There are meals that I create explicitly for this space. I write the recipes ahead of time and carefully shop for the ingredients. While I’m making them, I taste along as I go and measure my pinches of salt. I set aside blocks of time to make these meals. There’s specific time for the planning, the cooking, and the photographing. While Aaron and I are eating, I spend the whole meal analyzing our food. Did I add too much lemon juice? Does it need more salt? I ask Aaron probing questions and get annoyed when he only offers reassurance. I don’t want to hear that it’s good. I want specifics. There’s a good portion of things that I make whose recipes live on my computer with extensive notes on how to make them better next time. Maybe they’ll make an appearance here, but not until all the wrinkles are ironed out. I don’t want to trouble you with a recipe that’s anything less than its tastiest version.
And then there are the recipes that I just throw together. Sometimes it’s because the bunch of spinach in the vegetable drawer is going to go bad unless I sauté it with the stray few slices of bacon and some cold rice. Or I don’t have a lot of time and our pantry’s mostly bare so I boil pasta and toss it with canned beans and top the whole thing with a fried egg. Some days I just want to make dinner without setting a timer to see how long it actually takes to boil farro. Generally these meals are tasty and efficient, which I’ll take. Perfect is the enemy of good. I’ve heard that preached in all of my creative endeavors.
But once in a while I’ll throw together something excellent. I usually know that I’ve struck gold when Aaron looks up from his bowl and tells me to blog about it. I usually have reasons not to do so- I didn’t write the recipe down so I don’t remember exactly what I did, or it’s too similar to something I just posted, or even though I’m not explicitly writing a vegetarian blog I’ve yet to post a dish with meat and I’m not sure if I want to. Sometimes those recipes get forgotten. Sometimes they get filed away with extensive notes. Rarely do they make it here.
But a few days ago I made threw together this fennel and tomato salad for dinner. Everything seemed to align just right- Aaron and I had just finished taking a long walk together. We had summer water (rosé) chilling in the fridge. The air was hot and muggy, and rain was imminent. Our knives had just been professionally sharpened yesterday, and they sailed through the vegetables. I prepared the salad and let it sit for an hour, because restaurant work means that eating dinner any time before 8 seems ridiculous. Before it was time to eat, Aaron stole a bite and locked eye contact with me. “You’re going to blog about this, right?”
Perfect is the enemy of good. I moved our couch out of the way to claim the last of the fading light from our only North-facing window. And today I’m putting this here just as I made it. I’m not converting the vegetables to cups and the cheese to grams-that’s too fussy for a late summer dinner. Because this is for you, for those nights when you want something light but substantial, cooling and rewarding. It’s for the nights when the most work you want to do is chopping. It’s for the the dinners when an hour of Netflix is a reasonable reward for five minutes of work. But it’s also for me, so I remember the recipe next time Aaron suggests we have fennel-tomato salad for dinner. And for a reminder that I don’t always need things to be perfect. Because sometimes the reward for forsaking perfection is finding the very, very good.
Fennel-Tomato Salad with Chickpeas and Mint
This would be tasty after it’s just made. But it’s best if it sits for a bit. All the flavors will meld and mingle, and it becomes something better than the sum of all its parts.
Serves 2 for a meal or 4 as a side.
1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed, halved and thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, firm but ripe, chopped
about 1 1/2 cup chickpeas
1 handful crumbled feta cheese
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 big handful of mint, finely chopped
juice of 1 large lemon or 2 small
generous drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper
In a large bowl, combine the fennel, tomatoes, chickpeas, feta, garlic, and mint. Pour over the lemon juice and add a healthy amount of olive oil. I did a two second pour. Add a large pinch of salt and a generous sprinkling of pepper. Stir well. Let sit of at least half an hour, preferably an hour. The salt will draw out the juices of the fennel and tomatoes, which will in turn flavor everything else. Serve at room temperature. Adding some bread to sop up the juices that will be left behind wouldn’t be a bad idea.