- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

My husband and I have been living, working and entertaining in Paris for the past few weeks in a small apartment with a postage-stamp-size kitchen, but amazingly, it seems easier to entertain here than at home.

The secret lies in my doing as the French do: preparing some dishes myself and combining them with store-bought ones.

That was a winning formula last week when we asked several people over for wine and appetizers. I made two starters — bruschette topped with marinated mushrooms and chopped hazelnuts, and chilled melon wedges seasoned with fresh mint and anise.

I bought the rest: several types of olives to set out in bowls, radishes to dip in sweet butter, then in sea salt and some delicious thinly sliced salami.

This week we’ve invited friends for an early Sunday supper, and I plan to use this “cook some/buy some” philosophy again. The meal is going to be a cold buffet, and to begin, I’ll cook artichokes and serve them with a homemade vinaigrette. For the main course, I am going to make a colorful salad of tomatoes, chickpeas and olives tossed in a lemon dressing.

The rest of the meal will be purchased. To go with the salad, there will be a roast chicken (from a nearby grocery) served cooled and cut into serving pieces. It will be sprinkled with chives, then garnished with a sauce made from store-bought mayonnaise that will be flavored with a hint of curry powder and a touch of apricot jam.

There’ll also be a platter of cheeses and some crispy baguettes. Strawberry sorbet from a local store and cookies from a patisserie will complete the menu.

The brightly hued tomato salad is a new dish that I have served several times this summer. The tomatoes are cut into wedges, then gently tossed with thinly sliced red onions, chick peas (canned ones that are rinsed and drained well), and delectable Nicoise olives.

A bracing citrus dressing of lemon juice and olive oil adds a refreshing note, as does a generous shower of torn mint leaves.

This salad is easy and quick to assemble, and if you make it part of a meal in which you cook some dishes and buy others, it will seem like no work at all.

Tomato, chickpea and olive salad with fresh mint

1½ pounds medium tomatoes (about 6)

1 cup thinly sliced red onion (about half of a medium red onion)

1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained well

3/4 cup pitted black olives, preferably Nicoise olives (see note)

5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus a squeeze more if needed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup fresh mint leaves, torn into small pieces

Stem the tomatoes, then halve them lengthwise. Cut each half into ½-inch wedges and place in a medium, nonreactive serving bowl. Add the onion, chickpeas, and olives.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and several grinds of pepper, and whisk to combine. Pour the dressing over the tomato mixture. Toss gently to coat all ingredients with the dressing. Let salad marinate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 hours at room temperature.

At serving time, taste the salad and season with more salt and pepper and an extra squeeze of lemon, if needed. Then add the torn mint leaves to the bowl and mix gently. Use a slotted spoon for serving the salad. Makes 5 to 6 servings.

Note: I especially like Nicoise olives in this dish, but if they are unavailable, you could use Kalamatas. And, if you can’t find pitted olives and don’t want to pit them yourself, just be certain to warn your guests to be on the lookout for the pits.


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