It always is a pleasant surprise when someone tells me that they enjoy my newspaper columns, particularly those about food and food recipes.
So here is one. While I am not exactly a gourmet cook, we give creative, healthy food preparation mindful emphasis in our kitchen.
Plus, I am always on the lookout to add new, tasty and nutritious recipes to our family dining repertoire.
At the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives cooking/nutrition conference in Napa Valley a couple years ago, I discovered farro. This is a versatile grain that is easy to use and prepare.
I get mine at Peak Nutrition in Galveston or you can order it online. Whole Foods stocks it as well.
What the heck is farro? It is a form of wheat, highly popular in rustic Italian cooking.
The food of the Roman legions, it has a long history in the Mediterranean and Middle East and is called emmer wheat, which means, the “mother of wheat.”
Thus farro is one of the original strains of cultivated wheat. It is not gluten free, though often better tolerated by those who are gluten sensitive.
It is absorbed slowly and is thus an excellent grain for diabetics trying to avoid glucose surges after eating carbohydrates.
I get the Italian pearled farro, which cooks up in about 15 minutes, a godsend when trying to make a quick dish for supper or even breakfast.
The whole-grain variety takes longer to prepare and needs to be soaked overnight, always a deterrent to me, though it is richer in nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium and fiber.
Farro can be used as a breakfast cereal mixed with fruits and yogurt, adds great flavor and texture to soups and salads or is a great eaten as a side grain.
A yummy concoction I cooked up recently involved throwing a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes into the water with the cooking farro. The yeast flakes added an incredible earthy, mushroomy, umami savor to an already delicious grain.
I saved the extra juice for soup stock since it smelled so incredibly good. I just couldn’t bear to drain it away like I usually do after cooking rice, grains or pasta.
Everything you read about farro alludes to its unique flavor. In this way, it is unlike quinoa, rice or other grains which are bland unless you add seasonings.
Terms like roasted, nutty, earthy, cinnamon, cashew flavors abound in descriptions of farro.
One of the most popular features of farro is its surprising texture. Cooked al dente, it has a toothsome chewiness not generally found in other grains or rice.
It just lolls around in your mouth, begging to be chewed on, releasing more and more flavor and with a pleasant mouth feel with each bite.
Try this incredibly beautiful and tasty Chicken Farro Salad recipe adapted from the “True Food” cookbook written by my colleague Dr. Andrew Weil.
It makes a cooling, refreshing and healthy salad for coming hot summer days.
The Internet has hundreds of additional recipes such as adding farro to kale Tuscan soup, farro risotto, a wide array of salads and more.
Try some farro soon. Your body will be healthier and your mouth will just love it.
Chicken Farro Salad
1⁄2 cup farro (cooked al dente)
9 cups mixed baby greens
11⁄2 cups of cooked chicken, cut into strips
1⁄3 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
1⁄3 cup dates, chopped
2 ounce manchego cheese, shaved
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup chopped almonds
3⁄4 cup Champagne Vinaigrette
1⁄4 cup Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
Pinch fresh ground pepper
3⁄4 cup canola or olive oil
Mix all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Mix all vinaigrette ingredients in a bottle and shake. Serve salad drizzled with the vinaigrette.
(SOURCE: Recipe adapted from “True Food,” by Dr. Andrew Weil)
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.