Talking about the best way to cook farro is a bit like talking about the best place to have a colonoscopy; useful information, perhaps, but not anything to get excited about. Hey, I shared your feelings until I had the privilege of cooking with the great American chef Suzanne Goin at the LA Times Book Festival last April. Right in front of my eyes, she prepared a farro salad with a garlic and parsley dressing that wasn’t punishing in any way; in fact, it was quite the opposite: light and herbal and fluffy and fragrant. The most shocking part? The highlight was the farro itself; each grain stood apart and was both tender and toothsome in a way most farro isn’t. I knew I had to learn the Suzanne Goin method for making it.
Monday night is healthy dinner night. I don’t drink wine, even if Craig makes a stink and opens a bottle in protest. I don’t make dessert, even if he begs for my famous chocolate chip cookies. What I do, on Monday night, is penance for all of the ridiculous things I ate over the weekend and, also, I set the tone for the upcoming week: if I eat healthy on Monday night, it’ll make the fact that I went to the gym earlier in the day seem worthwhile. Also, it’ll keep me in the zone for going to the gym next day. The trick, though, is to make the dinner just healthy enough; meaning, it shouldn’t be punishing. It should still be good. Which is how I came up with the dinner I’m about to tell you about.
Trader Joe’s has always been a mystery to me. People love the place, they start to cheer when one opens up in their neighborhood, but I’ve always been stumped by what to buy there. I’ve done well with trail mix (because it tastes more like candy), and it’s nice to get a decent bottle of wine for not a lot of money. But until yesterday, I’d never made a dinner from Trader Joe’s ingredients that I’d be eager to make again. Yet there I was–there’s one downstairs from my gym–and I wanted to make a healthy dinner so I bought a can of white beans (a pretty safe purchase), a bag of cruciferous vegetables (including kale), a lemon and a bottle of white wine. And the dinner that I made was so stupendous, I’ve just gotta tell you about it.
Sometimes recipes take you by surprise; you think they’re going to taste one way, they wind up tasting another way and you wind up liking that other way better.
With the fattoush recipe from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, I was expecting crispy pieces of pita bread tossed with pretty typical Israeli salad vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.), yogurt, olive oil and lemon juice. Instead, you use naan (or stale Turkish flatbread, if you can find that) and don’t toast it at all. You toss that with a yogurt mixture before making the salad and what happens next is so special, I’m not going to describe it in this paragraph. You’ll just have to click ahead (unless you came to this post directly, in which case this moment is…awkward.)
Pride in the name of dinner: I’m really proud of this healthy dish I came up with last week. It started in the morning when I cracked open a bag of black chickpeas, poured them into a large red bowl, filled it with cold water and left for the day. 8 hours later, when I came home, I drained off the liquid, put the chickpeas in a pot, added more cold water to cover and threw in a head of garlic, a bay leaf and a few dried Arbol chiles. Up to a simmer it went, I added salt (breaking convention) and cooked for about 90 minutes until a chickpea tasted creamy.