Friday, March 2, 2012

Great grains... and OH Farro!

Dear Quinoa,

It's not you, it's me. I will always think you are a great grain. You make a delicious meal with roasted veggies, have protein and fiber, and are so much more exciting than rice. You can even be red or white. But... I have to be honest.... I've met someone else. His name is Farro, and I can't get enough of him. I'm sorry, but Farro is my new favorite grain....

Ok, enough with the letter to quinoa. But you get the idea. If you haven't met farro (or for that matter quinoa), do yourself a favor. Toss that boring bag of rice aside, and pick up some greater grains.

Meeting new grains
The first time I tried quinoa, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. The first time I tried farro was only maybe a year or so ago, and it was new grain love all over again. But for some reason I'd forgotten about it until recently, when my husband pulled How to Cook Everything Vegetarian off the bookshelf (wha the waaaa? He actually opened a recipe book?!)- another thing I'd totally forgotten about (what with my love of my new vegan cookbooks and all). It's actually a really great cookbook though, and not surprisingly, has tons of great vegan dishes (or ones that are easily made vegan). It's just missing the pretty pictures.

The book has an entire section on grains. It got me so excited to try different ones, I had to restrain my urge to run down the grocery store aisle and throw every Bob's Red Mill bag in my shopping cart ... I don't know why I always seem to picture my grocery-store outings as if they were a Muppets movie or a musical. I honestly don't literally run around the store.... I just get a little excited about healthy new foods ;-)  I ended up coming home with wheat berries and farro.

Here's a brief sidetrack - a whirlwind tour of just a few great grains for a little veggieosity:
  • Barley: Barley may be pearled, which means more processed, or hulled; the hulled kind takes longer to cook, but has more fiber & nutrients. Either kind is slightly chewy and a little nutty, and can be a pasta replacement.
  • Bulgar: Bulgar is ground wheat kernels, and has a somewhat nutty but mild flavor, and fluffy texture that makes for a good rice replacement.
  • Farro: Farro is an ancient grain that has a hearty, slightly chewy but still light-seeming texture and mild flavor with a hint of nuttiness. Also a good rice replacer.
  • Kamut: A type of ancient wheat with large kernels and slightly sweet, buttery taste, with lots of nutrients! Look for pasta varieties made out of kamut - they don't taste cardboard-y like some whole-wheat pastas, and are a great way to add some protein and fiber.
  • Quinoa: My introduction into great grains! This one is smaller and lighter than the others, and cooks up a little soft with a little texture, and nutty flavor. I think the red quinoa is nuttier and a little heartier tasting than the white/tan version. As above, quinoa can replace rice in most recipes, and also look for pastas made out of quinoa - they are great!
  • Spelt: Another wheat variety, spelt is a little like brown rice but a little bigger, has a mild flavor, and has a bunch of fiber and protein per serving.
  • Wheat Berries: Wheat berries are unmilled wheat kernels with a flavor that is pretty mild, but slightly nutty. They kind of reminds me of a smaller cranberry texture-wise. These take about an hour to cook- so leave time when using these!
In general, these grains up the ante nutritionally speaking (most have a little more fiber & protein than an equal amount of brown rice.) Brown rice is a good option too- I love the more substantial texture compared to white rice, and of course there are other great grains (oats, bran, cornmeal, millet, rye). The grains described above are a nice change of pace for dinners & lunches, with slightly different textures and a little flavor of their own, and serve as a great base for recipes such as this one below. But you can pretty much mix anything in!

Farro salad with fruit, asparagus, and rosemary

Farro Fruit and Veg Salad with Rosemary
Recipe adapted from the "Wheat Berry or Other Whole Grain Salad with Peanut and Fresh and Dried Fruit" (whew. that name's a mouthful.) from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.
Serves 3-4
  • 1 navel orange, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil (see notes - for lighter use 1 Tbsp)
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar (if using 1 Tbsp oil, use 1 and 1/2 tsp vinegar)
  • 1 cup farro (pre-cooked)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots, sliced into quarters
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • ~1/4 cup chopped walnuts (I used slightly less)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Squeeze the juice of one of the orange sections into a bowl, and add in the oil, vinegar, rosemary, and a little salt & pepper. Whisk.
  2. Cook your farro (or other great grain) according to package instructions (usually about 20 minutes or so, enough time for the grains to absorb the water and achieve desired consistency/texture). With just about 1-2 minutes of cooking left, add in the spinach and steam. 
  3. Steam asparagus until just tender when speared with a fork. Season with salt & pepper as desired. 
  4. Mix the farro & spinach and asparagus in with the dressing. Serve hot or cold!

I loved this dish, and I cannot sing farro's praises enough. It's so easy to cook, has great flavor that blends well with different options, and the texture is awesome. I actually thought the oil & vinegar here could have been reduced a little bit more (I had already reduced from the original), so if you want something really light, use 1 Tbsp peanut oil and 1 and 1/2 tsp of the vinegar. But the flavors were perfect, with the citrus and rosemary combining so well with the nuttiness from the farro and walnuts and the sweetness from the dried fruits.

Other options are to use grapes, dried cherries, golden raisins, different herbs, peas, or broccoli.



  1. I Love Farro too and this dish!

    I am definitely a HUGE fan of fruit in my salads- Justin not so much, so I will be making this for one :)

    1. I know, I was laughing at that in your post bc my man is the same way... boys are so silly. Nuts & fruits are so good.

    2. I couldn't agree with you more; him and his friend would protest in unison when the girls would start adding fruits and nuts to salads- they always picked around them - me I love the combo!

      Also I just tagged you in a post, would love it you played along- check out todays post at SMBP :)

  2. Thanks for the primer on different types of grains - I should really try to expand my own exploration of grains (I usually stick with rice and quinoa). Now after yours and Heather's posts, I'll definitely have to give farro a try!


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