A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about Memorial Day food, and how I didn’t really think you needed a recipe for such food. Two days later Aaron and I were invited to a vegan Formula 1 party/Memorial Day get together. I threw together this salad in the small pocket of time in between my post brunch nap and leaving for the party. And this salad was such a hit that I immediately had to reconsider what I had just put out into the internet. I’m sorry.
I’m sorry, too, that it took me this long to get this recipe up here. My first attempt at this recipe made an enormous amount of food. It made easily triple what’s here, and I like to think of this salad as already being party/leftover food. I inadvertently cooked about 8 cups of farro, and made enough pesto dressing that I was putting it on everything- pizza, pasta, other types of salads- in hopes of using it up before it went bad. I’ve heard that the ability to cook a small amount of food is a casualty of working in a restaurant kitchen, but this was the first time that it had happened to me. At least I got lots of easy, on the go lunches out of it.
Like I said earlier, the whole dish came about because we were invited to a vegan party. I had thought about making vegan cookies, but I haven’t experimented much with vegan baked goods and didn’t want to bring first attempt cookies to a party. And it was one of the first truly warm days of the summer season, which means I never want to turn on the oven. I don’t cook vegan food terribly often and bar some shining examples, I don’t often crave vegan food. There are some brilliant people making truly fantastic vegan food out there. But there’s also a lot of vegan food that’s simply trying to mimic non-vegan food, and as a non-vegan I’m just not interested in eating cheese made out of almonds or butter that tastes like coconut.
There are some rules that I’ve learned for making things taste good while working in kitchens, and many of them are applicable to vegan cooking. (Some, like always add more butter, obviously don’t apply.) Layering subtle flavors makes them more prominent, which is why spinach and basil are both blended and chopped. Think about a balance of flavors, which is why we have the sweetness of sundried tomatoes, the saltiness of olives, and the acidity of champagne vinegar. Texture matters, such as a blend of silky dressing that’s soaked into tender farro, firm chickpeas, and crunchy walnuts. And everything should taste good on its own, so it tastes optimal together.
I’d like to urge you to make this for your next picnic/get-together/potluck/dinner where it’s too hot to turn on the oven. It’s truly quick and easy- boil farro, blend a dressing, chop some spinach, toss. The whole thing comes together in fifteen minutes, and it manages to feel both healthy and indulgent. The whole thing taste like you’re eating it under a fig tree with a glass of rosé on the side, which is what I aim for all my food to taste like, vegan or not.
(And if you have recommendations for vegan dishes/blogs/cookbooks that I should be checking out, I’d love to hear them.)
Mediterranean Farro Salad with Pesto Dressing
This dressing is remarkably easy to make in a blender. I used my Vitamix, but any blender with a reasonably good motor should work. I imagine this could also be made in a food processor, but you may have to play around with the amount of liquid added.
Makes 6-8 servings
2 cups farro
1 cup basil, thinly sliced
1 cup spinach, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped oil-packed sundried tomatoes
1 fifteen ounce can chickpeas
2 handfuls chopped black olives
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups spinach
1 cup basil
1/2 cup walnuts
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup water
Place the farro in a medium saucepan. Cover with water by at least two inches. Salt the water and bring to a boil. Boil the farro until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, and place in a large bowl.
In the meantime make the pesto dressing. In the bowl of a blender combine the spinach, basil, walnuts, garlic, and salt. Blend on low speed until it’s all roughly combined. With the motor running, slowly add in the olive oil, champagne vinegar, and water. Blend until the dressing is smooth and loose. Taste, and add salt or vinegar as needed.
Add the dressing to the still warm farro. Toss well to coat. Stir in the sliced spinach and basil, sundried tomatoes, chickpeas, black olives, and walnuts. Serve warm or room temperature. This will keep well for a week in the refrigerator.