Ok, enough with bad punning because there is nothing bad or far away about this easy, totally-transportable salad that tastes just like a summer garden.
But it’s true, isn’t it? Just when all the great salad fixin’s arrive at the farmers markets—the tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, zucchini and green beans, those tender spring lettuces have gone north to avoid the intense heat.
Lack of lettuce, however, should not interfere with your enjoyment of summer salads, especially if you stock your pantry with stand-in staples, like ancient grains. Last November, I shared a recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash and included information on several of my favorite ancient grains. And while these hardy grains give us that stick-to-your-ribs feeling we all want from a winter meal, they are equally delightful cooked, chilled and dressed for summer dining.
This is a simple dish (Swear!) that takes only a small amount of prep. To begin with, you’ll need to soak and cook your grain—it’s farro in this case. Farro is often referred to as the ancient ancestor to wheat, so it does contain gluten. But it also boasts high fiber, iron and protein (more than three times the protein of brown rice) to go with its chewy texture and rich nutty flavor. It’s also rich in minerals like zinc and calcium. So, unless gluten is an issue, farro should be on that pantry shelf.
To make basic farro, you should rinse it well before cooking. For this recipe, I soaked it overnight in water in the frig. Soaking improves the flavor and texture and allows it to cook faster. Its cooking ratio is typically three to one—one cup of farro to three cups cooking liquid, but because I wanted this in a salad, I didn’t want any liquid and little to no moisture left in the grains, so I used less liquid—about two and a quarter cups of my homemade vegetable stock. Basically, I cooked it just like rice, keeping a close eye and cooking until all the liquid was gone. Then I fluffed it up and put in in a single layer in the frig to chill down. Again, it’s usually the way I prepare rice so that individual grains don’t mush together.
I think the easiest way to approach this dish is to prepare the farro and chill it down one day ahead of when you want to serve the salad, marinating it overnight. If you are super busy the day you want to serve it, this plan works really well. You can even begin two days ahead—cooking and chilling the farro one day, assembling the salad and marinating it the next and serving it all the following day. The taste only gets better with time, which means this is an excellent leftover for the weekdays. Farro Garden Salad keeps well and travels like your best road-trip buddy. So lunch at the office, afternoon picnic, poolside snack, weekend hike…you got this.
- One cup farro, soaked overnight
- Two to two and a half cups vegetable stock, homemade or commercial
- One-half teaspoon fine sea salt
- Zest and juice of one large lemon
- Four or five tablespoons of your favorite fresh herbs, minced (I used thyme, oregano, tarragon and parsley in mostly equal amounts—a little less parsley for us.)
- One teaspoon raw honey (optional but nice)
- Coarse sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
- One-half cup good-quality, extra-virgin olive oil (My go-to is an affordable, yet highly rated Trader Joes Unfiltered Organic Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil.)
- Two large heirloom tomatoes, cored and chopped (We like Cherokee Purples for this dish.)
- One large or two medium cucumbers, seeded but not peeled, unless you prefer peeled
- One medium red onion, diced small or sliced in super-thin rings (Earlier in the season, green onions are good in this dish.)
- One small kohlrabi, peeled and grated (Radishes, when available, work well here, too.)
- One-half cup diced fennel bulb or chopped celery (Or maybe a bit of both!)
- One large carrot, washed but not peeled and diced
- One or two baby zucchini, washed, trimmed and diced
- Once the farro has soaked overnight, drain well and put in a medium pot with the two cups or so of vegetable stock and the fine sea salt. Bring to a boil; then, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until done, between 35 and 45 minutes. Just like rice, all the liquid should be gone, and the farro should be tender and fluffy.
- Spread the farro out on a parchment paper-lined, rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate at least four hours and up to 24. I recommend doing this a day ahead. It just seems easier. If you do this in the morning, you are set to marinate the salad overnight.
- While the farro cooks, you can make the dressing and store it with the chilling farro in the frig. Place the lemon zest and juice in a small bowl with the honey (if using), minced herbs, salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until fully combined and smooth. Store in screw-top jar until ready to use.
- Place the farro and all the chopped/grated vegetables in a large bowl. Give the dressing a good shake to make sure it is combined well. Pour the dressing on the salad and toss well, so that everything is coated. Allow the salad to marinate covered in the frig for 8 hours up to overnight.
- Give it a good toss when you are ready to serve.
Here is how I'm calculating the prep and "cook" time: Prep is the time it takes to actually cook the farro, make the dressing and chop all the vegetables, but not the chill time for the farro; cook time is the 15 minutes it will take you to toss everything together, but does not include the marinating time.
Tasty Toppings & Flexible Options
I am always in favor of dishes that can “go with the flow,” meaning specific ingredients aren’t necessary. As you can see, you have lots of in-season vegetable options for your salad–some I’ve mentioned, but you’ll think of more. You can even change the grain, if you like to quinoa or wild rice–neither of which contain gluten. So everyone can enjoy.
One thing I think this salad benefits from is crunch and/or flavor pop added at the last. I thought toasted walnuts were a great addition, along with diced avocado. Don, on the other hand, thought crispy bacon bits and shredded white cheddar cheese were the ticket. So maybe put out some little bowls of your favorite toppings on the dinner table or some reusable lidded containers in the backpack. Make sure there are enough options to please everyone. Because I really think this salad is a crowd pleaser.