December 4, 2012

Grain Mains: Warm Farro Salad with Roasted Beets, Leeks, Orange and Yogurt Dressing

Last night, after meeting my cousin in the West Village for dinner, I came away with the thought that the best thing I'd had that night was toast topped with potatoes, melted cheese and prosciutto. Talk about a balanced diet.

Fine, I'll admit it. This season has been a season of indulgences -- food wise at least.  I've been giving into fat. I've been cooking with butter. I've been eating a lot of pork. The night before Thanksgiving the dinner I made included both buttermilk biscuits with sliced country ham and a soup with pork lardons. And that was the night before Thanksgiving for God's sake!

When given the option, I order "with cheese." Need I mention my favorite food?

I've been craving carbs like a pregnant woman craves chocolate. And I don't even like chocolate. If that Atkins thing catches on again, I'm screwed.

Whole loaves of bread with a short, square stack of butter have become my companions at NYC coffee shops. Pasta, per usual, is my go to dinner when nothing else comes to mind. Eggs on toast for breakfast -- the toast being key.

I'm not sure what it is about this year that has turned this kale-loving-kid into a grease feind. I still eat lots of kale. But as soon as I feel I've reached my vegetable intake, it's right back to the fat. What harm could a small piece of cheese do? A big piece?

Perhaps its the oncoming cold, which does drive us towards richer, more filling foods. At Wesleyan, where most of my friends were vegetarian, cooking vegetable-filled meals was the only option. But New York opens up a world of possibilities. And some of those possibilities have 29% of your daily fat intake in one serving.

But there are some dishes that are healthy, vegetarian and hit all the right spots (filling, rich, satisfying!) without breaking the caloric bank (not that I'm counting...).

The rest of the world seems to have caught on to wholesome grains in a bigger way than the Uunited States has. Quinoa, farro, cous cous, barley and bulgur wheat are just a few that come to mind, though none are staples of the American diet. A few weeks ago I reported on a warm barley salad. I made that again for Thanksgiving and I think it caught on. So this week, I thought I'd try another warm grain salad, this time with farro, beets and yogurt. What I love about these is they're a meal on their own, but also work well as a hearty side -- to accompany cheese, pork and bread.

Warm Farro Salad with Roasted Beets, Leeks, Orange and Yogurt Dressing 
Serves 4 as a main

-2-3 large beets
-1 1/2 cups uncooked farro
-8 tablespoons olive oil
-1 leek
-1 clove garlic, chopped
-zest from one orange
-1 cup plain Greek yogurt
-1/2 cup orange juice
-1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
-1 tablespoon za'atar (Middle Eastern spice mixture) or sesame seeds

1. Preheat your oven to 400. Scrub your beets well with a brush under running water to remove any grit. Wrap each beet tightly in aluminum foil. Place your wrapped beets in a baking dish and place in the oven. Allow to roast for 1-2 hours, until they are easily pierced with a fork. Remove and allow to cool. Once they have cooled enough to handle, dice into 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, prepare your farro. Place your farro in a medium sauce pot with a lid, cover with water by a few inches, and season well with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low and allow to cook for about 45 minutes. The farro should still have a bite to it -- nothing is worse than mushy farro! If it needs additional time, add more water and continue cooking until done. Remove and strain any remaining water out.

3. While the farro is cooking, prepare your yogurt sauce. Whisk together the yogurt, 4 tablespoons olive oil, half the orange zest, chili flakes, and salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste and set aside.

4. Remove the root and green part from your leek. Halve lengthwise and thinly slice into half-rounds. If there is dirt, wash thoroughly in a strainer.

5. When farro has finished cooking, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the leek, saute 2-3 minutes on medium heat, add garlic and saute a minute more. Add in the farro and season with half the orange zest, salt and pepper. (At this point, I sometimes add a splash of beer, which adds a warm, nutty flavor). Allow to cook 2-3 minutes and remove from heat.

6. Place farro is a wide, shallow serving dish. Top with the beets in the center, and dollop on the yogurt dressing. Sprinkle za'atar or sesame seeds over everything, and top with another splash of olive oil. Serve, mixing everything together at the table.