Weeknight Dinner Inspiration: Spaghetti with Salsa Cruda

Spaghetti with Salsa Cruda .TheCubanReuben.comWith such a passion for cooking, I am often asked what a typical meal in my house looks like, and where I find inspiration for my daily dishes. As I’ve said before, during the work week, if it takes longer than thirty minutes to prepare, I’m not interested. Spoiled by the Southern California sunshine, oftentimes this means firing up the grill for some marinated chicken and vegetables. Of course, there are only so many different marinades for chicken, and once in a while, I have a hankering for something different.

Recently, while pondering what to make for dinner that night, I spotted a facebook post from my fellow foodie, Noah, who I met producing student theatre for the Jewish Theater Ensemble at Northwestern many moons ago. So inspired by his plate of shrimp, pasta, and salad, I set out to recreate my own version, and headed to the market on my lunch break for the ingredients.

SpaghettiDinner.TheCubanReuben.comThe moment I got home from work, I threw the shrimp in the oven, pulled together a simple salad, and prepared an herbaceous and aromatic salsa cruda for the pasta that was boiling in the pot of salty water. Once the pasta reached perfect al dente texture a few minutes later, I added it to the bowl of the salsa cruda, which perfectly warmed the sauce, and dinner was on the table in no time flat. Of course, I had to share a photo with Noah, the man who inspired it all. With his emphatic thumbs up, I now had a new recipe to add to my weekday repertoire. I look forward to the day Noah comes to visit and together we can cook the dish he inspired. Until then, our virtual tag-team cooking will do the trick…especially if it means more delicious dishes like this one!

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Spaghetti with Salsa Cruda
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 2-3
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
A quick, fresh, Summery dish that is perfect for dinner for two.
  • ¼ Lbs. dried whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh Italian Parsley
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese to taste
  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook spaghetti according to the directions on the package, or until pasta is al dente.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the juice and zest of the lemon, garlic, parsley, basil, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
  3. Once pasta is cooked to al dente, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, and drain the pasta. Add to the bowl with the salsa cruda, and use kitchen tongs to incorporate the sauce into the pasta. If needed, add 1 tablespoon of the pasta water at a time to the sauce.
  4. Top with freshly grated parmesan, and serve.


Dinner Party Delight: Irene’s Famous Salad Dressing

IrenesFamousSaladDressing.TheCubanReuben.comA few weeks ago, Kenny and I were invited to our friends’ house for Shabbat dinner. This is a big deal, because often times our friends get nervous about inviting me, the in-house foodie, to eat their home-cooked food. The truth is, as much as I love cooking for others, I also appreciate when others cook (or order in) for me! It’s really a treat, and this particular dinner was no exception. Leading up to the occasion, we were teased with promises of an old family recipe for Russian short ribs, which Irene paired with creamy, stick-to-your-ribs polenta. Yes, the short ribs most certainly lived up to the hype, as there may or may not have been a moment where all four of us bonded over sucking on the bones after the meat literally slid off. Even when there was no meat left, we tore pieces of my challah to mop up any remaining sauce. That’s how good it was. And yes, home-style polenta was certainly the perfect choice to accompany such a decadent and special dish. But those tasty eats aside, I must admit that the true dark-horse dish of the evening was a simple salad Irene prepared, that was topped with a homemade dressing.

Pre-dressing, my salad included spring mix lettuce, sliced hearts of palm, cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and chunks of fresh avocado.

Pre-dressing, my salad included spring mix lettuce, sliced hearts of palm, baby heirloom tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and chunks of fresh avocado.

I know it seems hard to believe that when compared to short ribs and polenta, the star of the evening would be dinner salad, but trust me on this one, as it was all in the dressing. I will always favor a homemade dressing to the jarred stuff you can get at the store, particularly because they are so easy to make. Irene combined a handful of both savory and sweet ingredients, like real maple syrup and dijon mustard, that so perfectly heightened her choice of salad mix-ins, and for several days after our dinner, I was still thinking about it. This is why, when I planned the next dinner party Kenny and I hosted, I knew exactly which salad dressing to feature.

Rachel, sporting her mighty peach upside-down cake.

Rachel, sporting her mighty peach upside-down cake.

As my guests arrived with their pot-luck offerings in tow, I quickly shook up the ingredients of the dressing in a small mason jar, and placed the jar alongside the salad on the dinner table. It was really that easy. After a quick photo for good measure, we chowed down on dinner, and before we knew it, there wasn’t a morsel of lettuce left of the salad to speak of.


Dinner guests, anxiously awaiting the photo, so that they can start eating!

It looks like I’m not the only fan of Irene’s famous dressing! Next time you’re in the mood for whipping up some homemade dressing, give this one a whirl. Or a shake, for that matter. It may be the je ne sais qoui to kick up your favorite salad just a notch.

Irene's Famous Salad Dressing
Recipe type: Side Dish
Serves: 6-8
Prep time:
Total time:
Kick up your salads a notch with this easy, homemade dressing recipe.
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. pure maple syrup
  • 1 heaping Tbs. coarse ground dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 three-finger pinch each of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar, seal tightly, and shake vigorously until oil has emulsified and everything is well-incorporated.
  2. Chill until right before serving.
Irene also suggests trying flavored balsamics, like peach or fig, for this recipe.