Fennel, Citrus, and Avocado Salad

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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

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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.

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White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato from “A Modern Way to Cook”

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A week ago I was having a relaxing morning before work. You know the routine. Make yourself breakfast. Eat breakfast while sipping caffeine of choice. Do both while checking on blogs. Accidentally spill caffeine of choice on your computer.

Oops.

That was painful. I hadn’t planned for a new computer, and there were a lot of files on that old computer that weren’t saved anywhere else. And without wanting to inflate my own importance, I would argue that it’s painful for you. Because I had a recipe for you that I only get to share just now. And it’s filled with all sorts of good stuff. Specifically, beans, fennel, lemon, and tomato.

These beans come from Anna Jones‘ new book A Modern Way to Cook. I’m slightly obsessed with Anna Jones’ work. Her first book, A Modern Way to Eat is one of my most used cookbooks, and for good reason. She writes smart recipes that are clever without being precious. It’s hard to flip through the pages of her books without being inspired. She brings a cook’s eye to presentation and plays with form and texture. But she doesn’t forget that food should be delicious and nourishing and it needs to be approachable. That’s a message I appreciate in any cookbook, but especially in a vegetarian cookbook that promotes healthy eating.

Her new book is divided not by meals or seasons, but by time commitment. I found these beans labeled as a 25 minute dinner, and immediately had to make them. I love the sweetness that comes from the fennel and honey, the tang from the lemons and vinegar, and the savory notes from the garlic and spices. It truly comes together in 25 minutes (maybe even faster), which means it’s great for spur of the moment dinner decisions (aka, the only kind I have). And I love that you get something hearty and earthy and rich without any esoteric ingredients, or convoluted technique.

It’s a fantastic dinner. And I can’t wait to cook obsessively through this book.

White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato

adapted from A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones

Serves 4

Anna calls for canned lima beans in her original recipe. I have never seen canned lima beans, and so I made mine with Great Northern beans, which were delicious. Anna suggests accompanying this with a green salad or some flatbread, but Aaron and I devoured it with some runny cheese and crusty sourdough.

1 large fennel bulb
2 tablespoons of olive oil
bunch of green onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 lemon, quartered and seeds removed
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 fourteen ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
fennel fronds, for serving
olive oil, for serving

Cut off the fronds of the fennel and set aside. Cut the bulb in half and trim it. Peel off any tough or bruised outer layers, then slice the fennel into half inch slices.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil it hot, add the fennel, making sure to spread it out so all the fennel makes contact with the oil. Sautée until it’s browning on one side (between 2-4 minutes) then flip, either with tongs or a spatula to the other side. Sautée again until browning, then add the green onions and garlic. Let cook until fragrant, a couple more minutes.

Add the tomatoes and lemon, then add the honey, vinegar, oregano, fennel seed, chilis, and salt. Stir well and let it all heat together for a minute, then add the beans and 1/2 cup of water. Stir again, and then let the whole thing simmer away until the beans are warmed through, about five minutes.

Serve warm, topped with the leafy bits of the fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Fennel-Tomato Salad with Chickpeas and Mint

Fennel-Tomato Salad

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 2

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.

 

 

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