A Salad That Goes With the Grain

Posted June 12, 2018 8:09 p.m. EDT

When you hear the word “salad,” a bowl of dressed lettuce or other greens may come to mind. On the other hand, chicken salad, tuna salad and potato salad don’t necessarily imply anything green and leafy. And a juicy tomato salad is usually mostly tomatoes, with garlic and herbs added.

There’s really no salad I dislike, but lately it’s grain salads I desire. Give me quinoa, wheat berries, millet, buckwheat, brown rice or white: All are good candidates for salads. But on these cusp of summer days, one made with farro is what I’ve been craving for lunch or supper.

Gaining in popularity in the United States, farro, an ancient wheatlike grain, has long been prevalent in Italy and the Mediterranean. The word farro can be used to describe three varieties of ancient wheat — spelt (Triticum spelta), einkorn (Triticum monococcum) and emmer (Triticum dicoccum). Use whichever kind you find. Long a harder-to-find grain, it’s now found in supermarkets, health-food stores, Italian grocers and, of course, online.

The grain looks a bit like barley, pale and elongated. (In fact, barley can be used as a substitute.) When cooked, farro, like barley, has a pleasant, chewy texture, and tastes a bit nutty and earthy. Compared with some other, harder grains, the cooking time is short: 20 to 30 minutes. I boil it like spaghetti, then drain it, but it can be prepared in a rice cooker.

Though it can be also cooked and served warm (simmered to make a risotto-like dish or used in soups) dressed with a vinaigrette, it makes for a filling grain salad that pairs well with seasonal vegetables.

The other night, I happened to have some skinny green beans, grown in a friend’s hothouse; the first of the local New Jersey asparagus; and a few perfectly ripe avocados, which, for me, means firm and just barely ripe. (Riper, softer avocados work better in salsas or guacamole.) I cooked the beans briefly, but I left the asparagus raw and sliced it into long, thin ribbons.

The somewhat-austere arrangement was pleasant to gaze upon, finished with a scattering of fragrant basil leaves, though a few sweet cherry tomatoes would also be welcome, as would sliced peppers, or maybe some crumbled feta. But do as you please with your own version: Add what you like, or keep it satisfyingly simple.


Farro Salad

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 45 minutes


1/2 pound skinny green beans (haricots verts), topped and tailed

1 cup farro

3 tablespoons finely diced shallots

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 pound medium to large asparagus, tough ends snapped off

2 medium firm, ripe avocados

A handful of basil leaves


1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add green beans and cook for 1 minute. Fish out the beans with a spider, mesh strainer or slotted spoon. Rinse briefly in cool water, then blot on a kitchen towel and set aside.

2. Add farro to the pot, and cook until al dente, 20 to 30 minutes, then drain and spread out on a baking sheet or platter to cool.

3. As the farro cooks, make the vinaigrette: Put shallots in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, lemon juice and zest, and leave for 5 minutes, then whisk in olive oil.

4. Season the farro lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle with half the vinaigrette, toss and mound.

5. Slice the asparagus in very thin, lengthwise ribbons with a thin-bladed knife or mandoline and place in a medium-size bowl. Add cooked green beans and thick slices of avocado. Salt lightly, add remaining vinaigrette and toss gently to coat.

6. Arrange dressed vegetables over farro, garnish with basil leaves and serve.