Maui Dreaming!

July 22, 2016

Hello Readers!

 

We’re off to dig our toes in the sand and dunk in the Pacific! With a little luck, we’ll just miss this latest tropical storm and be able to enjoy some good weather. Fingers crossed! Have a wonderful week.

 

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Greece santorini

 

If there’s a more refreshing, satisfying thing to eat in the summer besides a bowl of tabbouleh, I’m hard-pressed to find it. I’d eaten tabbouleh–or what I’d thought was tabbouleh–several times before I visited Greece, but it was at a small cafe in Athens, where I got a mouthful of the REAL stuff, that I realized I’d been totally ripped off in the US of A.

 

The tabbouleh of my past was grain-heavy, oil-slicked and nothing to write home about. Not so the Greek version. The Greek version was a revelation. It packed a huge flavor punch and was deeply vegetal and lemon-forward. The secret is in the ratio of ingredients. Authentic tabbouleh isn’t about the grains–the cracked wheat is almost an afterthought. What the dish is heavy on is the fresh herbs (parsley and mint–and a shocking amount of it) and ripe tomatoes, snappy cucumber and lots and lots of lemon in the dressing. It’s a salad that happens to have a bit of grain in it, not the other way around.

Thank you, Greece, for turning my tabbouleh life around.

 

Athens acropolis

Since that trip to the Greek isles, I’ve made bowls and bowls of proper tabbouleh every summer. I never get sick of it, even though I have to settle for American tomatoes. You guys. Greek tomatoes…oh, Lordy. Nothing is equal to them, except Amalfi coast tomatoes in Italy, which are just as swoon-worthy. If there’s a heaven, it’s filled with platters of tomatoes from those Mediterranean marvels. My version of heaven, anyways.

Even if you have to settle in the tomato department, if you stick to the proper ratio of ingredients, you’ll still be a happy eater.

You might even increase the happiness factor by using farro* instead of the traditional bulgur in the dish. I have nothing against bulgur, mind you. It’s delicious in tabbouleh. But you know what’s even better? Farro, my new best friend from Italy and partner in crime. The heft and chew of the farro gives you a completely different tabbouleh experience, and it’s incredibly delicious. I’m going to audaciously predict that it’s going to be your new favorite summer lunch.

And, if you shamelessly gild the lily with salty, creamy, smoky slabs of grilled halloumi cheese, you’re looking at your new favorite summer dinner.

If you’ve never had halloumi, a brilliant cheese from Greece, get it in your life as soon as humanly possible. Just. Do. It.

I know, I’m bossy, but you won’t regret bringing halloumi into your culinary lexicon. It’s not as exotic as it sounds. If you have a decent grocery store, I bet you can find halloumi even if you’ve never heard of the stuff before. I mean, I live in Longmont, Colorado and our Kroger carries it.

It’s worth tracking down, because it’s so damn good. It’s a very white, very firm cheese that holds its shape when grilled–and you have to grill it, because the real magic happens when you do that. It gets kissed with smoke and just barely melty, and hoo-boy, it’s the stuff of your cheese dreams.

Halloumi carries this dish solidly into “meal” territory, and that’s a good thing. Sure, you can definitely serve a grilled chop or a piece of fish alongside, but for me, it’s all about the cheese. Call me Halloumi Girl. I don’t mind.

I may never *sob* visit Greece again, but even if I never spend another sun-kissed afternoon sitting at a cafe, gazing at azure waters, I can go there in my mind, just by eating this dish.

 

Greece cafe

 

Bring it on.

 

 

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Farro Tabbouleh with Grilled Halloumi

serves 4-6

 

1 cup farro, rinsed

4 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt

juice and zest of one lemon

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic or white balsamic vinegar

1 clove garlic, grated

salt and pepper

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

2/3 cup fresh mint, chopped

1/3 cup finely diced red onion

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup seeded cucumber, diced

1 (6-oz) block Halloumi cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick

 

Place farro, broth and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. turn heat down to medium to medium low; farro should be at a brisk simmer. Cook about 20 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Combine lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk to blend. Pour dressing over farro. Set aside.

Combine red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and mint in a large bowl. Add dressed farro and toss to coat. Let stand a half hour to allow flavors to blend.

Cut halloumi into 1/4-inch slices. Heat grill to medium high. Brush halloumi with olive oil and grill 2 minutes. Flip halloumi and grill on the other side another 1-2 minutes.

Serve halloumi with lemon wedges on top of farro taboulleh.

 

* I had some readers write me to say that there’s a quicker way to cook farro, if time is of the essence. Instead of cooking the farro at the barest simmer, cook it at a rolling simmer–on medium-low heat, not simmer/low. It will take about 20 minutes, and when I tried this method, I worked great. I couldn’t discern any difference in this batch of farro vs the slower method. Thanks, awesome readers! You rock my world.

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Whoa, this weekend was a scorcher! The mercury shot into triple-digit territory on Sunday, which is truly a rarity in these parts. We only have a couple of days per summer that reach that level of sweaty, and sweat we did. My husband and I were lucky enough to be in Denver that day, lounging around a swanky hotel pool, cold drinks in hand. That’s what I call serendipity!

We took a brief break from the pool to watch France lose that heartbreaker of a futbol match to Portugal, but then we spent the rest of the afternoon IN that pool, because it was far too steamy to spend time out of it.

We headed back home late in the day, just in time to learn of the scary wildfires blazing through Boulder county. Luckily, the fire isn’t near us at the moment, but my thoughts are with my friends in nearby Nederland, where it’s going strong. Stay safe Nederlanders, and if everyone could cross their fingers and send good juju for those winds to cease and desist, I’d appreciate it. Windy, hot days make it so much harder for our firefighters to work their brave magic. And we need some magic.

It was especially distressing to hear that the fire was the fault of human error–these knuckleheads, in particular. It’s fire season, people! Make sure you are responsible about campfires! Argh!

Summer’s dog days mean one thing to me: salads for dinner. Lunch, too, for that matter. Who wants to cook on a 100-plus degree day? Not me.

Usually, I turn to this salad or this salad in the middle of summer, but I’d seen a salad recipe in a magazine recently that caught my eye.

It has taken me many, many years to come around to the idea of incorporating juicy summer fruits in my salads. For some reason, it just sounded beyond weird to do that. I’m usually a sweet girl or a savory girl–I never thought those flavors would play well together.

Well, can I just say that I was dead wrong about that?

Forgive me for the error of my ways.

Turns out, I love the contrast of sweet and savory in a summer salad. For the last few years I’ve thrown fresh cherries, strawberries, stone fruit and yes, even watermelon in my salads, and they bring so much good flavor to the plate (or bowl).

I’d never tried using cantaloupe in salad, though. It’s kind of strange that I never thought to do so, though, because growing up, I watched my Daddy-o dig into big wedges of cantaloupe, which he sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. The process made me gag a little when I was young, but Daddy insisted that the salt somehow made the cantaloupe taste sweeter.

He’s a clever one, that father of mine.

Adding a little salt (either directly or in the form of a light dressing) really does make the flavor of the cantaloupe shine. Add in some other elements like salty pork product (yes, please) a good, creamy burrata cheese (Lordy hallelujah, yes), some crunchy cucumber and a kick of chile, and you have an absolutely scrumptious and easy lunch or supper. All you need is a lovely baguette and a nice, cold glass of Pinot Grigio or rose and you are in good eatin’ territory.

I could eat this salad several times a week until mid-September and I just might. I think it’s kind of addictive.

If you are stringently anti-cantaloupe–and I do know some people who are–I can assure you that honeydew melon would make a brilliant substitute, as would watermelon. Any ripe melon will do.

This salad would also be lovely alongside some grilled chicken or fish, if you’re feeling the need for a more substantial dinner. Me, I’m content to gorge on a huge (shamefully huge) bowl of this and call it good.

And then I’ll crank up the air conditioning, since I’m not blessed to have a pool in my backyard. Maybe someday. A girl can always dream, right?

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Melon, Cucumber and Burrata Salad

serves 4

slightly adapted from Real Simple Magazine

 

2 cups sliced Persian or English cucumbers

2 cups diced ripe cantaloupe, peeled

4 oz. prosciutto, torn

2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar or white balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons extra-virginĀ  oliveĀ  oil

8 ounces burrata or buffalo mozzarella cheese, torn

sprinkle of sliced fresno chiles–optional

sprinkle of salt and pepper

 

Arrange cucumber, cantaloupe and torn prosciutto on a large platter. Whisk together olive oil and vinegar. Pour over melon and cucumber. Top with burrata and mint. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and chile, if using.

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