine pairing suggestions:
As I added grilled shrimp to this summer salad, I opted for crisp white wine to go with it. My first choice was Californian Pacific Rim Dry Riesling. The herbs and aromas of this salad went great with this super aromatic wine. The second choice was Kris Pinot Grigio from Italy. Both wines worked really well.