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A Salad for Olive Lovers & Wannabe Olive Lovers Alike

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As much as I aspire to be that person who eats everything (hang out with Anthony Bourdain is my #1 New Year's Resolution!)—and as much as it pains me to admit this—I am a picky eater.

I'm sorry.

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Heidi Swanson's Mostly Olive Salad, With Some Farro
Heidi Swanson's Mostly Olive Salad, With Some Farro

I read somewhere once—or heard somewhere once, or overheard somewhere once—that you have to try a food eight times before deciding you don't like it. Sounds a whole lot like bologna (and also a whole lot like a rumor perpetuated by parenting books) to me.

Forcing myself to try and re-try has not worked. Some of us are unwilling to let one bad experience color all future ones, but I am neither so optimistic nor so determined. Once I dislike something, I'm not volunteering to try it again—unless it is inseparable from a lot of other things I cannot resist.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

In this way, I'm a lot like a 4-year-old (something I've never denied).

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A 2008 study in Appetite magazine found that serving children ages 2 to 5 grapefruit juice sweetened with sucrose (and, in further experiments, mixing broccoli or cauliflower with sugar) increased their preferences for the bitter fruit (and for the vegetables) over time.

Start with something that's appealing, then wean them slowly.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

I mixed capers with things I knew I liked (bursting tomatoes and a punchy green sauce) and soon found myself eating them in salad dressings and, even more intrepidly, in otherwise-plain-ish pasta dishes.

So I tried the same thing with olives, which have offended me for as long as I can remember. The farro salad from Heidi Swanson's Near and Far is so appealing—made with walnuts, bunches of alliums, and golden raisins, all dressed in a sweet and acidic vinaigrette—that even a whole pound of olives (yes, a pound!) couldn't keep me away.

In this dish, olives are not bits of shaved tire in a salad bar or petrified eyeballs with mysterious pits that no one knows what do with. Here, olives are briny in a soft and savory way, hefty, and hospitably green. The olives seatbelt the salad. In one olive is all of the richness, spice, sugar, and oil of the salad itself. In one, there is many!

You can't scare me! (Anymore.)
You can't scare me! (Anymore.) Photo by James Ransom

Okay, maybe the revelation that there's something to this olive thing—that my friends have been right all along—has me giddy. (I even tried an oil-cured black olive—and liked it! I'm on a high.)

But even if you don't own an olive pitter and even—especially!—if you don't think you like olives, I encourage you to let this recipe be your gateway.

And then send me some great dishes involving blue cheese. That one still has me spooked.

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Heidi Swanson's Mostly Olive Salad, With Some Farro

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Serves 6
  • 1 1/4 cups whole or semi-pearled farro
  • 3 cups water
  • Fine-grain sea salt
  • 1 pound fancy green olives (preferably Castelvetrano), rinsed then pitted
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped toasted walnut halves
  • 1 bunch green onions, trimmed and chopped roughly
  • 1 bunch chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 jalapeño, minced (seeds included or discarded, as you wish)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins, chopped
  • Shaved pecorino or Parmesan, for serving
  • Ricotta, for serving (optional)

Are you a reformed olive hater? If so, what made you change your mind? Tell us in the comments!


Tags: farro salad, olive, green olive, grain salad, heidi swanson