Three steps out the back door and snip, snip. Parsley and mint for tabbouleh; rosemary, basil, dill, sage and fennel to trick up hummus. Harvesting homegrown herbs brings Valarie Blau joy every time.
Both Mediterranean mezzes are mainstays for the health-conscious Blau family. Val, a registered nurse at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital Medical Mobile Clinic, runs, bikes, swims or works out six days a week, her family history of heart disease never far from mind.
Husband Richard, immediate past chairman of the board of Feeding America Tampa Bay, is an attorney specializing in alcohol beverage and food marketing governance. Son Alex, 15, performs in piano competitions and plays football at Berkeley Prep with a rabid teenage appetite. Twin daughters Jennah and Hannah, 25, live together in Santa Monica and share the latest California health trends when they visit.
"We're all about the food in this family," Blau said, looking out the window of her Davis Islands kitchen at the garden in full bloom.
"I read that men who garden live longer," she said. "So Richard's out there for hours on a Saturday. It's so relaxing and productive, and then I make him jump in the pool before he comes back inside."
Truth be told, she said, "I really don't enjoy dining out. I much prefer to cook at home where I can control the quality of the ingredients. I know the fish is wild and the greens organic. It's more natural, healthier … and cheaper."
An ideal weekend for the couple might include foraging at Mazzaro's for fresh pastas and St. Petersburg's downtown Saturday Morning Market for organic greens, then stopping for fresh seafood at I.C. Sharks on the way home.
"Richard is more hunter and gatherer than cook," she said "He enjoys the research … finding honey, olive oil, wine. He bought me emmer grains from a grower in Washington."
We asked her to share her signature recipes for hummus and tabbouleh, both high in fiber and protein and low in saturated fat. They make for super healthy appetizers or snacks.
Hummus begins basic and Blau adds favorite mix-ins, artichokes and lemon or roasted red peppers, laced with fresh-snipped herbs.
Baked pita bread and lavash — 60 minutes at 250 degrees — turn into triangle crackers.
"So much healthier than buying high-carb, processed crackers."
Blau pairs the hummus with antioxidant-loaded tabbouleh, made of bulgur and freshly chopped parsley, mint, tomatoes and scallions from her back yard. Plus hearty squeezes of Meyer lemons plucked off their own tree.
"It makes a big difference when you use your own ingredients."
Contact Amy Scherzer at [email protected]