Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Winter Farro Salad with Figs & Red Onion: Explorations in other grains

In my current quest (not resolution) to cook something that doesn’t always involve quinoa, I’ve been attempting to open up my eyes (and mouth) to other grains.

It’s been a challenge. I see a recipe and I immediately want to quinoanize it. The humble grain cooks fast for week night dinners, it’s loaded with filling protein and fiber, and it pairs well with so many different things. In my mind, quinoa can do no wrong, so it seems silly to bother with any other carbohydrate.

Even so, I always feel a slight twinge of self-doubt when I pull out the container of quinoa yet again.

“Am I becoming boring? Am I already boring? Am I turning into my grandmother who ate the same TV dinners and Ensure replacement beverages according to a specific schedule every single day?”

I would never dream of microwaving my dinner, but the thought of becoming imprisoned by my routines is still a bit terrifying. I don’t want to be the woman who dies alone and is found in the middle of her kitchen floor suffocated by a heap of pin head-sized white grains.

“The quinoa lady,” My neighbors would call me. “Poor thing never saw the barrel coming.”

Considering that some people already refer to me as the “Quinoa Queen,” it isn’t all that improbable. I’m 60 years away from turning into a quinoa calamity.

So I’ve been exploring other grains – most recently farro, a sturdier, yet equally nutty carbohydrate that is somewhat similar to barley except the semi-pearled version cooks in about a fourth of the time. In this regard, farro is actually like quinoa. It’s done in approximately 20 minutes, so is the perfect pinch-hitter for my intents and purposes.

It was also the obvious pinch-hitter for this recipe for Winter Wheat Berry Salad with Figs and Red Onion from the Kitchn. I was slightly concerned that the dish would be too sweet and taste more like trail mix than a wholesome salad, but the earthy bite from the celery and parsley, and astringent punch from the red onion kept things in balance. The addition of sautéed chickpeas imparted an additional savory element that I felt also complimented the dried figs and golden raisins well.

And, if one felt inclined to substitute quinoa for the farro that is substituting for the wheat berries, I’m sure that would be perfectly acceptable too. It’s possible that I may have already tried it. And, thankfully, bypassed calamity to live to tell about it.

Winter Farro Salad with Figs & Red Onion
Adapted from the Kitchn who adapted it from Johnn Dornback of Basi Italia
Serves 1

¼ cup semi-pearled farro, rinsed
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons orange juice
½ tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons golden raisins
3-4 dried black mission figs, chopped finely
3 tablespoons minced red onion
1 large celery stalk, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
½ cup canned chickpeas, drained
¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add farro, reduce heat to low, then cover and cook until farro is tender, but still slightly chewy (approximately 20 minutes).

While the farro is cooking, whisk together the rice vinegar, orange juice and honey together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and add the raisins and chopped figs. Turn off the heat and let the fruit steep in the juice and vinegar mixture.

Finely dice the red onion and celery and combine in a medium-sized salad bowl.

When the farro is tender enough to be chewed easily, drain it, then pour into the bowl with the red onion and celery. Toss with the olive oil and lemon zest. Add the vinegar and juice mixture, and all the fruit, and mix. Toss with chopped parsley and salt. Add pepper to taste.

Let the salad stand at room temperature for at least one hour before serving, to allow the flavors mix and soak into the grain. When almost ready to serve, heat large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add a swirl of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat the pan), then add the chickpeas. Sauté until lightly browned on all sides. Turn off the heat, toss in the salad bowl contents and mix chickpeas and farro together in the hot pan so the salad becomes slightly warmed through. Serve immediately, topped with slivered almonds.

The salad can also be refrigerated for up to three days.


Burp and Slurp~! said...

I love the figs in there! I'm not a big fan of quinoa at all....it's got a mushy, fishy quality to it. But I adore winter berries! Have you tried barley? That's another grain I adore. Clearly, I like my grains fat and chewy. :-)

Esi said...

You know my undying love for farro. I'm so happy you're using it more. Soon you'll be the all around Grain Queen

Ashley said...

This dish has the strong left over qualifications I look for. Adding it to the list.

Alessandra said...

You should try wheatberries! They are delicious!

Gastronomer said...

Mmm! I love farro! I'd like some farro for my birthday meal, please. I don't want you to get into a quinoa rut ;-)

the actor's diet said...

mmmm! i've only made farro into a risotto-esque dish. this sound terrific.

Anna A. said...

I'm all about this salad, TALF. I have been meaning to experiment with salad. I am digging your diversification.

bagnatic said...

so does that mean you're one step closer to making that fried farro that we ate at canele?! please say yes!

Monet said...

Honey...raisins...figs...ah yes, this sounds like a delightful salad. Way to go with the farro! I, too, love quiona, and I tend to get fixated on my favorites. I'm glad that you explored! Thanks for sharing, sweet girl. Eat well tomorrow!

Diana said...

Burp & Slurp - I've never noticed quinoa being mushy. I'm very careful to not overcook it - I use 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water, and never cook it more than 20 minutes. It helps to also partially uncover it and fluff the quinoa with a fork toward the end. It has the perfect texture then! And, yep definitely familiar with barley - love it!

Esi - I like the sound of that...

Ashley - DO IT!

Ali - Next time! By the end of 2011 I will be an equal opportunity grain ingester.

Cathy - I'm going to pretend I didn't read that.

Lynn - I love farro in salads - it's a great way to add some girth and satisfying fiber! I'll have to try farro risotto some time too!

Anna - Haha, glad you like my grain experimentation! I had a feeling this dish would be just your taste!

Amy - I actually already made it, but haven't posted about it because I found the broccoli rabe too assertive. I want to try it again with a different veggie.

Monet - It's really a fabulous combination! How am I not surprised that you too adore quinoa? We have such similar palates!