When I first started cooking regularly, back in college, I had a simple strategy: If some is good, more is better. That was especially true with garlic and spices: Too many recipes, in my opinion, were too timid, and I used a heavy hand with seasonings.
And it worked - sometimes.
Those times, the result was wonderfully bold, just what I was after. But when it didn't work, more garlic was just . . . more garlic, which was . . . too much garlic.
I've gotten more sophisticated and subtle with my cooking (amid other things) in the years since.
No longer do I put a head's worth of raw (!) garlic in a potato salad and grin when picnic guests reek for hours after eating it.
But I still tend to go big with spices, especially some of my favorites, such as smoked paprika, the Middle Eastern blends za'atar and baharat, and the lemony-tart sumac.
And every time I use sumac, I remember watching chef Ana Sortun (of Oleana fame) cook at a symposium at Harvard University a few years ago, and marveling as she threw around brick-red sumac by the fistful.
I thought of Ana, who is a master of Mediterranean spices, when I made a satisfying salad recipe from Sarah Mayor's "The Farmhouse Cookbook." I was drawn to Mayor's crunch-heavy approach; she tosses sliced fennel and celery, cubed apple and walnuts with farro that she seasons with pomegranate molasses, sumac and chopped herbs.
But I couldn't stop at a mere tablespoon of pomegranate molasses nor a teeny quarter-teaspoon of sumac - the least I've ever used in a recipe.
I tasted, and started piling on. Double the pomegranate molasses. Quadruple the sumac. Better.
In went the other ingredients. Double the walnuts! (Why not more crunch?) I tasted again.
Nice. Subtle. And, well, maybe a little humdrum.
So I poured in another glug of pomegranate molasses, and I put down the teaspoon measure and grabbed the tablespoon and sumac.
In went two scoops - not exactly a fistful, but enough to color the entire dish with that earthy tang.
It was perfect. Sometimes you want to whisper, after all, and sometimes you want to shout.
APPLE, FENNEL AND FARRO SALAD
Farro typically comes in whole, semi-perlato (partially husked) and perlato (husked) varieties; the last cooks the quickest but has lost the most nutrients in processing. So choose semi-perlato for a good balance of convenience and nutrition.
Pomegranate molasses and ground sumac can be found in Mediterranean markets and in some better-stocked supermarkets; ground sumac can also be found in spice stores such as Penzeys.
MAKE AHEAD: The cooked farro (tossed with the dressing ingredients) can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Wait until just before serving to toss the dressed farro with the remaining ingredients.
• 1 1/4 cups farro (preferably semi-perlato; may substitute barley, wheat berries or spelt berries; see headnote)
• 3 cups cool water
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (see headnote)
• 2 tablespoons ground sumac (see headnote)
• 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
• 2 small, firm apples (such as Granny Smith or Honeycrisp)
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 small or 1/2 large bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
• 2 large ribs celery, thinly sliced
• 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint leaves
• 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fennel fronds
• 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
• 1/4 cup dried cranberries
• 1 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped (see NOTE)
Combine the farro and water in a large saucepan over high heat; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the farro is tender yet still somewhat chewy, about 30 minutes. Drain, then transfer the farro to a mixing bowl. While it's still warm, stir in the oil, pomegranate molasses, sumac and the 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Taste, and add more salt and pepper as needed. Let cool to room temperature.
Core the apples and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces, then toss in a bowl with the lemon juice (to prevent browning while you finish making the salad).
Add the fennel, celery, mint, fennel fronds, parsley and cranberries to the bowl with the cooled and dressed farro. Add the apples and toss to combine. Taste, and add more salt and pepper as needed. Add the walnuts right before serving and toss to combine.
NOTE: Toast the nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the pan to avoid scorching, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.
Nutrition | Per serving: 370 calories, 9 g protein, 49 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 15 g sugar