Carrot, Farro, and Kale Salad

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In high school I knew a girl who used to study while watching movies. It seemed like such an efficient system. She got to pair something boring with a reward. I would try to do it myself again and again, only to find I couldn’t focus on either. I was the dork who would listen to Vivaldi instead. I know better now. I know this doesn’t work for me. But I still try sometimes- try to catch up on the TV shows everyone else is already done talking about (The Magicians) or to breeze through a podcast (S-Town) or to re-watch a favorite film (Harry Potter, always). I can listen to music while writing. Sometimes those songs can even contain words.

Creative work needs time and space. This is a lesson I keep forgetting and keep relearning. It doesn’t have to be a lot. When I taught I would bring my laptop to work and write during my lunch break. I wrote a first draft of a novel that way. It was not a great first draft, but I did it by scratching out thirty minutes a day. And yet every time I start a new creative project I freak out because my life doesn’t have space for new work. I don’t have enough time. There’s never enough time. I forget that I’ve always found a way to make time before. And I will again. If not having enough time were enough to stop creativity we as humans would have never made anything.

These past few weeks have been filled. We celebrated Aaron’s birthday (several times over) and his parents came to visit us in Minneapolis. We’ve been eating out a lot recently, which means less time for creation in the kitchen. I just started a new writing project that I’m immensely excited about. It’s a busy season, and I’m still trying make everything fit. I’m trying to adjust without guilt, to figure out a way to be present here as often as I want and to forgive myself if I’m not. Thanks for sticking with me through this season.

As metaphorical seasons change so do actual seasons. Spring is here in the bright, tentative, and cold way I’ve come to know. I love this time of year- when the light stretches and everyone who was hibernating away the winter comes outside again. I’ve seen pictures on Instagram and other blogs of people who live in warmer climates glorying in their bounty of asparagus and rhubarb and ramps and peas. Whenever I see those pictures, particularly of the brilliant pink rhubarb I find myself bursting with envy. Here it’s still root vegetables, hearty greens, and pantry staples with the occasional leek thrown in.

For a hearty but not heavy early Spring salad I roasted carrots and tossed them with cooked farro, shredded kale, and a mustard vinaigrette. I’ve been making a variation of this salad for years this time of year and I always forget how good it is until I make it again. Roasting carrots brings out their sweetness, and shredding the kale helps tame its intensity. I top this salad with white cheddar, sliced radishes, and pepitas, but you could go wild. I’ve added in walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and feta before and that’s a killer variation. One of my absolute favorite things about this salad is how well it sits. I’ve brought it on long bus rides, eaten it at picnics, and toted it to work during Saturday doubles.

What are your favorite meal salads? I hope you love this one.

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Carrot, Farro, and Kale Salad

This is an excellent lunch or potluck salad. It keeps well for days at a time, and tastes best when at room temperature.

Serves 4

3 medium carrots, peeled and quartered then sliced in half inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt
pepper
chili flakes
1 cup farro
1 medium bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves cut into thin ribbons

dressing:

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard}
salt and pepper to taste

to serve:

radishes, thinly sliced
pepitas
cheddar cheese, cut into matchsticks

Preheat the oven to 400. In a large bowl toss the carrots, olive oil, and a sprinkling each of salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Turn out the carrots onto a baking sheet. Roast the carrots, tossing halfway through, for 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are tender on the inside and crisp on the outside.

Meanwhile bring a pot of salty water to boil. Add the farro and boil for 15 minutes, until the farro is tender. When the farro is ready, drain the pot.

While both the farro and carrots are cooking, make the dressing. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard. Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl add the shredded kale. Top with the farro and the carrots. Drizzle with the dressing and toss the salad. Top with your desired amount of radish, pepitas, and cheddar cheese. Serve room temperature.

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Farro and Lentil Salad with Currant and Pine Nut Relish

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Hi! It’s good to be back.

I wasn’t planning on being gone for so long, but the combination of celebrating Christmas/ being with my family/ having 5 consecutive days off/ turning 27 made me reluctant to open my computer. This past week has been packed full of good things, from a 2 hour game of Clue with my family to late night drinks with friends to finally finishing the book I was reading. I hope that whatever you celebrate, your week has been similarly refreshing.

Two weeks ago I wrote about our date nights. Last week, right before my family came into town, I made a version of this salad for a light, pre-holiday date night dinner. And now I’m here to share it with you. The inspiration for this recipe came from The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin, an inspiration of a chef and owner of one of the restaurants I most fantasize about visiting.

But something happened when I was making this salad- I was reminded of work.

Last year there was a meat pie on my station. It was a relatively straightforward dish- meat, potatoes, gravy, pastry. And making everything from scratch was a 4 day process. Even if the recipe was mine to share, I would only share it with the most ambitious of home cooks. And then only with plenty of caveats. A lot of restaurant recipes are like that. Your eye is towards consistency of result. You’re making a huge amount of food. You’re not shying away from sub recipes. And you’re relying on the person who is making the recipe to know how to adjust it.  That makes following any recipe from a restaurant a slightly fraught proposition. My first few weeks cooking at a restaurant I couldn’t stop asking the most annoying questions- I didn’t understand how restaurant recipes differed from the ones I was used to following.

Aaron and I devoured the salad. It was delicious- hippie chic, if you will. And it’s lovely in an earthy way- blacks and browns and greens. But as tasty as it was, I still had some qualms. There were some steps that made little sense. Goin had you reduce balsamic vinegar by half before you added it to the salad, making it thicker and sweeter, but it was so sweet that I spiked the salad with additional vinegar before serving. Farro and forbidden rice were paired together, and they were delicious, but they were cooked separately with almost the exact same ingredients and very similar cooking times. And despite the gorgeous ingredients- sweet, plump currants, toasted pine nuts, peppery mustard greens, gently cooked onions- the salad tasted little flat. If I had been at work, I would have added more salt, but I was wondering if there was another way to bring that spark in.

While eating it Aaron and I started to make notes on how we would change it. It became pretty clear quite quickly that those changes might make it easier. It might be suitable for the home cook who doesn’t possess an infinite amount of pans, a walk-in full of fresh herbs, and an employee whose job is to wash dishes. I swapped the forbidden rice, which can be difficult to find, in for lentils, which also make the salad more filling. I added capers to the relish. Lentils and farro were cooked in the same pot, with the same aromatics. Sweet balsamic vinegar was changed out for slightly less sweet sherry vinegar. The tartness could sing, and finally the sweetness came from the currants and onions alone. Capers rounded everything out. Mustard greens provided a sharp relief. Aaron told me he liked the second version even more. I agreed. I had to order him to stop eating it so I could save some for work on New Year’s Eve (hello, double).

This complex restaurant dish didn’t magically turn into a 30 minute, 1 bowl meal. It still takes time and a few components. But by my account, I halved the pans used and streamlined the process, turning it from a special occasion meal to a leisurely weeknight dish. And isn’t that what we want from a hippie chic salad?

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Farro and Lentil Salad with Currants and Pine Nut Relish

adapted from The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin

This salad is highly adaptable. If you can’t find mustard greens or Aleppo pepper, I would replace them with kale and red pepper flakes, respectively. This salad makes a great light meal. Goin mentioned pairing this with white fish if you’d like a restaurant quality dish, but I found adding a soft boiled egg to the leftovers is a great way to make it more hearty.

Serves 4-6

Salad:

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 an onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup farro
3/4 cup French green lentils
2 big handfuls of mustard greens, chopped

Relish:

1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
2 tablespoons drained capers in brine
1 small rosemary stalk
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup sherry vinegear
salt and pepper

In a medium pan over medium heat warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, the bay leaves, the chopped rosemary, the Aleppo pepper, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions have softened and smell incredible, about 8 minutes. Add the farro and lentils, and stir well. Cook, stirring often, for about 3-4 minutes- just long enough so that the farro and lentils start to toast a bit. Add 8 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until both the farro and lentils are cooked through- about 35 minutes. (I started checking at 20 minutes, then checked every 5 minutes after that.) Drain the farro-lentil mixture, then spread it out on a sheet tray to let it cool and dry. Remove the bay leaves.

While the farro and lentils are cooking, place the pine nuts in a small pan over low heat. Stir often, until the pine nuts start to smell fragrant and take on some color. As soon as they’re golden but not dark, tip the pine nuts into a medium bowl. This will only take a few minutes, so make sure to give the pine nuts your undivided attention- they will burn quickly. Add the dried currants to the same bowl.

In a sauté pan, warm 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the onion, the rosemary stalk, the capers, Aleppo pepper, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are just starting to color. Add in the sherry vinegar, and immediately turn off the heat- you just want to warm the sherry vinegar through. Pour the whole mixture onto the pine nuts and currents. Remove the rosemary stalk. Let it all sit and infuse together while the farro and lentils cook.

Once everything is ready, warm the last 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. It can be the same one that you cooked the onions and capers in. Add the farro-lentil mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon. You want to stir often enough that you can scrape up the brown bits on the bottom before they burn, but not so often that the farro and lentils can’t crisp up. Once everything is warmed through and crisped (this took me about 5 minutes), add in the mustard greens. Stir them to combine well, and let them wilt down. Once they’ve wilted down, add the pine nut-current-onion mixture and stir well. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

This is one of those rare dishes that’s as good warm as it is at room temperature. And it’s even better after it’s sat a bit, and allowed all the flavors to mingle.

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Mediterranean Farro Salad with Pesto Dressing

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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.)

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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

Pesto Dressing

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.

 

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