Something odd happens in hot weather. I lose my appetite. Trust me, this is highly unusual. Nothing sounds good so I pick at this, poke at that. I eat weird things that make no sense (French Onion Soup?) and nothing seems to satisfy. My energy levels are low and my motivation is lower. It’s not even mid-summer but I’m going to have to figure this out quick before my standard meal becomes a couple popsicles and a flop in front of the fan.
After some thought, I decided cold salads might be the cure to what ails me. Something delicious and bright, packed with fresh flavorful ingredients and refrigerated to the point of frosty refreshment. Something packed with some nutrients to propel me through at least part of the day. Chilled pasta salads, icy fruit parfaits and cold Mediterranean combinations that remind me of far away white beaches and impossibly blue waters. Sounds good, no?
Having become enamored with the grain farro, I decided to work it into a long time favorite taboulleh recipe. The texture of cooked faro id wonderful – springy and toothsome. It makes eating healthy rather easy. Think of all those nutrients! Consider all the fiber! Don’t mind if I do, thank you very much.
I started jotting down some notes: a tangy lemon vinaigrette with lots of bright herbs like parsley and mint, tossed with the chewy grains, bits of cucumber, scallion, tomatoes and served cold, cold, cold. It sounded great. On a whim, I googled “farro taboulleh” to see if anything came up. Damn. Seems like Grace Parisi of Food & Wine had the same idea. 13 years ago. I didn’t even know what farro was in 1999. There really are no new ideas.
Having reconciled my disappointment at being unoriginal, I thought it was still a great idea so I surged forward anyway. Since our recipes shared a lot of similarities, I used hers as a baseline adding my own tweaks. I used more vinaigrette, upped the herb quotient and threw in some cucumber for an added crunch. The idea of a handful or two of arugula was a good one and I liked the refreshing peppery bite it gave.
So what exactly is farro, you ask? Grano farro is an ancient grain, some say the original grain from which all others derive, and fed Mediterranean cultures for thousands of years. It was the key ingredient in the polenta like dish called puls that fed the Roman poor for centuries. It’s got history, street cred. Over the years, it fell out of favor but seems to be coming back strong, popping up on menus and in magazines all over the place. For good reason too … it’s a wonderful little grain. Sturdy yet delicious; perfect in salads where it can hold up to vibrant vinaigrettes. It also makes a lovely and hearty risotto in place of Arborio rice and is often found in soups, adding a some substance to those vegetables. If you can’t find it, wheat berries make a fine substitute though I cook those differently, simmering in plenty of water for an hour until tender before draining. I’ve also seen references that spelt or barley can be substituted as well, but I’ve never tried that.
If you haven’t yet encountered farro, seek it out. It’s not the easiest to find and can be pricey but I lucked into a large bag at Costco for a reasonable price. I have found it at Whole Foods, Italian grocers and sometimes health food stores. Oh – it’s easily found in Italy too. So hey, there’s a reason for a visit. See how I did that?
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: BRINGING DOWN THE HEAT WITH SOME COOL. This is one of those recipes that you really appreciate after you make it. Going in, you think, no big deal. Some grains, some veggies, whoop de do. But after a few bites, with all that brightness and flavor popping, you’re glad you made a large bowl. My favorite accompaniment is a large glass of ice cold mint tea and some chilly watermelon on the side. Makes me feel like a visit to the haman is in order.
FARRO TABOULLEH SALAD – adapted from Grace Parisi’s recipe here
1 cup farro (5 ounces)
6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 quart cherry or grape tomatoes, coarsely chopped
4 large scallions, thinly sliced
½ English cucumber, diced
1 ½ cups parsley leaves, about 1 bunch
½ cup mint leaves
1-2 good handfuls arugula, coarsely chopped
- For the faro: In a medium saucepan, cover the farro with 2” of cold water and bring to a boil.
- Cook over high heat for 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let the farro stand until plump and al dente, 45-60 minutes.
- Drain the farro, shaking off the excess water.
- Let stand until cool; shake the colander occasionally to dry the farro. The faro can be made up to this point up to 2 days ahead.
- For the dressing: In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
- Add the farro, tomatoes, scallions, parsley and mint and toss.
- Season with salt and pepper, gently fold in the arugula and serve.
- If making this ahead, fold in the arugula just before serving to prevent wilting. The finished salad can stand at room temperature for up to 30 minutes before serving.