Farro and Lentil Salad with Currant and Pine Nut Relish

dsc_0840

Hi! It’s good to be back.

I wasn’t planning on being gone for so long, but the combination of celebrating Christmas/ being with my family/ having 5 consecutive days off/ turning 27 made me reluctant to open my computer. This past week has been packed full of good things, from a 2 hour game of Clue with my family to late night drinks with friends to finally finishing the book I was reading. I hope that whatever you celebrate, your week has been similarly refreshing.

Two weeks ago I wrote about our date nights. Last week, right before my family came into town, I made a version of this salad for a light, pre-holiday date night dinner. And now I’m here to share it with you. The inspiration for this recipe came from The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin, an inspiration of a chef and owner of one of the restaurants I most fantasize about visiting.

But something happened when I was making this salad- I was reminded of work.

Last year there was a meat pie on my station. It was a relatively straightforward dish- meat, potatoes, gravy, pastry. And making everything from scratch was a 4 day process. Even if the recipe was mine to share, I would only share it with the most ambitious of home cooks. And then only with plenty of caveats. A lot of restaurant recipes are like that. Your eye is towards consistency of result. You’re making a huge amount of food. You’re not shying away from sub recipes. And you’re relying on the person who is making the recipe to know how to adjust it.  That makes following any recipe from a restaurant a slightly fraught proposition. My first few weeks cooking at a restaurant I couldn’t stop asking the most annoying questions- I didn’t understand how restaurant recipes differed from the ones I was used to following.

Aaron and I devoured the salad. It was delicious- hippie chic, if you will. And it’s lovely in an earthy way- blacks and browns and greens. But as tasty as it was, I still had some qualms. There were some steps that made little sense. Goin had you reduce balsamic vinegar by half before you added it to the salad, making it thicker and sweeter, but it was so sweet that I spiked the salad with additional vinegar before serving. Farro and forbidden rice were paired together, and they were delicious, but they were cooked separately with almost the exact same ingredients and very similar cooking times. And despite the gorgeous ingredients- sweet, plump currants, toasted pine nuts, peppery mustard greens, gently cooked onions- the salad tasted little flat. If I had been at work, I would have added more salt, but I was wondering if there was another way to bring that spark in.

While eating it Aaron and I started to make notes on how we would change it. It became pretty clear quite quickly that those changes might make it easier. It might be suitable for the home cook who doesn’t possess an infinite amount of pans, a walk-in full of fresh herbs, and an employee whose job is to wash dishes. I swapped the forbidden rice, which can be difficult to find, in for lentils, which also make the salad more filling. I added capers to the relish. Lentils and farro were cooked in the same pot, with the same aromatics. Sweet balsamic vinegar was changed out for slightly less sweet sherry vinegar. The tartness could sing, and finally the sweetness came from the currants and onions alone. Capers rounded everything out. Mustard greens provided a sharp relief. Aaron told me he liked the second version even more. I agreed. I had to order him to stop eating it so I could save some for work on New Year’s Eve (hello, double).

This complex restaurant dish didn’t magically turn into a 30 minute, 1 bowl meal. It still takes time and a few components. But by my account, I halved the pans used and streamlined the process, turning it from a special occasion meal to a leisurely weeknight dish. And isn’t that what we want from a hippie chic salad?

dsc_0859

Farro and Lentil Salad with Currants and Pine Nut Relish

adapted from The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin

This salad is highly adaptable. If you can’t find mustard greens or Aleppo pepper, I would replace them with kale and red pepper flakes, respectively. This salad makes a great light meal. Goin mentioned pairing this with white fish if you’d like a restaurant quality dish, but I found adding a soft boiled egg to the leftovers is a great way to make it more hearty.

Serves 4-6

Salad:

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 an onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup farro
3/4 cup French green lentils
2 big handfuls of mustard greens, chopped

Relish:

1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
2 tablespoons drained capers in brine
1 small rosemary stalk
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup sherry vinegear
salt and pepper

In a medium pan over medium heat warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, the bay leaves, the chopped rosemary, the Aleppo pepper, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions have softened and smell incredible, about 8 minutes. Add the farro and lentils, and stir well. Cook, stirring often, for about 3-4 minutes- just long enough so that the farro and lentils start to toast a bit. Add 8 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until both the farro and lentils are cooked through- about 35 minutes. (I started checking at 20 minutes, then checked every 5 minutes after that.) Drain the farro-lentil mixture, then spread it out on a sheet tray to let it cool and dry. Remove the bay leaves.

While the farro and lentils are cooking, place the pine nuts in a small pan over low heat. Stir often, until the pine nuts start to smell fragrant and take on some color. As soon as they’re golden but not dark, tip the pine nuts into a medium bowl. This will only take a few minutes, so make sure to give the pine nuts your undivided attention- they will burn quickly. Add the dried currants to the same bowl.

In a sauté pan, warm 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the onion, the rosemary stalk, the capers, Aleppo pepper, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are just starting to color. Add in the sherry vinegar, and immediately turn off the heat- you just want to warm the sherry vinegar through. Pour the whole mixture onto the pine nuts and currents. Remove the rosemary stalk. Let it all sit and infuse together while the farro and lentils cook.

Once everything is ready, warm the last 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. It can be the same one that you cooked the onions and capers in. Add the farro-lentil mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon. You want to stir often enough that you can scrape up the brown bits on the bottom before they burn, but not so often that the farro and lentils can’t crisp up. Once everything is warmed through and crisped (this took me about 5 minutes), add in the mustard greens. Stir them to combine well, and let them wilt down. Once they’ve wilted down, add the pine nut-current-onion mixture and stir well. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

This is one of those rare dishes that’s as good warm as it is at room temperature. And it’s even better after it’s sat a bit, and allowed all the flavors to mingle.

Standard

White Bean and Cabbage Soup with Rosemary

dsc_0705

As someone who celebrates Christmas this is the home stretch. There’s cookies to bake, an apartment to clean, and a dinner to plan. There’s also family to host and a tree to buy and presents to wrap… uff da. And so in the spirit of the holiday and of business, here’s soup. Soup is an excellent meal for many reasons- it’s easy, it’s nutrient dense, it’s warming. Soup is the ultimate comfort food, and it’s what I want to eat right now.

A few weeks ago our friend Anne and Brian made white bean soup for Aaron and I when we all got together for dinner. I’ve been thinking about that soup ever since- it was hearty and satisfying and exactly right for a wintery dinner party. This is my wintery lunch variation. Onions and cabbage are slowly cooked in butter with a good dose of chopped rosemary and chopped thyme. Stock and canned beans are added and simmered together, then it’s half-pureed, a compromise for the chunky (Aaron) and smooth (me) soup eaters.

I hope you enjoy this. And I’d love your help- if you’re celebrating a holiday in the next week, what are you making? (And what are you celebrating?) My brain stuck, and inspiration would be very welcomed.

dsc_0742

White Bean and Cabbage Soup with Rosemary

If you’d like a creamier, thicker soup then I would start with 2 cups of broth, and add water from there as necessary.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped thyme
2 cups finely chopped cabbage
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 fifteen ounce cans cannellini beans
4 cups light vegetable broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
flaked almonds, to serve
shredded parmesan cheese, to serve

Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the onion and stir well to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and has started to take on a golden color. This should take between 10 and 20 minutes. If the onions are cooking too quickly or taking on more color than you’d like, turn down the heat.

Add the rosemary, thyme, cabbage, and spices. Stir well and cook for another few minutes, until the cabbage is starting to soften. Add the beans and the vegetable broth, and bring to a simmer.

Skim any foam that comes to the top of the pot. Simmer the soup for 20 minutes, until it’s reduced a bit and the flavors have concentrated.

Using an immersion blender, blend in quick bursts. You want for the soup to be smoothed out a bit, but still have some texture- about half-pureed. Alternatively, you could use an upright blender, blend half the soup, and then return it to the pot.

Stir in the lemon juice, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and lemon juice as necessary. Serve hot with flaked almonds and a dusting of parmesan.

Standard

Fennel, Citrus, and Avocado Salad

dsc_0714

I was saving this recipe for date night. Aaron and I have been doing date night at home a la Ashley Rodriguez’s Date Night In for the past few months. Almost every week, we set aside some time for just the two of us. A few days before I sit down and figure out the menu. The aim is something elevated. Date night is different than just having dinner, where we’re happy to microwave leftover soup and watch Parks and Recreation for the 20th time.  Last date night I braised a pork shoulder for three hours and we ate it in chilequiles. A few weeks ago we had homemade gnocchi. We use cookbooks and make our meals according to a theme. That night we put on a playlist, Aaron makes drinks, and we set the table with cloth napkins and two forks. There’s usually three courses, and while the food is always good, being together is the aim. It’s my favorite way we date without accidentally spending $100+.

Tonight we going to eat this salad (with tarte flambée and chocolate mousse), but instead we’re getting bánh mìs together then seeing Rogue One with friends. It’s a different plan than the original one, but it should be just as good. So this salad got relegated to lunch, where it’s more than satisfying.

It’s a mix of textures and flavors- crunchy fennel, bright citrus, creamy avocado, briny black olives. It’s a winter salad, bright and clean and perhaps a bit spare. Winter is an underrated time for salads, and I’ll collect all the winter salads I can find. It’s the sort of thing I want to eat with all the holidays coming up, with the booze and sweets and slow braised meat. It’s the lunch I want to eat so I can go crazy with cookies (or tarte flambée and chocolate mousse, as it were) later.

If you’re interested in other date night recipes:

-We devoured this salad with caeco e pepe pasta, and it was bomb
-The first date night we had was this ah-mazing mac and cheese
-One of my favorite date nights was when I made almost an entire chapter from Heidi Swanson’s new book, but the Vaghareli Makai was our favorite
-And not quite date night, but if you saw this and though, “I’d rather have these flavors as a cookie”, Olayia’s got you covered

dsc_0720dsc_0706dsc_0723

Fennel, Citrus, and Avocado Salad

If blood oranges aren’t available to you yet, you could easily substitue another orange, or a different small citrus (like a clementine).

serves 2

2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 red grapefruit
1 blood orange
1 navel orange
1 avocado, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
a handful of pitted and halved kalamata olives

to serve
fennel fronds
maldon

First, supreme the citrus. In order to do this, slice off the ends of the grapefruit, then use a sharp knife to cut the skin off of the grapefruit. It should look like the grapefruit in the above photo once you’re done. Once the skin and pith are all cut off, hold the grapefruit in your non dominant hand. Take your knife and make one smooth cut on the right side of a membrane (the white lines that separate the grapefruit into segments). Cut on the left side of the closest membrane, then remove the segment with your knife. Move the loose membrane to the side, then continue cutting the segments free. It’s easiest to push the empty membranes to the side and take hold of them with your fingers. Once all the segments are free, take the membrane and squeeze the juices out into a small bowl. Continue with the other citrus.

Arrange the fennel, the grapefruit, the orange, and the blood orange onto a serving platter. Whisk together the juice and the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Toss the fennel and citrus in the dressing. Top with the avocado and olives, then garnish with fennel fronds and flaked salt.

Standard

Gougères with Gruyere and Shallots

dsc_0725

When I was 10 my parents made the decision to change churches. We went from attending Mass every Sunday at the a grand Cathedral to a small, scrappy church technically a mile away but actually in a different universe. It was no small decision. The Cathedral was where my parents had been married, where all three of their children had been baptized. It was where my dad had been an alter boy and a lector, and where many of my cousins attended school. It was large and elegant and intimidating.

Our new church was none of those things. The priests were Franciscans. They had nicknames and went barefoot on the alter. Babies were baptized naked. It was all new and exciting. And our new church was a bilingual parish.

My hometown had (and still has) a sizable Hispanic population. This was never something that I had encountered in my day-to-day life. My grandparents had been born in the same town I was. I knew where they had lived, the house my dad had been born into, where the only church that still spoke Slovak was located but somehow not about the huge swath of our town where signs were only in Spanish. Our neighborhood was mostly white. Our family was mostly white. My school was diverse, but the friends I hung out with outside of school were mostly white.

And my parents decided to change that. Soon we were attending bilingual services for feast days. After Mass in the summer we would eat paletas bought from the vender who arrived just as Mass was letting out. In the fall it turned to churros. My dad and I joined a choir and would sing verses alternating in Spanish and English. At church potlucks I happily ate tacos, but refused to eat more when I learned what lengua meant (tongue).

I want to be clear that this does not mean everything was all the sudden happy and easy. There were misunderstandings. There were missteps. I did not often want to go to services that would stretch to 2 hours, and where I only understood every 3 words. But it was good for us, as individuals and as a family.

I cannot, for the life of me, correctly use por and para, but there are hymns I will not sing in English. There is still nothing as good as a paleta in the summer heat. I am filled with gratitude of the humble  church where I was raised, where Aaron and I were married, that marched for immigration reform. It was not a wealthy church, but it was a rich one.

I was reminded of all of this last night, as the church I attended celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church I attend here in Minneapolis is a Cathedral. It is large and elegant, but also warm. Last night there was a bilingual service. There was a procession of Aztec dancers. There were the words I have sung, hundreds of times, set to a different tune, but still “Santo, santo, santo, santo el Señor“. And there was a homily of hope in the darkness. About the radical nature of a brown-skinned Mary appearing in Aztec clothing and speaking Nahuatl to Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant. About how God is always with those who are oppressed, no matter when or where.

Gougères do not fit neatly with this story. But feeding people is one of the best ways I know to show love. I like to joke that I only speak culinary French, but the other half of the joke is that I only speak religious Spanish.

When we choose to love people it is not easy. It requires a steely resolve and great patience. It requires radical hope and realism. Love is not easy. But I would rather live actively working on love than live without it. And where I stand right now, love includes gougères .

dsc_0756

Gougères with Gruyere and Shallots

Makes about 30 gougères

Gougères freeze well, and can be baked straight from frozen. One great beauty of gougères is that they are so versatile. You could add herbs, spices, or different cheeses to these beauties to make them entirely your own. I’ve been known to bake gougères and eat them straight off the sheet tray. But if you pressed me for the best way to eat them I’d tell you to invite people over, make mulled wine, and serve gougères warm from the oven.

8 tablespoons (113 grams) butter
1 cup (226 grams) water
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1/2 a shallot, diced
1/2 cup (40 grams) finely grated gruyere

In a medium saucepan over medium heat melt together the butter, water, and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, making certain that all the butter is mixed, then add in the flour. Use a rubber spatula to stir in the flour, being careful to completely incorporate the flour. Continue stirring on heat, using the spatula to pick up and turn the dough, until the dough looks smooth and even. Turn the dough out into a large bowl.

Stir the dough with a rubber spatula every few minutes until the dough is at room temperature. Once the dough is no longer warm, add in the eggs, one at a time, stirring completely between each addition. It will first look as though the egg will refuse to combine, but continue working and it will cooperate. After the eggs have all combined stir in the shallots and gruyere.

If you are using a piping bag, use a medium sized round tip (or do as I did, and just cut a opening in your bag and don’t use a tip) and fill your bag. Pipe out the gougères onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. I aimed for mine to be an inch and a half in diameter and an inch in height and found that to be a perfect size.

If you are not using a piping bag, use two spoons to scoop the batter onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Aim to use about 2 tablespoons of batter in each gougère. Be careful, regardless of which method you choose, to not let the gougères touch.

Put a tiny bit of water in a shallow dish. Dip your fingers in the water, and then use your fingers to shape the gougères as necessary. If you’ve piped your gougères, flatten out the tail on top. If you’ve spooned your gougères, smooth out any rough lines.

The gougères can now be frozen, or baked off. If you want to freeze your gougères just pop the tray in the freezer, then transfer to a ziplock bag once frozen.

When you are ready to bake your gougères, preheat your oven to 400. Bake the gougères, spaced an inch apart, for 20-30 minutes (20 for fresh, 30 for frozen), rotating the baking tray every 10 minutes. The gougères are ready when they are golden in color, firm to the touch, and light when picked up. Enjoy warm.

Standard

Creamed Lentils with Tomato Paste and Ginger

dsc_0655

This lentils are not glamorous. They aren’t beautiful. There’s no clever flavor combinations and no personal backstory to these lentils. But I’ve made them three times in the past week, and it seems selfish to keep them to myself.

The inspiration for these lentils comes from The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, which I was browsing for ideas for a different dish. In a tidbit next to black lentils there was a quote from Hemant Mathur, a highly accomplished chef in New York. He describes learning in Delhi to cooking black lentils, then season them with ginger, garlic paste, tomatoes, chili powder, butter, and cream. They were so popular at the restaurant he them worked at that they’d make 50 pounds a day. With that promise I had to go about finding a way to make them myself.

In the interest of making the lentils immediately without a trip to the store I swapped the garlic paste for gently cooked onion, ginger for powdered ginger, and tomatoes for tomato paste. I made these first with black lentils, the beautiful jewels of the legume world. They are stunning, keep their shape when cooked, and are as expensive and rare as lentils come (which is not to say that they are expensive or rare, but more so than the common green lentil). When I ran out of black lentils, I substituted the common green lentil, and found that while the finished dish is less lovely, I liked the soft earthy notes green lentils bring even more.

This is a rich dish. There’s no two ways about it. But it’s such a lovely way to eat lentils. They are creamy and soft, cloaked in savory tomato, bright ginger, and warming chili powder. I’ve been making them for lunch, and then scraping the sauce pot clean with my spoon once the lentils are gone. They’re that good.

dsc_0653

Creamed Lentils with Tomato Paste and Ginger

I just discovered slow-simmering lentils, and I don’t think I’ll cook them any other way. You simply soak the lentils overnight, bring to a boil, and then cook them (without salt!) on the lowest setting your stove can manage for an hour or two. The lentils end up perfectly tender and have yet to burst on me. Of course, these creamed lentils would still be excellent with lentils cooked according to any technique.

adapted form Hermant Mathur via The Vegetarian Flavor Bible

Serves 2

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 an onion, diced
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
pinch salt
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 cup cooked lentils, drained
3/4 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a sauce pan over medium heat melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often until the onions are soft and have taken on some color. Add the tomato paste, powdered ginger, chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well, and cook for another minute or so, until fragrant.

Stir in the cooked lentils and the cream. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any flavorful dark bits on the bottom. Let the cream cook, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced and saucy. This should only take 5 minutes or so, so pay close attention.

Taste the lentils, add more salt as necessary, and then stir in the final half tablespoon of butter. Serve hot.

Standard