I can hardly wait for you to try this recipe; it has become our new favorite grain salad. A fabulous blend of chewy and crisp textures, nutty and bright flavors and purple, orange and green veggies—all most deliciously enveloped in the Lemon Cilantro dressing. As each of the nutrient rich ingredients is always available, this is a salad you can enjoy as much right now as in the middle of winter.
Farro (FAR-roh) is the Italian name for emmer wheat, a non-hybridized, heirloom strain of hard wheat widely cultivated across the Mediterranean for millennia. The use of emmer as food is ancient. Historians believe it was first cultivated in Babylonia around 7000 B.C. Known as the wheat of the Pharaohs, emmer served as a daily staple of the ancient Egyptians.
Despite emmer’s early popularity and its adaptability to poor soils, its low yield and the difficulty of milling it into flour (as the chaff doesn’t come off through threshing) paved the way for other strains of heirloom wheat to gain greater prominence. Though in the region around Tuscany, Italians have continued to grow farro because of its nutrition, flavor and plump and chewy texture. Nutritionally, farro is a rich source of protein, fiber, magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin E.
Farro comes in three different forms: whole farro, farro semi-perlato and farro perlato. If you can find it, you may want to purchase whole farro as it has all of its nutritious bran intact. Because its kernel is so tough, it is recommended to soak whole farro overnight before draining and cooking it.
Nutritionally, a close second choice is farro semi-perlato as it retains more of its bran than does farro perlato. Farro perlato (pearled) and farro semi-perlato (semi-pearled) are increasingly more available in the U.S. in both natural food and gourmet stores. (Don’t you just love the sound of these words: farro, perlato, semi-perlato?)
Whole farro: Soak whole farro overnight, then drain it. Simmer 1 cup whole farro and 5 cups lightly salted water or stock in an uncovered pan about 60 minutes until it has softened and become pleasantly chewy. Drain the farro in a sieve before proceeding with your recipe.
Pearled or semi-pearled farro: Wash and drain farro semi-perlato or farro perlato. Simmer 1 cup of either of these types of farro with 2 ¾ cups lightly salted water or stock in a partially covered pan for about 30 minutes until all or almost all of the water is absorbed and the farro is pleasantly chewy. Cover the pan of farro completely and let it sit off the heat for 5 minutes before straining if necessary to remove any unabsorbed liquid.
Having made a bit of a mess on my stove the first time I cooked farro semi-perlato, I now know the key to a clean stove: with either of the pearled farros, keep the pan partially covered so the accumulated foam won’t boil up, out and over your pot.
A word of caution
You may read that some people consider farro as another name for spelt. However, they are different varieties of low-gluten, heirloom wheat. Although they are interchangeable once cooked, they have completely different cooking times. I’ve read that farro “can’t be overcooked.” Not so of spelt which I understand will become mushy if cooked too long.
Some gluten-sensitive individuals are able to enjoy farro because of its low gluten content and different gluten structure than regular wheat. Farro is not recommended for those who are gluten intolerant.
Salad Dressing Update
For greater depth and complexity of flavor, add 1 tablespoon za’atar and 1 large Serrano or jalapeno chile without seeds to the blender. Loved it this way.
Inspired and adapted from a recipe by Jovial Foods
Makes about 16 cups—which is a lot, but then it also keeps well and the taste is so fabulous you’ll be happy to have leftovers. And, this recipe can most easily be halved. Optional: toss in a little crumbled, creamy feta cheese and/or additional coarsely chopped cilantro for added color and flavor.
2 cups farro semi-perlato
5 ½ cups water
6-7 cups grated purple cabbage (about half a small cabbage)
3 cups grated carrots
½ cup thinly sliced green onions
Zest of one lemon (organic if possible)
½ teaspoon salt
Dozen twists freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
Lemon Cilantro Vinaigrette
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons coarse mustard
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons lite seasoned rice vinegar (optional)
Wash and drain the farro. Add it to a large pot along with the 5 ½ cups of water and a large pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, partially cover the pan and simmer over medium heat about 30 minutes until all or almost all of the water is absorbed. Cover the pan of farro completely and let it sit off the heat for 5 minutes before straining if necessary to remove any unabsorbed liquid.
Prepare the dressing: Place the first six ingredients into the blender and blend till smooth. Gradually add the olive oil until the dressing is thick.
Stir the dressing into the vegetables then stir in the farro. If there is dressing left in the blender swirl the optional vinegar into the blender jar to release it and then add to the salad. Toss until evenly coated. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the pumpkin seeds just before serving as a main dish or side salad.
Optional Salad Dressing Update
For greater depth of flavor, add 1 tablespoon za’atar and 1 small Serrano chile without seeds to the blender.