Farro and Lentil Salad with Currant and Pine Nut Relish

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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?

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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.

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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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Cranberry Chutney with Crystalized Ginger and Currants

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I know. It’s the day before Thanksgiving. If you’re a planner, you may want to tuck this post away for next year. You’ve probably already gotten everything assembled. You’ve got your grocery shopping done. You had your menu planned weeks ago. You are a Thanksgiving machine and you’ve got this.

If you’re not a planner, then you may still be looking for last minute additions to the Thanksgiving table. I am not a planner, which is why I’m posting this the day before Thanksgiving. If we’re in the same boat, may I suggest this cranberry chutney as a worthy addition to your Thanksgiving table?

I’ve been making a version of this cranberry chutney for at least 7 years now. I first found it on Orangette, and I don’t remember the first time I made it, but I do remember not being legally able to buy the booze that Molly’s version calls for. It was such a success that I’ve made it for every Thanksgiving since (save the one I spent in England and we held a feast for almost 80 people. There were some sourcing and scalability issues there).

There’s a reason this cranberry chutney’s a classic. I love its bracing, sweet-tart taste, and the way the ginger sneaks in and out, giving brief glimpses of its fiery bite. The texture is yielding but not soft or gelatinous, the sort that I want to accompany all sorts of Thanksgiving goodies. On the table, in a beautiful cut-glass bowl (the kind I borrow from my mom) the vibrant cranberries and dark currants are suspended in a beautiful, jewel bright sauce. It looks festive and elegant, just right for your Thanksgiving table. And I also love how easy it is. The whole thing takes less than 15 minutes, and the most complicated part of making the chutney is chopping the crystalized ginger.

This recipe also takes very kindly to adaptations. Every year I pull out Molly’s book and turn to the most tattered and stained page. And every year I change things up just a bit. I might swap out the vinegar, or use different preserves, or sub allspice in for cloves. Here’s this year’s adaptation, filled with apple butter and currants. It’s sweet-tart and bright, the perfect bite of relief after a mouthful of buttery mashed potatoes and rich gravy.

Happy happy Thanksgiving. May your meal be delicious, your company even better, and your day be full of things to be grateful for.

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Cranberry Chutney with Crystalized Ginger and Currants

Be sure to check your cranberries before making this chutney- there are usually a few soft, mushy, or otherwise inedible berries hiding in a bag.

adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Makes 1 quart

12 ounces apricot preserves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cranberry juice
1 teaspoon apple butter
pinch salt
pinch ground cloves
12 ounces (1 bag) fresh cranberries
1/2 cup currants
1/4 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger

In a medium saucepan combine the apricot preserves, vinegar, cranberry juice, apple butter, salt, cloves. Stir well and cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until it’s thickened a bit.

Stir in the cranberries. Let the cranberries cook for a few minutes, until you hear a few pop. Remove the mixture from heat and stir in the currants and ginger.

Allow to cool completely before serving.

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Radicchio Salad with Gorgonzola and Hazelnuts

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Last week I made basically this salad at work for family meal. We had some radicchio to get rid of, and so I chopped it roughly and tossed it with some tarragon, bleu cheese from a new salad on my station, and some hazelnuts from an old salad. It was the first thing to disappear, and while eating it I thought it would fit in well here.

I love that this salad takes almost no time to make, but rewards with some big flavors. Radicchio is a bitter vegetable, with an almost medicinal bite. The tarragon brings in a sweet, anise note. The dressing plumps up currants and hazelnuts both with some red wine vinegar, which brings some sharpness and a wine-y sweetness to the salad. The hazelnuts and bleu cheese, however, really make this spectacular. In one bite you get bitter, tart, nutty, pungent, sweet, sharp, and creamy.

At family meal we ate this along side hoison and sriracha hot dogs. When making this at home I had it along side a baked potato. Neither of those were ideal, but hey, that’s how it works sometimes. If you’re looking for an ideal accompaniment, roast chicken (for meat eaters) or a quiche (for vegetarians) would be killer.

Sorry for the quick note, but I’m off experiencing “Up North” for the first time. I’ll be back with more soon. Until then, happy Monday.

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Radicchio Salad with Gorgonzola and Hazelnuts

To prepare the radicchio I cut the head into quarters, then cut each quarter in half and sliced very thinly. A mandoline would also work well. In order to crush the hazelnuts, you could use the flat side of a chef’s knife (or a heavy, flat bottomed glass or ramekin) to push the hazelnuts down until they break.

1 large head of radicchio, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
2 ounces creamy, mild bleu cheese, like gorgonzola
1/2 a shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon currants
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt
pepper
1/4 cup hazelnuts, crushed

In a small bowl combine the currents, shallots, and red wine vinegar. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl combine the radicchio, tarragon, and bleu cheese. Pinch the bleu cheese off into pieces about the size of a hazelnut. Add the dressing and toss well, making sure the whole thing is well covered and well combined. Top with the crushed hazelnuts and serve.

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Marinated Feta

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It was just a block of shrink-wrapped feta that was on sale at a local cafe/bodega. I picked it up on a whim, bought it, and carried it home in my purse. I don’t know what appealed to me about it- maybe that it wasn’t precious. It’s easy to get into a bubble sometimes, where I can get hand pulled mozzarella in bulk and assume everyone can find champaign vinegar. I’ve been spending some time in that bubble recently.

It wasn’t always that way. When I was a tween my parents somehow ended up with a subscription to Food and Wine magazine. My parents are many things, but “foodies” is not one of them. I read that magazine greedily. I wanted to go to the aprés ski parties in rustic modern mountain houses where they ate braised short ribs and hot chocolate affogato. I also wanted to know where in Sam Hill I was supposed to find adobo sauce and drinking chocolate that dotted those recipes. I know where to find both of those now. I’d still like an invite to the aprés ski parties.

It seems like in the past ten or so years our cultural interest and access to food has exploded. But this explosion was not evenly distributed. I get frustrated that it’s hard to find sumac or za’atar here in Minneapolis, and then get a text from my mom where she can find farro. And there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a recipe for, say, baked peaches that has the headline “Don’t even try to make this if your peaches are less than perfect.” Perfect peaches. What makes a peach perfect and where do I find them? And if I do find them is baking them, which is a clever trick to turn much-less-than-perfect fruit into almost-perfect fruit, really the preferable use for those perfect peaches than eating them over the sink with the juices running down your arms?

All of this is to say that I’ve been thinking a lot about food quality and food cost. We spend a slightly embarrassing amount on our grocery bill here, and are trying to cut down. It’s true that if you have top quality ingredients it’s easy to eat well. But it’s false that the only way to eat well is to have those top quality ingredients.  Sometimes all it takes is a bit of creativity.

To whit, I made this marinated feta. I used the aforementioned block of shrink-wrapped feta- there was nothing fancy here. I chopped together garlic and mint, stirred with red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and olive oil, and poured over the block, then let it hang out in the fridge for 6 hours. The result is a flavor packed feta that’s far more elegant than its original incarnation. I tossed some pasta with this feta, chopped tomatoes, and the last of some roasted red peppers that had been hiding in the back of the fridge. Aaron made rice and beans, our customary pantry meal, and topped the whole mess with cubes of marinated feta, which brought a flavorful punch. I have plans to use the last bit as an omelette filling, but there’s a whole host of possibilities here. I think it’s fantastic with the first of the tomatoes (I’ve been choosing hydroponically grown tomatoes and feel no shame), and this could be a great component on a bruschetta or replacing the mozzarella in a caprese salad. This would also make a mean pizza topping, and I bet that blended with a bit more olive oil it would make a fantastic spread. And, of course, you could swap out the lemon peel for orange peel, the garlic for shallots, red pepper flake for your dried chili of choice, mint for almost any herb (but I bet oregano would be especially fantastic) or add in spices (saffron would be beautiful if you want to get spend-y) or pantry staples (anchovies or capers would be excellent).

Marinated Feta

one 8 ounce block of feta cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
small bunch of mint, chopped (about 1/4 cup chopped)

Place the feta in a small bowl or container where it can lay flat. In another small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and mint and whisk together well. Pour over the feta. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

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