TUNA JAMBALAYA

This past Friday was Maha Shivaratri, a holiday especially meaningful to my family since our boy is named for Lord Shiva. My mom and I spent the day fasting, a practice that has grown more and more potent for me as I’ve gotten older. I have a greater respect for discipline than I used to, a greater understanding of what it can accomplish. Discipline, now, is as much about affirmation as it is about denial.

I broke my fast in the evening, after we had performed puja as a family. With my right hand working to portion bites of my mom’s famous aloo parantha, I told Shiv my favorite of the stories associated with Maha Shivaratri. The basic scenario is this: the gods were weak as the result of a curse, and in order to be strengthened, sought out amrita, or nectar of life, which could only found at the bottom of the ocean. Given their weakness, the gods had no choice but to partner with the demons in order to harness adequate power for churning the ocean, the only way to access the nectar.

This part gets complicated, but during the extended retrieval process, an extremely deadly poison emerges—a familiar mythological trope, right? Before you get to the awesome thing you’ve been working so hard for, something super-dangerous comes along. In this case, the poison was so intensely harmful that it threatened to wipe out the already-weakened gods, to say nothing of potentially destroying all of humanity.

Enter Shiva. He agrees to drink the poison, but holds it in his throat, offering it a container and keeping it from harming others. Ultimately—and some versions of the story attribute this to the efforts of his wife, Parvati, or the other gods—the poison also does not harm Shiva, though it does turn his neck (or, in some stories, his whole body) blue.

You can do a lot with this story. I am particularly drawn to the notion that poisonous things cannot necessarily be dispensed with altogether, but that sometimes we have to make room for them. I am inspired by the thought that we can render harmful things harmless by offering them a place inside our own vast capability. In debriefing the story with Shiv, we talked about sacrifice, that it is sometimes necessary to do difficult things for the benefit of others, that Shiva’s actions can inspire all of us to be strong when the time comes to do the right thing.

Earlier in the day, at the Jewish school where I work, our Head of School gave a beautiful d’var torah about that oft-quoted verse from Exodus: “You shall neither wrong a stranger, nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It’s not unusual for the week’s parsha (text selection) to feel relevant—indeed that is the point of revisiting the text year after year, to connect it to our lives—but wow. This one. Timely.

Tomorrow, Lent begins, another layer of the multi-faceted traditions that make up my personal spiritual life. It’s a season all about sacrifice and discipline, and I welcome its structure each year, but perhaps no more so than I will now, when so much feels uncertain.

On Friday night, as I got him ready for bed, Shiv took his allergy medicine, as usual, then made a funny face, holding his lips together and puffing out his cheeks. “I was tryna hold it in my throat and be strong,” he told me after he’d swallowed it. “Like Lord Shiva.”

 

SISTER BARBARA’S TUNA JAMBALAYA

Some folks seek out more fish recipes for Lent, so I thought it would be a good time to share this recipe for one of our family’s “old reliables.” Not necessarily the most attractive or showy dish, but it sure is comforting and simple to make. I learned the recipe a long time ago from one of those old-fashioned, Southern, comb-bound cookbooks to which Sister Barbara, whoever she may be, contributed.

I lost the official recipe a while back, but I still know how to make this dish from muscle memory; this is very much a “pantry” dinner, or a “what should I make for dinner?” dinner, provided you’ve grabbed a green bell pepper from the store and always keep celery in your crisper like I do.


ingredients:

None of these measurements are precise/exact; feel free to tinker based on what you have.

Butter and/or vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3-4 ribs celery, diced
1-2 cans chunk light tuna in water, drained
1 cup short-grain rice
2 ¼ cups stock (I tend to have chicken on hand; the original recipe called for beef stock)
Salt & pepper
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning or a similar seasoning blend

Melt a knob of butter (or heat up 1-2 T oil) in a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook the trinity (onion + bell pepper + celery) until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, then add a bit more butter before stirring in the rice, cooking it for 1-2 minutes. Pour in the stock, then stir in the tuna. Season again—a few generous shakes of creole seasoning, and perhaps a bit more salt.

Cover the pan with a lid to let the mixture come to a boil; check after a few minutes and turn the heat down as needed, replacing the lid. Cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is fully cooked.* Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve & enjoy!

*If your rice is fully cooked but you have more liquid than you want, remove the lid for the remainder of the cooking process. If you’re out of liquid but your rice is still undercooked, add a bit more stock and re-cover the pan.

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TURKEY BIRYANI

My most prized kitchen possession is not actually mine; it’s Jill’s.


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The item in question is a Dutch oven that originally belonged to Jill’s maternal grandmother: black as soot, heavy as hell, with an interior seasoned smooth through decades of use. It’s no painted enamel looker, but as far as cooking utility goes, I’d put it up next to a $300 Le Creuset any day.

I made my first batch of gumbo in it; I was so nervous that I’d screw up my first real roux, but the comfort of knowing that the pan had much more experience in the matter than I did allowed me to keep my cool and take that roux right into the deep chocolate territory where it belonged. Just this morning, I baked bread in the same Dutch oven I used last night to make the biryani pictured here. Perhaps I am not exactly who Jill’s grandmother might have imagined would be using her heirloom pot, but I like to think that I could win her over with my ability to coax good food out of it to sustain, nourish, and delight my family—just as she did.

On a related note—if you are from the American South and care at all about food, please read this thoughtful, well-researched piece from The Bitter Southerner: The Seven Essential Southern Dishes. I read it aloud to Jill on our way down to our friends’ farm for a pre-Thanksgiving gathering; we delighted in the author’s spot-on descriptions, learned things we didn’t know about the food we love, and took issue with some of her choices—which she encourages folks to do. It’s worth a read, or an accented read-aloud. If you’ve still got relatives hanging around, I imagine it will provoke some lively debate and the telling of good stories.

TURKEY BIRYANI
Source: Anita Jaisinghani via The Houston Chronicle

I first clipped this recipe from the newspaper (so old school!) in 2010; the chef behind it is the proprietress and chef behind two of Houston’s best restaurants, Indika & Pondicheri, and I have long been an admirer of her talents.
Since then, this biryani has become a post-Thanksgiving tradition—we love it because it both uses up leftover turkey and creates a whole separate set of flavors from the ones typically associated with Thanksgiving. Plus, it’s a repurposing that doesn’t create another highly-caloric meal, but is still wonderfully delicious and can easily feed a crowd if you’ve still got houseguests or family in town.

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Notes:

*The original recipe calls for you to cook 1 cup of black beans to use in the recipe; I cheat and substitute canned beans.

*Please, please do not substitute another kind of rice for the Basmati; it is essential for the biryani to have the proper taste and texture. If possible, find imported Basmati rice from an Indian grocer—it should be extremely long-grained and fragrant. It makes all the difference.

*My mom, who is a fountain of culinary knowledge that I fear I will never fully manage to tap into, insisted that I add whole black cardamom pods (sometimes called false cardamom—larger than the green cardamom that you’re probably accustomed to seeing) and dried mace flowers (which, I learned, come from the nutmeg tree) to the biryani for authenticity’s sake. You will likely not have these things on hand—I didn’t—but should you, or should you wish to acquire them, wrap them in cheesecloth (to make them easier to fish out) and toss them into the rice as it cooks.

For the rice:

2 cups basmati rice
3 cups water
Small pinch saffron, soaked in a bit of warm water
2 tsp salt
2 T butter
2-3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks

Rinse the basmati rice in cold water 3 times, or until the rinsing water is no longer cloudy. Soak the rinsed rise in warm water for an hour; drain.

Bring the rice, 3 cups of water, saffron, salt, butter, and spices to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pan. Cook the rice for another 8-10 minutes, or until all of the water is gone. Take the rice off of the heat; fluff gently with a fork and set aside.

For the turkey masala:

2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
2 T butter
4 cups turkey meat, chopped or pulled (original recipe calls for leg meat; I used both dark & white)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 T ginger, grated fine
½ cup plain yogurt
1 T chili powder (I used chipotle chili powder—you can use whatever blend you have on hand)
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1 T garam masala
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

Optional but highly recommended garnishes:

a handful each: toasted, chopped cashews, pomegranate seeds, chopped cilantro

turkey biryani | Blue Jean Gourmet

Preheat oven to low—for me, that’s 170°.

In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over high heat until they start to sweat. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until they are a dark golden brown. Add the turkey, garlic, and ginger, and cook on high for a few minutes.

Fold in the yogurt, chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes. Remove the Dutch oven from the heat, then stir in the garam masala. Add the black beans in an even layer, then spread the warm rice on top and cover with the lid.

Keep warm in a low oven for at least 15 and up to 30 minutes. Before serving, mix the biryani together very gently with a spatula, then top with garnishes.

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FRIED RICE

This fall, I had kind of a breakdown.

fried rice | Blue Jean Gourmet

That sounds melodramatic, I know, but I’m pretty sure it’s the correct word for what I experienced: breakdown as in things no longer working, as in a sudden onset of intense, uncontrollable, and never-before-experienced anxiety and sadness.  Mid-October to mid-January was a very tough period of time for me, scary and exhausting and surreal.  With the help of Jill, my friends, my counselor, and a psychiatrist, I am relieved and grateful to say that I made it to the other side.

Surviving a breakdown is like getting the world’s loudest existential wake-up call.  The absence of pain is a tremendous feeling, and I came out of it knowing one thing for certain; I never want to do this ever, ever again.  So then came the task of figuring out how to keep that promise to myself.

The more I looked, the more it became clear to me that my old identity was no longer working; thirty years of goal-oriented living and it was time to reevaluate who I was, what I cared about, and how I approached my daily life.  Everything was up for grabs, which totally terrified me. What if I was something other than a constant parade of comparisons and achievements?  Who was I underneath all of that?

Figuring out these things doesn’t happen all at once.  I’ve learned that I don’t have to have to make all of my decisions right this minute; I am planning less and less these days, in fact.  At the most, I think a few days ahead, finding meaning, worth, and value in each day instead of anticipating some future point where everything will magically come together and I’ll have my life figured out and lined up neat and pretty.

As I spend more and more time on this side of my breakdown, I find there is, in fact, something quite freeing about doing things very, very differently than I did before.  Freeing to let go of old models and expectations, freeing to give myself permission to relate to myself and my life in a new way.

It turns out that the pieces I thought made me who I am, the things I was holding onto so tightly, the pieces I was so attached to and so convinced I would fall apart without—none of those are really me.  And they aren’t the things that everyone else in my life saw as being me all along.  Turns out what they love is something else altogether, an essential part that can’t be screwed up, even when I am kind of a mess.

It turns out that I can take a container of hummus that I did not make myself to book club and it won’t upset the balance of the universe.   It turns out that who I really am is enough.

It’s a brave new world, my friends, and I’m glad to be in it.

FRIED RICE WITH BANH-MI STYLE MEATBALLS

Fried rice is one of my favorite weeknight dishes; like a frittata, it’s a great way to use up leftovers without feeling like you’re, well, eating leftovers.  A few months ago, I tried this method for making good fried rice great, and I’ve been following its instructions ever since.  The directions may seem extensive, but it’s really just a matter of being prepared ahead of time—having everything chopped and ready to go so that you don’t have to pause once you get your pan (or wok) hot.

This time, instead of cooking meat as part of the rice, I made banh-mi style pork meatballs separately and then incorporated them into the rice.  You could also use these meatballs to make homemade banh mi (mmm!) or serve them over noodles instead of rice.  They are very flavorful and freeze well, too!

fried rice | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the meatballs:

1 lb. ground pork
½ of a small or ¼ of a large onion, diced
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
½ jalapeno, minced
1 ½ T minced ginger
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T corn or potato starch
1 T fish sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
a few squirts of sriracha (optional)

Combine the above ingredients, preferably with your hands.  Form meatballs of whatever size you choose (I went for 1 ½ inches in diameter).  You can complete this step in advance and refrigerate the meatballs, covered, until ready to cook.

When you’re ready to cook the meatballs, heat your oven to 350°.  Cover a deep, heavy-bottomed pan with a layer of oil—I use canola, with a small amount of sesame oil for flavor—and heat the oil until shimmering.  Pan-fry the meatballs in batches, turning them to brown on all sides.  Place the browned meatballs on foil-lined baking sheets and cook in the oven for an addition 10-12 minutes, until cooked through.

for the fried rice:

I used what we had on hand around the house—feel free to substitute any vegetables hanging out in your fridge.

3 cups cold, leftover rice
2 leeks, washed and cut into thin half-moons
~1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and diced
1 red bell pepper. diced
handful of crimini mushrooms, diced
2 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 inches ginger, minced
1-2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. soy sauce
fish sauce (to taste)
handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
canola oil

Cook the egg first.  Heat about a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until hot.  When it’s ready, pour in the beaten egg and stir it constantly until fluffy and cooked.  Turn out into a large bowl and wipe out your pan.

Add another tablespoon of oil and let it get shimmery before adding the raw, non-aromatic vegetables (bell pepper, peas, mushrooms).  Toss them around until they are tender but still crisp—I like to err on the side of undercooked, because they’ll ultimately be added back to the pan at the end and receive a bit more heat.  Turn the cooked veggies out into the bowl with the egg.

Add another splash of oil to the pan and get it hot again.  If using meatballs or another fully-cooked meat, just toss it around in the pan to get it nice and hot (and to render some of the flavor out into the pan).  If you are using raw meat, fully cook it before adding it to bowl with the already-cooked egg.

Pour in a few more tablespoons of oil to the pan and wait until it shimmers.  Add the leeks and sauté until they begin to soften; then toss in the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until very aromatic and just beginning to brown.
Next, add the rice all at once, breaking up any large clumps and tossing it around in the hot oil.  Stir fry until the rice starts to look dry and the individual grains separate.  Season with a pinch or two of salt.

Now, turn the contents of the egg-vegetable-meat bowl into the hot pan.  Stir gently to combine, then make a well in the center of the pan and add the liquid seasonings—rice wine vinegar, soy, and a few shakes of fish sauce.  Incorporate the bubbling liquid into the rice, stirring and tossing everything until the rice looks dry again.

Remove your pan from the hot burner and top with chopped basil.  Serve hot.

BIG BOOST SALAD

I want to tell you what the forests
were like
I will have to speak
in a forgotten language
-W.S. Merwin

farro salad | Blue Jean Gourmet

I want to tell stories. I want to talk about what is lost when the storytellers leave us, even if their stories remain.

I want more words. I want a word for the feeling that fills my chest when I lean over to kiss my sleeping baby in his crib, before I go to sleep myself at night. I want a word to call my friends for whom “friend” sounds a cheap and flimsy wrapping given what they know of me, what they’ve witnessed, what they have vigiled at my side.

I want my students to come alive. I want them to unabashedly give a damn. I want them to know that I see them, that I can see under their fourteen year old skins, straight through the girls’ ponytails piled impossibly high and the boys’ hair tousled just so, right into the heart of who they are, who they are trying to be, and they are so beautiful, even when they are being complete and total pains in the ass.

I want to say it forever, all of the time, to everyone; I am here. You are here. This is all that there is.

I want to write more letters. And a play someday, too.

I want to speak about the good work being done in the world, like the juvenile court judge we know who changed his court hours to remain open late on Tuesday nights so that the kids won’t have to miss school to come to court.

I want to carry the sharp-edged knowledge of what constitutes “real” that I felt in the weeks following my father’s death and during the daze containing Jill’s rounds of chemotherapy, around with me in a jar, like a potion or an essential oil.

I want to point out that breathtaking acts of love and compassion happen all around us, all of the time.

I want to speak about how these things are connected: the happiness of friends with new lovers, the fear of friends with secrets, the way good changes can still leave you mourning what was lost, and the strange shape of what’s left over when you discover a part of yourself you had no idea was there.

I want to tell the truth. I don’t want to be afraid.

farro salad | Blue Jean Gourmet
BIG BOOST SALAD

The name of this salad came off of a little recipe card that accompanied a gift of farro that my friend Courtney brought me from the Eugene, Oregon Farmers Market. According to her, the two delightful older ladies who sold the farro were very insistent that Courtney also take some recipe cards along “for your friend.”  One of those recipes was for a version of this very virtuous, filling, and tasty salad, which I (the aforementioned “friend”) have adapted. And so, my thanks goes out to the Farmers Market ladies of Eugene for their insistence and the inspiration.

There are certainly many variations to be had here: substitute red onion for the green, throw in handfuls of fresh herbs, use black beans instead of soybeans, etc.  The recipe makes a large amount, but the good news is that it gets better as it sits in the fridge for a few days.  The dressing recipe was inspired by my lovely friend Jess over at Sweet Amandine.

for the salad:

1 cup farro (rinsed & cooked)
1 cup quinoa (rinsed & cooked)
2 cups shelled soybeans (I used frozen & steamed according to the package)
2 cups cubed & roasted sweet potato
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
½ sliced or chopped almonds
1 bunch green onion, sliced into thin rounds

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.  When ready to serve, portion individual servings into bowls and drizzle with dressing.

for the dressing:

1/3 cup olive oil
2 T pomegranate molasses
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard

Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine.  Taste and adjust, adding salt and pepper at the end.

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RISOTTO-STYLE QUINOA

Finally, finally, there is a nip in the air around here.

Never thought I’d see the day that I’d cheer 86 degrees as “cool weather,” but I’m not complaining. After months of brutally hot temperatures, we are opening our living room windows, throwing the ball for the dog in the backyard once again, and wearing our cowboy boots instead of flip-flops.

And, of course, there’s a whole crop of autumn foods that I can’t wait to make and eat as the temperature (hopefully) continues to drop: apple things, cinnamon things, bread-y things, braised and roasted things.

In the meantime, here’s a “bridge” meal of sorts—fall-esque without stealing the thunder from true cold-weather dishes. Bonus? It’s the kind of vegetarian dish that my carnivorous spouse will happily eat, without missing the meat too much.


RISOTTO-STYLE QUINOA

adapted from Bon Appétit, January 2010

We’ve gotten really into quinoa lately—which is a really crunchy-granola-Birkenstock-Prius-thing for me to say—unless I add that we are lately cooking our organic quinoa (giant bag at Costco for cheap!) to go alongside the fresh doves that Jill is bringing home from the field on weekend nights.

In any case, we have been substituting quinoa for all kinds of other things: rice, noodles, and couscous, with great results.  So when I saw this quinoa recipe in an old magazine, I knew I wanted to try it.

The original recipe calls for the use of fresh thyme, but I didn’t have any on hand, so I subbed in scallions. The use of thyme would, of course, be consistent with the more traditional risotto method/flavors.

ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken stock, vegetable broth, or water
1 cup chopped onion OR ½ cup chopped shallot
1 cup dry white wine
1-2 cloves garlic
2 cups sliced assorted mushrooms (shiitake, crimini, and/or white button)
chopped fresh scallion, for garnish (optional)
grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil, butter

Bring the stock, broth, or water to warm in a medium saucepan. In a separate saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the quinoa and toast the grains, stirring frequently until aromatic. Pour in the warm stock and bring the quinoa + liquid mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and cook until the quinoa has sprouted and the water has been absorbed, ~12 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking, heat 1 T each oil & butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion or shallot and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and stir briefly before adding the mushrooms and thyme. Toss in some more butter if you feel like it—this is supposed to imitate a risotto, after all—and cook until the mushrooms are tender, ~5 minutes. Add the wine and increase the heat to medium-high; stir the mixture until the wine has reduced and what’s left in the skillet looks syrupy, ~2 minutes.

Add the quinoa to the mushroom mixture, tossing in the scallions, if using. Season with salt and pepper (but keep the Parmesan in mind when salting). Serve with plenty of Parmesan on the side.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO

I’m so excited that the last post of 2010 is courtesy my dear, dear friend Courtney Rath.  Courtney & her husband John make killer risotto; Jill and I had the pleasure of enjoying it for the first time last year on New Year’s Eve, and I’ve been bothering her to guest-blog about it ever since.

If you, as we do, prefer to skip the maddening crowds and stay home on the last night of the year, consider adding this risotto to your dinner plan.  It’s the perfect night to make some fuss over dinner; plus, you have to stay up until midnight, anyway, so you don’t have to worry about being in a rush!  Wishing everyone a safe & happy celebration—see you in 2011!—Nishta


Risotto is one of those dishes with a bad reputation.  I’ve been known to have one too—students who haven’t had me as a teacher think I’m scary, colleagues think I’m intimidating—so I can sympathize.  I’m a total pushover, really, and so is risotto.  It requires two things: the best rice you are willing to spring for, and a menu that doesn’t require precise timing.

In our efforts to perfect risotto dishes, we ended up with many pots of sticky but still not-quite-done versions.  The culprit: arborio.  It’s the cheapest and most readily available option, but it produces dense, too chewy results.  A recipe book we found, from which the following version is adapted, recommended carnaroli, which consistently becomes creamy and yet is difficult to overcook.  It’s expensive, but totally worth it.

Our other realization was that risotto has its own notions of time.  Don’t time the rest of a meal around a risotto; choose a main dish that can rest as long as you need and will be very tasty at room temperature, or that can continue to roast or braise or whatever until your risotto is ready.  And you need to be able to give the risotto your full attention while you’re working on it—all the ingredients chopped and ready, nothing else to do for a bit except stir, add more liquid, stir, add more liquid.

Sounds like trouble, right?  But it’s the good kind of trouble, I promise.


BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO

adapted from Risotto: 30 Simply Delicious Vegetarian Recipes from an Italian Kitchen, by Ursula Ferrigno

5-6 c. vegetable stock*
¼ c. unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
8 shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced or crushed
1 ½ c. carnaroli rice
½ c. dry white wine
2 c. butternut squash, cubed into ½ inch pieces
1 ½ c. freshly grated Parmesan
handful of coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste


Heat the stock in a saucepan until it is almost boiling, then reduce the heat to low to keep it simmering.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  It’s easiest to work on adjacent burners so that the transfer of liquids doesn’t become too messy.

Add the shallots and cook until they are softened but not brown, 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.  Then add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated in oil.

Now for the fun part.  The general process is to add liquid a little at a time and stir until it is just absorbed, then add more liquid and stir, and so on until the rice is cooked to your preferred tenderness.  Start with the wine.  When it is completely absorbed, add a ladleful of stock, the squash, and the parsley; stir until the liquid is absorbed.

You don’t want your pan so hot that the liquid boils off; rather you want to simmer everything so that the liquid can be absorbed by the rice.  And you don’t want your pan to get so dry that things begin to stick, so don’t wait until there’s no liquid left to add the next ladleful.

But most of all, don’t worry!  Risotto forgives everything except burning, so err on the side of too much liquid and you’ll be fine (it will all get absorbed in the end, I swear).

Repeat this process until the rice and squash are done to your liking, reserving at least one more ladle of stock for the finishing touch.  Turn off the heat and add the cheese, salt and pepper, and the remaining stock.  Mix well and cover; let it rest for 2 or 3 minutes, then serve immediately.

* Most recipes call for 4 cups of stock to 1 ½ cups of rice, but I always ran out before my risotto was al dente and ended up using water to finish the risotto.  So now I just heat more than I think I will need—better to have too much than too little (in risotto as in many things)—and I usually end up using all of it.

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FARRO, FENNEL, & TUNA SALAD

Jill has taken to calling farro “the ancient grain of the ancients.”  Quinoa, which we’ve also come to enjoy as a pasta and rice alternative, is known in our house as “the ancient Incan grain of the Incas.”

There’s this thing I like to do; I like to go through people’s wallets.  Not in order to take anything, of course, and not without their permission, but I take great pleasure in unpacking the business cards and receipts, membership notices and frequent buyer cards, pieces of plastic, movie ticket stubs, and general detritus of everyday life.

If I were to unpack my relationships in the same way, what might I find scattered across the coffee table?  Long dinners shared, favorite books in common, nicknames, emails, hazy memories of piquant nights, crisp remembrance of things they said that I loved hearing.

But probably most of what I’d find, and incidentally what I value the most, are the pennies-and-lint equivalents like “ancient grain of the ancients.”  The goofy, we-don’t-know-where-that-came-from particularities of a love or friendship.  The little, inexplicable things that accumulate as we walk through life with another, witnessing them and having them witness us.

FARRO, FENNEL, & TUNA SALAD
adapted from Food & Wine, October 2010

1 cup farro
3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
2 large carrots, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cans tuna of your choice
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 ½ cups arugula
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1 lemon

olive oil
salt & pepper

Bring the broth and farro to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the farro is tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, then add the carrot and garlic and cook until just softened, approximately 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir into the farro.

To the farro mixture, add the tuna, chickpeas, fennel, & onion.  Squeeze in the lemon juice & season with salt and pepper.  Stir to combine, garnish with arugula.

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