Dinner, May 21

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Tonight’s dinner was salmon, jasmine rice, buttered peas, and dill pickle hummus, with some dill and parsley sprinkled over all.

Food has captivated my imagination as of late. I may as well document this season (since my hobbies have seasons in sync with those of an as yet undiscovered planet) before I wake up a couple months from now with the sense that microwaving a frozen dinner could exhaust my interest in the subject. At least the phases when I deal with cooking no more than is necessary don’t last long.

Today’s dinner reminded me that making a festive plate doesn’t need to be expensive. I already had the herbs and hummus on hand, and the other ingredients costed just $6 total. The peas and salmon were the standard frozen versions, and the rice was bought in dry bulk. This dinner serves four, so we’ll have leftovers, too.

Dill Pickle Hummus

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When I think of hummus, one of the few latin phrases I know comes to mind, ne plus ultra: there is nothing greater. To my palate, no other dip approaches the glory of hummus, which I’ve enjoyed for 25 years. The classic combination of garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic tastes so divine that I hesitate to justify a departure from it. I have read so many well-reviewed recipes for variations on hummus that it may be a blank canvas for all sorts of culinary adventures.

Today I tried combining hummus with another of my favorite flavors, refrigerator dill pickles. I’d recommend using a pickle you love. I’ve added pickles to enough recipes to know that it’s best to use a pickle you enjoy by itself. This pickle principle is parallel to the advice of cooking only with wines you like to drink. Otherwise, the finished dish could disappoint your taste buds. I’ve put hummus on sandwiches with pickles often enough that I guessed the combo could work in dip form. It has decent tartness that doesn’t mute the umami of the tahini.

Dill Pickle Hummus

Makes 2 1/2 cups

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained

2/3 cup dill pickles, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup tahini

2 T pickle brine

1 T lemon juice

1/2 cup fresh dill, torn into pieces

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with cut vegetables and crackers.

Farro Salad

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I love whole grains so much I dreamed of one last week. My dreaming mind watched a cooking video which claimed that quinoa was cooked incorrectly if any of the “tails” were hanging out of the grains, and the riddle of how to keep these strings tucked into each tiny pearl boggled my mind enough I woke up. Could I keep them from being unruly through a low, vigilant simmer, or was the secret the addition of an acid at a strategic moment? Then I considered that both the premise and concern of this challenge were false. In my waking life, quinoa is done when it looks undressed, and the only person in the house who will eat quinoa, yours truly, is very easy to please regarding whole grains.

One whole grain I enjoy more than quinoa, which has been become as overexposed as the Miami Sound Machine in 1985, is farro. It is an ancient relative of wheat, and it tastes like a lightweight cross between bulgar wheat and barley. Its husk offers a satisfying snap when bitten, and its interior is soft but not mushy.

Today I reminisced about how I used to make tabbouleh with a boxed mix from the Near East company back when I lived in Washington around the turn of this century. I was bold enough to make hummus at home, but I didn’t feel confident enough to make falafel or tabbouleh without leaning heavily on a boxed mix for both of them. Once I moved back to Ohio, I left my dabbling in these dishes behind. While I loved them, they reminded me too much of a place I endured solely through food and cooking. I had an oven in the wall just like Alice in The Brady Bunch, and I challenged it often. My sense of the Puget Sound is darkened only by the personal drama of my time there. Otherwise, it is a lovely place, stunning in its physical beauty and exhilarating in the variety of its cuisine.

My farro salad was born today in tribute to tabbouleh. I need to buy some bulgar soon to attempt this grain salad in its proper form, but today I had a bag of farro I wanted to use up. This is the first time I’ve ventured into cooking with fresh mint. Oddly enough, I had a tragicomic encounter with mint twenty years ago that made me reluctant to try it again. I had grown a mint plant in a foot-wide pot situated on a balcony garden. This “balcony” was actually the flat roof of a one-car garage below. By the end of that growing season, the mint plant had so overtaken that pot that its roots cleaved the pot in two on the bottom. I figured the mint would not overwinter in a pot in zone 5, so I tried to empty the pot. The pot felt impossibly heavy. After pushing the pot a few inches, I planted my foot on the damp patch of rooftop I’d just exposed. Next the roof gave way beneath me and I had one leg dangling into the garage below. I have only my hearty thighs to thank for keeping me suspended in midair and not impaled on the shovels and pitchfork below.

I clawed my way back to the roof and knew that I’d need some time away from mint in all its forms. I revisit this herb for the first time in twenty years with this recipe.

My last addition was sugar, a concession that does not hearken to tabbouleh. I didn’t think to add it at first, but a touch of sweetness really unlocked the flavor of this dish.

Farro Salad

8 servings

4 cups cooked farro (1/2 pound dry cooked, drained, and cooled)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice and zest of one lemon

1 T vinegar

1 t salt

1 t sugar or honey

1/2 t freshly ground pepper

1 T white onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

2 cups cucumber, sliced

3 cups mixed cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

Shaved parmesan cheese and additional coarsely chopped herbs for garnish

Whisk together oil, lemon juice, zest, vinegar, salt, sugar, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Stir in chopped herbs, onion, and garlic. Let rest for fifteen minutes for flavors to blend. Add cucumber, tomatoes, and farro. Stir until well combined. Chill in fridge for a half hour. Top individual servings with parmesan cheese and extra herbs to taste.