I have a friend from Tel Aviv, a talented pottery artist who now lives in St Louis. When I first met them, she and her husband taught me a few things about what to do when you have people over. It goes like this:
Put some chairs around a table inside a charming screened porch that overlooks a lovingly tended garden of native plants, trees and bird feeders, complete with a creek running through it. At the same time let the kids outside to explore amongst themselves.
Next open a bottle of wine, maybe some chilled rosé, and set out some glasses so everyone can help themselves. Finally, put some fresh pita bread and a bowl of salad on the table, composed basically of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, fresh herbs and some olive oil. Commence talking and sipping while enjoying this perfect snack, one I think is about thousand miles away from the usual chips and salsa.
She told me this type of salad is a mainstay where she comes from in Israel; it’s always there to eat, in some variation, at all times of the day.
I loved that idyllic setting in my friends backyard (I’m also a sucker for a screened-in porch) and the relaxed way she welcomed us into her home. That simple salad was an example, it extended into everything she prepared.
It’s a style of eating we all seem attracted to: produce-based, which translates to vibrant, fresh and colorful. It made me want to visit Tel Aviv, a city perched on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, and one that seemed to be the Northern California of the Middle East the more she described its artsy culture and great food scene.
I mix various things with farro throughout the year to make salads, adding whatever vegetable makes sense; like roasted butternut squash and pumpkin seeds in the fall and one with fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella in the summer.
It wasn’t too much of a stretch to mix together my version of an Israeli salad into some cooked farro. As spring edges toward summer, it will be there for you on those lazy days when cooking might fall down on the priority list.
Make the farro a few days ahead; keep a container of it ready in the refrigerator but make the tomato salad just before serving. I also like to slightly rewarm the farro for about a minute in a microwave if it’s chilled – salad flavors come together much better when at room temperature, rather than ice-cold.
- 1 cup farro
- Kosher salt
- 2 mini cucumbers, diced fine
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
- ½ garlic clove, finely chopped
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- Handful each fresh basil and Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- 4 ounces feta cheese
- Bring a 3 quarts water to a boil with 1 tablespoon salt; add the farro. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the farro has swelled and softened but still has a little bite, about 20 minutes. Drain.
- While the farro cooks, combine the cucumbers, tomatoes and garlic in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and salt to taste; toss gently.
- Add the warm drained farro to the tomato mixture, sprinkle the herbs over and toss together. Crumble the feta cheese over the salad.