Farro and Pomegranate Salad

Chewy farro flecked with pomegranate seeds, feta, bacon and almonds makes a colorful and hearty main-course salad. The salty-tart flavor of preserved lemons adds a unique twist.

a bowl of farro pomegranate salad

When it comes to the latest dietary fad or junk-science eating recommendations, I’m an avowed denyer. In my humble opinion, sugar is not evil. Unless you have celiac disease or wheat sensitivity, gluten is not the devil’s work. Dairy is not the enemy and caffeine will not kill you.

When it comes to eating, I trust in the axiom, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” I believe that, holistically, it’s healthier to stop stressing about what goes in our mouth and just eat – a variety of food (I said “food” – not chemicals or genetically modified food-like stuff), mindfully, when we’re hungry, in moderation. I think the worry, the self-denying, the strict adherence to dietary “rules” that seem to change weekly cause more toxicity in our bodies than a well-marbled, 3-oz. grass-fed steak. If you want the cookie, eat the damn cookie. Just don’t eat the whole dozen. …or if you DO eat the whole dozen (guilty!), don’t do it all the time (that’s the “moderation in moderation” part).

I had a conversation recently about the healthfulness of farro. We had overindulged during the holidays and were talking about “cleansing” to help our sluggish-feeling systems reset. I mentioned making a farro salad for lunch. She looked at me as if I had just said I was going to eat nothing but Twinkies for a week. “That’s not cleansing – don’t you know farro contains (the ominous and deadly) g..g..g..gluten!!!” Obviously, our ideas of “cleansing” are different. Gluten is not my enemy.

Farro is a nutritious whole grain. It’s an excellent source of protein, fiber and nutrients, and contains a variety of antioxidants like polyphenols, carotenoids, phytosterols and selenium. Add some fiber and vitamin-C rich pomegranate seeds and hunger-satiating fat with almonds and olive oil. Satisfy the splurge factor with a bit of bacon and feta and…voile, a toothsome grain salad.

Whether you consider this a healthy meal or death on a plate is determined by what camp you sit it. I hope we can all agree, at least, that this Farro and Pomegranate Salad is damn tasty. Mmmm…

p.s. I love the pop of the pomegranate seeds in my mouth when I eat this salad!


Farro and Pomegranate Salad

Chewy farro flecked with pomegranate seeds, feta, bacon and almonds makes a colorful and hearty main-course salad. The salty-tart flavor of preserved lemons adds a unique twist.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked farro, cooled
  • 2 cups pomegranate seeds
  • ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • ⅓ cup toasted almonds (or pistachios), roughly chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped preserved lemons
  • 3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup good-quality olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 strips crisp bacon, crumbled

Directions

  1. In a bowl, combine farro, pomegranate seeds, feta, cilantro, almonds, and preserved lemon. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper (you may not need salt due to the salty feta and lemon). Add bacon just before serving so it remains crisp.

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Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese

This Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese elevates a humble vegetable to new heights.

A blow of crunchy Celery Salad

Sometimes, I can’t help but equate my never-ending search for the perfect Bed and Breakfast purchase to online dating.  I start out searching for geographic desirability (location is key), then I’ll notice a photo that sparks my interest,  maybe smile a bit when reading the “bio” – ocean views,  fireplaces, large owner’s quarters, commercial kitchen – only to be disappointed when faced with the reality.    I found another Inn for sale this week in an ideal location along the Mendocino coast, only to be told by my broker that, according to the financials, it’s most likely a “lifestyle B&B” (read:  not making significant income).  This is the equivalent in the online dating world to “still lives with his mother.”  Sigh.

Enough daydreaming for today, Julie.  Back to the monotonous suburban daily grind that is slowing sucking away my soul – and the safe harbor of happiness called my kitchen.   This is another recipe from Joshua McFadden’s cookbook, Six Seasons.  I love that he takes humble, quotidian vegetables, like carrots and, in this case, celery, and gives them a starring role like in this crunchy celery-centric salad.


Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese

A crisp, refreshing salad that pairs well with cold poached salmon or cold roast chicken.


Ingredients

  • 8-10 celery stalks (depending on size), leaves reserved, tough fibers peeled off, sliced on an angle, ¼ inch thick
  • 4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup roughly chopped toasted almonds
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 oz. mild blue cheese, crumbled
  • 4 Tablespoons Good quality olive oil

Directions

  1. Soak sliced celery pieces in a bowl of ice water for about 20 minutes to heighten crispness. Strain, pat dry, and place in a dry bowl (I dried out the same bowl).
  2. Add the celery leaves, dates, almonds, lemon juice and red pepper flakes and toss together. Season well with salt and black pepper. Adjust seasoning, if needed. At the blue cheese and olive oil. Toss gently and adjust seasoning again, adding more olive oil, lemon juice, salt or pepper as needed.
  3. Let chill for 30 minutes to allow flavors to combine.

On a side note,  I was pleased to find my Cranberry Bakewell Mini Tarts featured on the Shari’s Berries site this week. Thanks for the shout out!

Carrot, Olive and Date Salad

Carrot Salad on Creme fraiche

I’m never going to eat like an Ascetic.  I will never “eat to live.”  I like the flavors too much, the textures, the history and culture imbued within a recipe, the miraculous synergy in combining disparate ingredients.  I’m in love with food magic.

I’ve started up with a personal trainer again.  A VEGAN personal trainer.  She blanched when I confessed to my culinary vices, my food blog, my ability to eat an entire pie on a long, lazy Sunday.

She has her work cut out.  I’ve decided to help a bit – just a bit – by adding a few veggie-rich meals to my unmistakably carb-heavy diet.  I need help – creative vegetable combining is not my forte (yet).  Give me flour, sugar and butter and I’ll whip you up something crave-worthy.  Give me a head of cabbage and I’ll probably make coleslaw.

That’s where my most recent purchase comes in – Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.  If this first recipe is any indication, I’m. In. Love.

Carrots, Olives and Dates? Who would have guessed – absolute food magic.


Carrot, Olive and Date Salad

I wish I could claim this as my own creation, but alas, it's not. This is a slightly adapted version of Joshua McFadden's recipe and so much more than the sum of its parts.


Ingredients

  • 1 lb. rainbow carrots, trimmed and peeled
  • ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or Urfa Chili
  • ⅓ cup roughly chopped pitted Nicoise or other nice black olives
  • ⅓ cup roughly chopped pitted Castelvetrano or other nice green olives
  • 4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons white Modena Vinegar (available at Trader Joe’s)
  • ½ cup lightly packed roughly chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 cup crème fraiche
  • Shaved Parmesan

Directions

  1. If the carrots are large, split them lengthwise. Cut them on a sharp angle so you have angled ¼-inch thick carrot pieces. In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat, combine a bit of olive oil, ½ cup water, Aleppo pepper, salt and fresh ground black pepper. Add the carrots. Cook, uncovered, until the carrots are just crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain carrots and cool slightly.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine olives, dates and carrots. Toss with vinegar. Taste and adjust with salt, black pepper, Aleppo pepper and vinegar until the flavor is super vibrant (you know you’ve hit it when you says “oh wow!”). Add parsley and a splash of good quality olive oil and toss again.
  3. On a large platter, smear crème fraiche in a round, flat, circle. Pile salad on top, leaving a bit of crème visible. Garnish with shaved parmesan and a grind or two of black pepper.

Roasted Mexican Corn Salad

Summer Corn Salad

When I created this summer salad, I was envisioning the corn on the cob sold by our neighborhood Mexican elote street vendors.  “Elote” simply means “corn on the cob” in Spanish.  The vendors traditionally serve the cobs coal-roasted with a squeeze of lime juice, slathered with (imitation) butter and mayonnaise, rolled in Cotija cheese and sprinkled with Ancho chile powder or cilantro.  Sounds like overkill, but when done properly, they’re utterly addictive.

For my salad version, I originally envisioned closely following the traditional list of ingredients, but since I was making this side dish for a sweltering June afternoon barbecue, I decided sunbaked mayonnaise may not be the best choice for a food-poisoning free day.  My consternation then turned to cilantro.  While I love the bright-green herb (especially on sandwiches and in salads), I realize there are many cilantro-haters out there, claiming it tastes like soap (others even asserting “cilantro allergies,” but color me doubtful.)  Accordingly, I opted for the less-divisive dried Mexico oregano.  The final recipe resembles nothing of Mexican street elote, but, nevertheless, it’s quite tasty and perfect for a summer backyard barbecue.


Roasted Mexican Corn Salad

No mayo, a breeze to make, and no need to refrigerate - the ideal side salad for a summer backyard barbecue.


Ingredients

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon pickled jalapeno, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups roasted corn
  • ½ cup red bell pepper, diced
  • ¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup celery, diced
  • ½ cup Cotija cheese, crumbled

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, garlic, pickled jalapeno, dried oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine corn, red bell pepper, green onions, celery and Cotija cheese. Pour dressing over corn mixture and toss. Let rest for 30 minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
  3. Tip: I roll leftovers of this flavorful salad in flour tortillas for an easy summer mid-week dinner.

Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce

Poached Salmon with Fennel Salad

“You breathe in experience, and you breathe out what you make.”
– Doug Aitken

This quote has been swirling around my brain today. Does this mean creating shouldn’t be a struggle – that making art is as natural as aspiration? That sounds so effortless. I wish. Or does it suggest that limited experiences, like inadequate oxygen molecules in toxic air, results in an insipid and shallow creative exhale?

In yoga, there’s a Sanskrit word, pranayama, which translates as “breath control” or “control of life force.” Pranayama is a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered to produce specific results. In practice, when we focus on our breath, it becomes fuller, richer, more rounded. A deep, expansive inhale yields an equally full exhale.

Applied to the quote above, it would imply, indeed, that the best art requires a cache of rich experiences. Or does our internal creative process provide an avenue to transform any experience, even the drone of suburban monotony, into something wonderful?

Speaking of turning something mundane into something wonderful…this creamy, flavorful lemon, dill and caper sauce paired with fennel salad elevates humble poached salmon into something both healthy and crave worthy – fancy enough for company.


Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce

Starting the poaching process in cold water ensures the fish remains incredibly moist.

Ingredients

    Fennel Salad
  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Poached Salmon
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 2 sprigs dill
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 4 8-oz. skinless salmon fillets
  • Caper Sauce
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon dill, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine fennel salad ingredients and set aside to marinate.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine water, lemon juice, shallots, celery, dill, bay, peppercorns and salt. Add salmon to poaching liquid and additional water, until poaching liquid just covers salmon (about 2 more cups).
  3. Cover, turn heat to medium and cook salmon until internal temperature reaches 115°F, about 18 minutes. Carefully transfer salmon to a plate and chill until cold.
  4. To make yogurt sauce, combine all ingredients and chill. If too thick, add a bit of water or milk.
  5. Serve salmon over fennel Salad liberally drizzled with yogurt sauce.