Whole grains have become wildly popular in recent years but I don’t think this is just another “hot” culinary trend. Spelt, farro, wheatberries, quinoa and so many other grains that once seemed so weird or exotic are now everyday staples in our kitchens. Recipes abound.
That’s good news, not only because whole grains are healthy, but because there are so many of them. Each has a different taste and texture, so it’s a certainty you’ll find at least one or two to your liking. They also add amazing variety to our diets, which helps ease the boredom factor when it comes to dinner.
When my children were young and still living at home, the staple starch side dish was either white rice or egg noodles. But I served them too often.
Don’t we all do that?
Fortunately, the “please-don’t-make-this-anymore” came at a good time: the growing awareness of whole grains. I tried several kinds, just to bring something new and different to the table. This was a big, important find for the Fein family. It opened up new vistas for us and, I must confess, it took longer to convince my husband, but he gets it now too.
Our favorite? Farro. Brown, nutty-tasting, toasty-flavored farro. Filling, like a starch. Full of nutrients and fiber. Satisfyingly chewy.
I have to be careful not to make it too often or it will become the new white rice.
Farro is sometimes called Emmer wheat and, in fact, is a wheat-like grain (although it is lower in gluten than wheat). Some people also say it is the same as spelt, but it isn’t (although spelt is also in the wheat family).
I’ve used farro for practically every course. No desserts yet, but I’m not finished experimenting. I’ve found that it makes a good, plain side dish, doused with olive oil or butter, depending on the meal, and you can dress it up easily with some chopped fresh herbs such as dill or thyme. You can add all sorts of stuff to that: crushed toasted pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, cooked peas, and so on.
I’ve added farro to soup (instead of rice) and made pilafs with it. In fact, sometimes I now make Mujadarah, one of our very favorite dishes, with farro.
Most of my farro recipes are salads. I cook the grain, add some vegetables, raw (tomatoes, cucumber, celery) or cooked (carrots, asparagus, broccoli) or packaged (beans, thawed frozen peas or corn), douse with a vinaigrette and I’m done. Meat salad? I just add some chopped, cooked leftover of whatever I cooked for dinner the night before; this is an amazing use for leftovers.
Dairy? I add cheeses such as feta, goat, mozzarella, Fontina. Sometimes I mix in a few dried cranberries and/or chopped nuts. Usually, when I make a cheese-based salad and include dried fruit, I also make a sweeter dressing, typically including orange juice in place of some of the wine vinegar.
If you’re cooking for two – as I do mostly these days – farro can be an especially good friend. I make a batch, use half as a side dish for one dinner and the other half for the next day’s salad or casserole.
For more farro recipes browse here.