Thursday, September 23, 2010

I'll Take Unknown Grains for 100

One of the things I love most about cooking is exploring new foods, particularly ones I have never cooked before.  Grains, in particular, are usually always exciting and sometimes feel like I am discovering hidden treasure.  This is because grains can provide healthy swaps for other starchy options like rice, pasta or bread.  They up the nutritional value and provide more fiber. In addition to better nutritional value, they often bode unique flavors and textures.  

This week's unknown grain- farro! Farro is an ancient grain that originated in Italy.  It is a whole grain from a farro plant and is similar to barley and spelt.  It should be soaked before cooking and it is cooked as a traditional grain. 

I put my thought wheels into motion and I decided to use farro in a fresh summer salad.  When it comes to salads, texture is key.  I need to have clean flavors, savory elements and lots of crunch.  Cooking the farro and then baking it provides a perfect amount of bite, adds nutrients and fiber.  The farro replaces other starchy options like croutons and adds a nutty, savory flavor the replaces fats in other salads.

If you are a traditional Caesar salad eater, try this salad.  It has a similar flavor profile but is of course, healthier and yummier. The parmigiano reggiano cheese, lemon and olive oil provide the same essence as a caesar dressing without the additional fat.  The string beans and farro add the crunch instead of fried croutons and the corn adds bites of sweetness.  You can use any type of lettuce and I used a mixture of spinach, arugula and mesclun. 

Crisp Summer String Bean Salad with Farro, Corn and Chicken
Makes about 4 servings

2 cups farro (can be prepared days in advanced)
2 boneless chicken breasts, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 pound summer string beans, cleaned and cut into 2 inch pieces
Lettuce, 1 container (about 8 oz or a full head)
1 cup of corn (preferably cut from a summer cob, if not canned will do)
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tabelspoon lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
Parsley, cleaned and chopped about  2 tbsp.
Olive Oil, 2 tsp plus extra for cooking
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Soak the farro in cold water.  Allow it to soak for at least an hour and you can leave it soak up to overnight.  Bring about 3 cups of water to a boil.  Add the farro and allow the water to return to a boil.  Then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Allow farro to cool completely and then spread evenly onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, mixing frequently, until the farro has developed a nice crunch.  Do not over cook the farro or it will be impossible to eat.  

Clean and cut the string beans and combine with the corn.  Add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and set aside to marinate.  

In a pan, drizzle olive oil and heat on medium.  Add minced garlic and saute.  Add chicken strips and allow to cook about 5 minutes.  Add parsley and finish cooking.  Cut open a piece of chicken to test for doneness then immediately remove from heat.  The chicken will continue to cook for a minute or two after it is removed from the heat and there is nothing worse than over cooked, dried out chicken.

Clean and chop the lettuce.  Add parmigiano reggiano cheese, lemon juice and olive oil and toss to coat evenly.   Salt and pepper to taste.  The key to making a good salad is to start by adding half of your ingredients and then test and taste as you go.  You can always add more, but you can't take away oil if you use too much. 

To assemble, add the chicken, corn, string beans and farro to the dressed salad and toss to mix.  Top with additional farro.  Serve and Enjoy :)

What makes this bite better?
The element of exploration!  One of the biggest problems with people's diets is the uniformity and lack of variation.  Diets that have the most variation are the healthiest.  In order to achieve variation, you must be willing to try something new.  If you have never tried farro, give it a go.  If Caesar salad is your all time favorite, it's time to break the bond and reach out to try something new. Who knows, you might just find a new, healthier favorite food.  


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