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I sit down

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I don’t work on Tuesdays or Wednesday mornings. Which means that after a few double shifts landing me in bed no earlier than 1 am, I let myself indulge in a more leisurely morning or two: I sit down to a hot breakfast.

Not since my medical school days of 4-hour vascular surgeries have I so valued sitting down. One of the central tenets of being in the hospital was “sit when you can, eat when you can, sleep when you can.” (Another was that when your attending/chief/resident tells you to leave, you don’t ask questions, you don’t dawdle, you just get the hell out of there before there’s a reason for someone to call you back. I have to say, there are a lot of parallels between restaurant life and medical training.)

This past Wednesday, I woke up and did a little not-yet-ready-to-wear-my-glasses-or-contacts bleary-eyed on-my-phone reading, coming across this article about Mitchell Davis. Executive Vice President of the James Beard Foundation and host of Heritage Radio Network‘s Taste Matters, Davis makes the matzah ball soup for the James Beard House’s annual seder. The finishing touch to his recipe is dill.

Dill is the smell of Passover in my book. My Bubbie used to order our entire seder feast from a caterer, but she made the matzah ball soup her own by dropping in a fistful of dill, stems and fronds and all, as she reheated it. When I was tall enough to reach the stove, she periodically let me escape from our round robin hagaddah reading to stir the soup. Scampering to stand on the pink plastic-upholstered seat of a black wrought iron kitchen chair, Bubbie protectively behind me, I’d remove the lid and breathe in the first rush of dill-tinged facial-strength pore-opening steam.

I must have had Passover on the brain when, Sunday night after a double shift, I popped into a grocery store at a few minutes before midnight to pick up some greens. As an afterthought, I grabbed a fat bundle of dill. Home, I stuck the bouquet of dill into a glass of water and placed it in the fridge door. Fast forward to to Wednesday morning: me, lying in bed with my phone mere inches from my trying-to-focus eyes, reading the article about Davis’s soup. I plucked my glasses off the nightstand and stumbled towards my brewing coffee. (Thank god my coffee maker has a timer.) As I pulled open the fridge to grab the carton of milk, the dill brushed my arm and I caught a whiff. I spied some leftovers and, a few slurps of coffee under my belt, I channeled my inner Tamar Adler into a breakfast bowl. I had made a kale and freekeh* salad the day before, so I scooped up the kale ribs that I had set aside and threw them into a pan with some oil and a rough chop of dill. I mixed together some freekek and kale leaves with the sautéed ribs, slid an egg on top, and showered the whole thing with more dill.

And then I sat down.

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Kale, freekeh, and dill breakfast bowl

My basic breakfast bowl combo is an egg perched atop a pile of cooked or raw greens, grains, and herbs – pretty much whatever you have lying around. Swiss chard and arugula are some of my other go-to greens, and you can’t beat parsley or cilantro to top everything off.

Rescue kale ribs from your most recent salad. Saute them with a large pinch of fresh dill in a little bit of olive oil for a few minutes, then cover the pan to allow the tough stems to steam a bit. When the ribs are tender and the greens are a little browned, season with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon. Move the kale ribs to a bowl. Crack an egg in the same pan and cook it however you like. I fry my egg up so the edges are are frilly and browned and the yolk stays liquid. While the egg is frying, mix the warm kale stems with a few spoonfuls of leftover freekeh and a handful of shredded kale leaves. Top with the egg and some more dill.

Sit down and enjoy, even for a few minutes.

***

* OK, let’s talk about freekeh, folks. Some couples have a song. My friend Molly and I have a grain. I met Molly at a cooking demonstration where she was the only person who could identify the picture of a pile of green grains. We instantly bonded. Common throughout the Middle East, freekeh is an immature (“green”) wheat harvested early when still soft, then dried and set afire in a controlled blaze, lending a smoky flavor to the wheat. It’s name comes from the Arabic farik – rubbed – because after the grains are roasted, they’re thrashed together to separate them from the burnt chaff. Feekeh has an earthy, grassy flavor that I think needs to be tempered a bit with a little lemon juice; it smells a little bit like green tea. For more info and ideas on cooking with freekeh, I’d head on over to Maria Speck‘s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

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Happy 2013!

It’s been such a long time. I’ve missed this space. I’ve missed you guys. I’m back from Peru and have so much to tell you about the trip.

But first, some exciting news. I started a new job!

Maybe you prepare for a new role by self-reflecting and setting goals for success, researching the company and industry, honing skills that might need, well, honing. I did all those things, but I spent my last days of freedom figuring out how I was going to transition from a home office to an office office: I chose my first-week outfits.

And then I decided to mix and match in the kitchen too. I prepped food over the weekend so that, morning or evening, I could open my fridge and pantry like a closet, easing the scramble to pack lunch or throw together dinner. There were greens and herbs to clean, vegetables to roast, dressings and sauces to whisk, meats and grains to cook, nuts to toast.

A few rules of thumb. The vegetables last a few days, so don’t make too much. Dressings are usually good for two weeks unless they contain fresh herbs. Sauces, meat, and grains are easy to freeze, and toasted nuts stay fresh in a jar for at least a month, so make a lot and squirrel them away.

I started week one with butternut squash, using farro that I made a while back and froze.

Tomorrow is a tabouli-like bulgur salad. More on that later, but, right now the big question is … what shall I wear?

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Butternut squash and farro salad with pepitas and ricotta salata

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. Farro, wheat berries, freekeh, barley, brown rice, quinoa – use whatever grains you have around. (Yes, I know quinoa is a seed.)  I roasted the squash at a slightly higher temperature and used scallions instead of red onions. Don’t skip the pumpkin seeds, and definitely don’t skip toasting them.  The crunch is worth it. 

While you’re at it, make extra squash (keeps in the refrigerator for a few days), farro (freeze for a few weeks), and pepitas (store in a jar for a few weeks).

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 for lunch 

- 2 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)

- 4-5 T olive oil, divided

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

- 1/2 C dried farro (or wheat berries, freekeh, barley, etc.)

- 1 T sherry vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

- 1 T water

- 1/2 t salt

- 1/2 t granulated sugar

- 2 scallions

- 1/3 C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

- 3 oz ricotta salata or another salty cheese (about 3/4  C crumbled) – a dry feta would work well too

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roast. Cut the butternut squash between the bulb and neck to make peeling easier. Spoon out the seeds. Cut the squash into pieces about 3/4-inch all around. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the squash out in one layer. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast until pieces are browned and tender, about 30 – 40 minutes. Shake the pan once or twice during roasting.

Simmer. While the squash is roasting, make the wheat berries (or other grains or quinoa) according to the package directions and drain. If you have one, use a pressure cooker! Otherwise, this “beyond rice” guide  from the January 2013 Cook’s Illustrated is really helpful. Let the drained grains cool a bit.

Whisk. While the squash is roasting and the grains are simmering, prepare the dressing. Whisk in a small bowl or jar the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. There will not be a lot of liquid. Thinly slice the scallions and add them to the dressing. There will be more scallion than dressing. Let the scallions mellow in the brine for at least 10 minutes.

Toast. In a small pan, toast the pepitas over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Shake the pan a few times while toasting. The seeds will color slightly, puff up, and some will even pop. Once the pepitas are ready, mix with a teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the squash, grains, scallions and brine. Toss. Crumble half the cheese over the salad and add half the pepitas and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss again. Before serving, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and pepitas.

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I promised you soup yesterday. And pictures too. I do want to warn you that there’s also a favor I need to ask, but we’ll get to that later.

First, let’s eat.

Timing’s a bit off because this is a soup for a cold night when the first wafts of fireplace fill the brisk air. Instead, today was sunny and nearly 70 degrees here in Boston. One of those open-all-the-doors-and-windows kind of days. But soup I wanted, and soup I made.

This whole thing started with a mushroom wheat berry soup at a favorite cafe. The soup was dark-colored and light-flavored, rich with mushroom-y earthiness.  The wheat berries, surpassing barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum, gave the soup enough heft to be filling  but not so much as to be heavy. And a sprinkle of dill brightened the whole thing up. I was determined to recreate the soup while its aroma and texture and flavor was still fresh in my memory, weather be damned. Which is how we got to where we are today.

I realize that this soup might sound like a certain other soup I made last week, what with the mushrooms and ancient grains and all. But that one was barley soup with mushroom. This one is mushroom soup with wheat berries. (Barley and farro would work well here too.)

Here’s what makes this a soup with grains rather than a grain soup: I cooked the grains and the soup separately. If you cook the grains in the soup, you get a starch soup. If you cook the grains in advance (or in parallel) and then drain them of their starchy water, you get a broth with chunks of vegetables, slices of mushrooms, and nuggets of wheat berries.

I’m sure you’re probably thinking that it’s a pain to pre-cook the wheat berries, but hear me out. Wheat berries take a bit of time to cook, generally at least an hour and often with an overnight soak first (though the brand I used was parboiled and only took about 15 minutes), so it’s great to have them on hand when you have a craving. Cook up a big batch and keep some in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for many weeks. (This works particularly well if you recently made some extra space in your freezer by using up those blueberries that you tucked away over the summer). Pull the grains out in the next few days or weeks to top a salad, throw in a soup, or bolster up some vegetables.

While we’re on the subject of cooking grains, here’s where the favor comes in. I know you were searching for it, skipping past the pictures, scrolling down the text. So I’ll repeat it: here’s where favor comes in.

Click on the picture of the wheat berries and take a close look. See how they’re split? The same thing happens whenever I make barley and farro. I can’t seem to figure out how to get those beautiful, smooth little kernels that everyone else seems to achieve with ease. Mine always end up popped open, their fluffy little insides spilling out.

Can anyone tell me the secret to cooking up perfect grains? I have a pantry full of wheat berries, farro, and barley waiting.

Mushroom soup with wheat berries

This soup is adapted from Smitten Kitchen who made it with farro and who adapted it from the New York Times‘s Marian Burros who made it with barley. Rather than cooking the grains in the soup, I cooked them in advance. As for the best way to cook the wheat berries, well, that’s where I need your help. For now, I’m just following the directions on the bag I bought, but hopefully I’ll figure this out soon (hint hint).

A few notes on ingredients that you may not have lying around. I used one tablespoon of tomato paste which gives the soup a richer flavor. If you don’t feel like opening a can, you can skip it. I keep in my freezer a bag of tablespoon-sized cubes of tomato paste that I froze in an ice cube tray way back when. If you don’t have sherry, I’ve heard that you can replace it with half the amount of cider vinegar. Try it and let me know how it works out. If you don’t have a bunch of fresh herbs sitting around, add a few pinches of dry dill. It will be almost as good. Or add your favorite herbs – thyme would work great here. 

Makes about 6 cups

- 1/2 C dried or 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries (or farro, pearled barley, or spelt)

- 1/2 cup dried mushrooms like porcini

- 1 medium onion

- 1 medium carrot

- 2 stalks celery

- 2 cloves garlic

- 1 lb mushrooms (I used 1/2 white button and 1/2 cremini)

- 2 T olive oil

- 1 T tomato paste

- 4 C vegetable (or other) stock

- 1/4 C dry sherry

- Salt and pepper to taste

- handful of parsley (~1/4 C chopped)

- handful of dill (~1/4 C chopped)

Make grains. Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make. Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour. I’ll get back to you once I get a good method down.

Soak. Boil 1 1/2 cups of water. Cover dried mushrooms with the water, and set aside for 20 minutes. When the mushrooms have softened, drain them and reserve the liquid (you’ll be straining it and then  adding it to the soup later). Finely chop the mushrooms.

Chop. Finely chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Slice the fresh mushrooms.

Sauté. Heat the oil in heavy-bottomed deep pot. Sauté onion, celery, and carrot over medium heat until onions begin to color, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add the fresh mushrooms and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until they begin to release liquid. Keep sautéing until the mushrooms reabsorb their liquid. Add the re-hydrated chopped mushrooms and  the tomato paste.  Strain the reserved mushroom liquid to remove any grit and add it to the pot. I used a coffee filter in a manual drip coffee cone for this. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any browned bits that are stuck.

Simmer. Add the vegetable stock and sherry and adjust the heat so the soup comes to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the cooked wheat berries, simmering for just a few more minutes until the grains warm up.

Sprinkle. Chop up the parsley and dill and stir into the soup, reserving a few pinches to garnish each bowl.  

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Lunch today was not pretty, folks. Oh, it was good, but it wasn’t much of a looker. That’s why I don’t have any pictures for you.

It was one of those clear-out-the-fridge-to-make-room-for-new-groceries lunches. You might also call it an eat-before-going-shopping-to-buy-said-groceries-so-you-don’t-buy-out-the-store lunch. The two clearly go together. And you can probably guess how I spent the afternoon.

Lunch started with a bowl of wheat berries. Wheat berries are one of those ancient grains that seem to be the newest thing these days. Or maybe it was the newest thing a few years ago. Which would make ancient grains old news. Which, I suppose they are. Anyway, wheat berries surpass barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum. They’re a little nutty, but not crazy nutty.

Getting back to lunch, I cooked up some wheat berries and piled them into a bowl. Then I sautéed some onion and lots of garlic, added some vegetables (whatever is lurking in your fridge), sprinkled  some spices, and heaped everything on top of the wheat berries.

Finally, empty fridge and full belly, I was ready to go shopping.

A few hours later, full fridge, still-full belly, I started making soup for the week. More on that, pictures and all, tomorrow. See you then.

Wheat berries with greens and tomatoes

Serves 1

Make 1/4 cup hard wheat berries,  Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make). Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour.

While the wheat berries are simmering, prep your vegetables. Dice 1/2 an onion. Mince 3 cloves of garlic. Roughly chop 2 medium tomatoes and 3 handfuls of hearty greens. I used baby kale and arugula; plain leaved or lacinato kale, chard or spinach should work really well too; if you’re using any of these larger greens, remove the leaves from the ribs first.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion  and sauté for 3-4 minutes until soft and translucent, stirring so it doesn’t brown. Add the rest of the ingredients in the following order and keep sautéeing and stirring: garlic for 1 minute, then the tomatoes, a pinch of cayenne, and a few pinches of baharat*. Keep stirring over heat for 5 more minutes until the tomatoes to break down. Taste for salt. Add the greens and stir until they wilt.

Drain the wheat  berries (1/4 cup should yield about 1/2 cup) and scoop into a bowl. Surround with the vegetables. Eat and go grocery shopping.

* If you don’t have baharat, you can substitute a mixture of cumin and cinnamon.

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Enough chit-chat. Let’s cook, shall we?

See that up there? The New York Times calls it barley soup with mushrooms and kale. Barley soup with mushrooms.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re thinking: why isn’t it called mushroom barley soup with kale?

Is it barley-er than the classic soup? Is it less mushroom-y? No and no. The mushroom and barley get equal billing here (and share very nicely with supporting actor kale). Which really should make it mushroom barley soup with kale.

If I had to compare it to what I know of mushroom barley soup, I’d say it’s, well, soupier.

Maybe we should call it soup with barley, mushrooms, and kale.

But that just sounds odd, don’t you think?

Barley soup with mushrooms and kale

I adapted this recipe from the New York Times, skipping the dried mushrooms and upping the garlic. I’m still working up the guts to use regular kale, but for now I’m dipping my toe in with the more tender baby kale. Be patient with me, people, be patient. I’m getting there. 

So here’s the thing: I’ve never been a fan of mushroom  barley soup – it always seemed thick and slimy. But this one is, as I said before, soupier. And it’s good. Good enough that I ate it for lunch four days in a row. As it sits in the fridge, the barley will absorb more of the liquid, so you’ll have to add some liquid (I just used water) to thin the soup a bit. To keep it bright, I squeezed some lemon and chopped some parsley after re-heating. Admittedly, by day four, I was happy to see the bottom of the pot.

Serves 4-6

- 1-2 T olive oil

- 1 large onion

- 1/2 lb cremini mushrooms (sometimes called baby portabellas)

- 4 cloves garlic

- 2 qt (8 C) water

- 3/4 C pearl barley

- a handful of fresh parsley, divided

- a few sprigs thyme

- parmesan rind

- 5 oz baby kale

- lemon for juice

- kosher salt and black pepper

Chop, cook, and stir. Cover the bottom of a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven with the olive oil and heat over medium until shimmering. While the oil is heating, chop the onion and thickly slice the mushrooms. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring frequently until just tender (don’t let it brown), about 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, continuing to stir for another 3 minutes or so until they start to soften and release their moisture. Mince the garlic and add it to the pot with a good pinch of salt. Cook and stir for another 5 minutes until the mushrooms start to reabsorb their moisture and the whole mix dries out.

Simmer. Add the water, barley, a few sprigs each of parsley and thyme, and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes. The barley won’t yet be cooked through.

Slice. Stack the kale leaves in bunches and slice crosswise into slivers.

Keep simmering. Add the kale to the simmering soup and continue to simmer, covered,  for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve. Remove the parsley and thyme sprigs, taste for salt and pepper, and stir in a few squeezes of lemon. Chop the remaining parsley and sprinkle a pinch over each bowl.

Store. The soup should keep in the fridge for a few days, but the barley will absorb liquid. Just add a bit more water before you reheat to get the right consistency. Don’t forget the lemon and parsley. I suspect that the soup also freezes well.

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I’ve been seeing all these signs for NaBloPoMo and thought I was in New York looking for a newly-named-by-a-realtor neighborhood somewhere between TriBeCa and DUMBO. But no, I’m safely back in Boston. The portmanteau (oooh, getting fancy!) stands for National Blog Posting Month and is a challenge to bloggers to write one post per day in November. People have been doing it for years. When Jess brought it to my attention, I figured, why not do it this year? This is just the type of challenge that I need to push my writing in new directions and to experiment.

What if I write a post without a picture? What if I have pictures without words? How many different voices can I adopt (I already have the he-said-she-said down pat)? The opportunity to play during a condensed timeline, especially in a month so filled with cooking and preparation and family and craziness, will be an adventure. There’s definitely value in keeping up with the Joneses on this one.

Wanna join me?

If don’t have a blog, but do have a Y chromosome, why not take up the Movember challenge instead? Grow a mustache, raise awareness about men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancers, and encourage donations to fund education, outreach, and research.

And with that public service announcement, I’ll begin my catch-up NaBloPoMo

Let’s talk a little bit about yesterday, November 2. A friend recently challenged me to make dinner for four in under an hour (in desperation, I can have 90 minutes). I invited three friends over, and made just two simple, well-balanced dishes that seemed like they could be made in an hour. I decided to make a chicken and a kale barley beet salad. And for dessert, some biscotti I had made the day before.

I skimmed the recipes and figured I’d be able to make the chicken and the salad in parallel. Not quite. The chicken needed time in the oven at 425ºF. The beets at 375ºF. The beets took longer than expected. The barley took longer than expected. And then I read that the kale had to sit in dressing for 3 hours to wilt.

New challenge: read recipes from start to finish. And then let’s see how this 60-minute dinner for four thing unfolds.

Nonetheless, the chicken was great, the salad was great, the biscotti were great.

As for those  biscotti, that brings me to the day before yesterday, November 1, when I baked them.

They were my third attempt at some sort of cornmeal biscotti. The first attempt was tart cherry lime – hard as a rock, gritty, and too sweet. The second, blueberry lime – too dry and brittle. Then lucky number three, cranberry almond lime – crispy, crunchy, sweet, nutty, with a hint of lime. Exactly what I’ve been looking for. Another time, we can discuss the science behind my adjustments and how I carefully calculated the exact chemistry for (stumbled upon?) the right recipe. We’ll have loads of time for that this month.

For now though, let’s just stick with the kale salad.

Kale and barley salad with beets

The original recipe was a barley salad with kale, but I wanted more of a kale salad with barley. I cut the barley nearly in half and reduced the amount of beets as well. This salad would be great with feta, as the original indicates. Make sure to give yourself enough prep time. There’s only a little bit of chopping and prepping you need to do, but you do need to spend a fair amount of time watching – checking the beets, checking the barley, giving the kale a few hours to wilt. If you’re really organized, make the barley, beets, and dressing in advance. Chop and dress the kale in the morning – it won’t get soggy. Then toss everything together while your chicken is roasting. One hour after you’ve draped your coat over a chair, dinner can be on the table. In theory. This month, I’m going to try to make that happen. 

Serves 4

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 2 T unseasoned rice vinegar

- 2 t light brown sugar

- 1 orange for zest

- 1 shallot

- 1 big bunch of Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale) or 5 oz (3 big handfuls) baby kale

- 2 medium beets, trimmed

- 3/4 C pearl barley

Preheat oven to 375ºF

Make dressing. In a glass jar, shake together the  olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and orange zest (set aside a pinch or two of zest to sprinkle on the assembled salad). Adjust for salt and pepper. Very thinly slice shallots into rings. Add them to the jar and keep shaking.

Wilt.  If you’re using large kale, separate leaves from ribs and cut the leaves into bite sized pieces. If you’re using the baby kale, rough chop the leaves, also into bite-sized-pieces. Add half the dressing (including some of the shallots), and massage it into the kale. Let sit for three hours until the leaves start to wilt and  become tender.

Roast. By now the oven should be hot. Wash and dry the beets, put them in a small baking dish, drizzle them with oil, and then roll them around so they’re coated with oil. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes. Start checking around 45 minutes – the beets are done when a sharp knife can easily pierce through to the center without hitting much resistance. If the beets are large, or aren’t roasting fast enough for you, cut them in half and roast another 10 minutes and check again. Keep checking until they’re ready. Take them out of the oven, making sure that they foil is still tightly covering the beets. Let them cool covered before handling them. When you can touch them, use a peeler, a paring knife, or your fingers to peel off the skin. Cut the beets into 1/2-inch cubes.

Simmer. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (at least 4 cups). Salt the boiling water and then add the barley. Stir once and then reduce the heat to a medium simmer (there should be a few bubbles every second, but you don’t want a full on violently roll). Cook for 45 minutes to an hour. The barley is ready when it is al dente – just barely tender. If the barley feels like it has a little hard grain inside, it’s not quite ready yet.

Dry. Drain the barley and spread it onto a cookie sheet to dry out and cool.

Assemble. Gently toss the wilted kale with the barley and another tablespoon of dressing, or to taste. Top with beets and the reserved orange zest.

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matchmaker

Have you met Farro?

In case you haven’t, he’s a lovely fellow.

I ran into him at the cafe in my office. It’s a fancy cafe, serving things like duck confit on a regular Tuesday. Farro and I got to the line at the same time and did that little awkward dance: you go first, no after you, well thank you. We struck up a conversation.

He speaks with a slight Italian accent and if you lean real close, you might pick up a Middle Eastern lilt. When I asked where he was from, he proudly traced his roots back to the Fertile Crescent. He spoke like a DAR whose family fought in the American Revolution and came over on the Mayflower.

We sat down together with a group of colleagues, and the subject turned to dating. Farro was having a rough time of it. He had only recently moved to Boston and didn’t know where to meet people. So I invited him to shabbat dinner. I thought he might really get along with my friend Tabouli.

Tabouli’s family is also from the Fertile Cresent area and her parents moved to the US from Syria and Lebanon by way of Israel. Her best friend is Parsley and she often hangs out with Cucumber, Tomato, Scallion, and Mint. They used to go to mixers together, when mixers were the place to be seen, and picked up Lemon and Olive Oil, welcoming them into their crew. Tabouli had been in a bit of a funk after she and her boyfriend Bulghur broke up. He was a bit of a bully and she needs someone more soft and inviting.

I was thrilled to play matchmaker. I didn’t tell either of them about the other. I wanted to see  how they would get along at dinner. They sat next to each other. So far, so good. Farro’s hand grazed against Tabouli’s arm when he reached for the water pitcher. Tabouli giggled. She batted her long eyelashes. Farro shared his nutty sense of humor with jokes that Tabouli laughed at while the rest of us forced grins. So far, so very good.

After dessert was served and tea was drunk, Farro offered to walk Tabouli home. She demurred, saying she was going in the opposite direction. In the end, she relented.

Weeks and months passed in their whirlwind romance and I wasn’t surprised to quickly see a ring on Tabouli’s finger. They moved away to the West coast and bought a house.

A year later, they returned to Cambridge – Farro was interviewing for a job. I again invited them to dinner. As the summer sun set, they arrived with a sleeping bundle. She was beautiful with a shock of light blown hair and long eyelashes and cherry tomato cheeks. She wore a green onesie that Aunt Parsley gave her.

She was so cute, I could just eat her up!

Farro tabouli

Farro is s a nutty whole grain that is chewy and firm. It absorbs the flavors around it and is the perfect base for tabouli – a Middle Eastern salad whose star is pasley, providing a bit more bite and substance than more traditional bulghur. I based this recipe on one in Food & Wine and another provided by Anson Mills, a retailer of heirloom grains. If you want more farro ideas, check out a recent article in Saveur written by Leah Koenig (who wrote a cookbook that included a few of my own recipes).

This recipe makes enough for 4-6 as a side dish and would be great for Passover with quinoa.

- 1 C uncooked farro

- 3-4 handfuls small (cherry, pear) tomatoes, about 1 C chopped

- 3-4 small seedless cucumers (sometimes called “Persian” or “mediterranean”) or 1/2 – 3/4 of a large seedless cucumber, about 1 C chopped

- 4 scallions

- 1 large bunch parsley, enough for 1 C finely chopped

- 1 C lightly packed mint leaves, enough for  1/3 C finely chopped

- 3 lemons, for 5 – 6 T  juice

- 4-5 T olive oil

- salt and pepper

Cook. Prepare the farro according to package. Most directions call for a quick rinse before cooking, and some suggest pre-soaking. Don’t overcook the farro  or it will get mushy. I usually remove the farro from the heat a few minutes shy of the time recommended time. The grains will soak up additional liquid from the rest of the ingredients.

Cut. Chop the tomatoes and cucumbers into small cubes (1/4 – 1/3 inch per side, but don’t worry about being exact). Thinly slice the white and light green parts of the scallions. Finely chop the parsley (removing any tough stems) and mint leaves.

Squeeze. Juice the lemons, making sure to strain out the seeds. I usually squeeze each lemon half over my hand and catch the seeds as they fall.

Mix. Mix in a large bowl the farro, vegetables, and herbs. Season with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper, tasting as you go.

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