With all the focus on quinoa as the “it” grain, don’t hold yourself back from trying other ancient grains.
Farro, an early, very tasty wheat subspecies, is also known as emmer wheat. Some people also confuse it with spelt (more about that below).
But it shouldn’t keep you from seeking it out at better supermarkets, specialty food stores, natural foods stores or online. If you don’t like the flavor of quinoa but want more nutrition, this is a must-try.
WHAT IS FARRO?
An unhybridized ancestor of modern wheat, farro was one of the first grains cultivated by man in the Fertile Crescent, also known as The Cradle Of Civilization.
Here’s more on the earliest cultivated crops.
Farro was a mainstay of the daily diet in ancient Rome, and it sustained the Roman legions as they conquered Europe. It was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times.
Farro has a mild, nutty flavor, is high in fiber content and nutrients.
It can be tolerated by lightly wheat-sensitive people because it has less gluten and the glutenis more easily digested (check with your healthcare provider).
It has slightly more protein than modern wheat: 7 grams per 1/4 cup uncooked farrow.
Farro cooks like rice and other grains: Rinse, add to a pot with water or stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
So Why Did Farrow “Go Away?”
Because the yields aren’t as high as with other wheat species.
Over the millennia, the tastier and more nutritious strains of many crops were abandoned in favor of strains and hybrids that produced greater yields and were less resistant to weather fluctuations, diseases and pests. Farro ceased to be cultivated, except in a few remote areas.
(This selective breeding process was also conducted with animal species, both food animals, work animals and companion animals.)
The growing interest in better-for-you foods has brought farro back.
Top: A field of farrow (photo courtesy Institute For Plant Sciences | Zurich. Bottom: Farro from Anson Mills.
FOOD 101: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPELT & FARRO
It’s easy to confuse farrow and spelt. Farro looks rather like spelt, another early species of wheat; but they are not the same. Farro is emmer wheat, the original wheat. The botanical name for farro and emmer wheat is Triticum dicoccum; spelt is Triticum spelta; the most common modern wheat is Triticum aestivum.
Farro must be soaked (except for quick-cook brands), whereas spelt can be cooked directly from the package.
Cooked farro is firm and chewy; spelt is soft and becomes mushy when overcooked.
But note: To be sure you’re getting whole grain farro, look for “whole” or “whole grain” on the label. “Pearled” or semi-pearled farrow, which is quicker cooking, is not whole grain and lacks the fiber and nutrition from the germ and bran of whole grains.
Pearling removes the inedible hull that surrounds the grain, but the process also scours off part (semi-pearled) or all (pearled) of the nutritious germ and bran. Whole-grain farro is hulled using a gentler process that leaves the germ and bran intact.
WAYS TO SERVE FARRO
Today’s demands for better foods are bringing back some of the oldies. You can find:
Bob’s Red Mill Organic Farro at Whole Foods.
10 Minute Farro at Trader Joe’s (see note below re pearled farro).
Fargo adds heft and, mouth feel and “chew” to recipes, or as a standalone side. You can serve it hot or cold, as a substitute for rice, quinoa, pasta, or other grain or starch.
Farro has a nutty flavor and chewy texture, similar to barley.
It can be added to any soup or stew.
It can be substituted for rice salad or pasta salad.
It is more flavorful than pasta.
Whole grain farro is high in fiber plus magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E. It has less gluten than other varieties of wheat, making it easier to digest. As with other grains, it can be ground into flour to make bread and pasta.
Breakfast: Use farro in place of your morning oatmeal. Top it with apples, maple syrup and cinnamon.
Leftovers: Add any type of leftovers to farro to create a new side or salad, as we did in the photo above.
Lunch Salad or Side: Combine cooked farro with olive oil, tomatoes, feta and olives for a Mediterranean-inspired salad. Or try this delicious farro and beet salad recipe.
Rice Substitute: Cook and serve as you would serve rice.
Soups & Stews: Use farro in soups and stews for a heartier, earthier flavor.
Soup Meal: Cook farro with vegetable or chicken stock and your favorite vegetables for a warming and delicious light meal.
Farro For Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Top: Fragrant and flavorful: Moroccan Chicken recipe from Good Eggs. Bottom: A farrow salad can be served hot or cold. Photo © Dreamtime.
RECIPE: BRAISED MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH FARRO-CARROT SALAD
This fork-tender braised chicken recipe from Good Eggs is packed with flavor and ready in an hour.
Don’t be fooled by the number of ingredients: This dish is deceptively simple and easy to put together. Prep time is 15 minutes, cook time is 30 minutes.
3 pounds whole chicken legs
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon Marash* chile flakes
1 bunch cilantro, stems sliced into thin rounds and and kept apart from the leaves, roughly chopped
1 medium white onion, diced
1 bunch carrots, one diced and the rest cut into matchsticks
1 dried espelette chili pepper
2-3 bay leaves
1 stalk celery, diced
½ can crushed tomatoes
2 cups farro
Handful of almonds, lightly toasted & roughly chopped
12 Castelvetrano olives, pitted
3 cups of chicken broth
*Marash chile flakes are red pepper flakes from Turkey. They have a complex flavor—fruit and smoke—with moderate heat. Marash is both smokier and a bit hotter than Aleppo pepper, but you can use them interchangeably. The flakes can be blended with lemon juice and salt for a meat rub, or added to olive oil to make a vinaigrette, pasta or rice sauce. Blend the flakes with olive oil for a bread dipper, add to soups and stews, chili or any meat dish. See the different types of chiles and the different types of peppercorns.
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Combine the spices—cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon and Marash chile—in a small bowl and set aside. Pat the chicken legs dry and season with salt, pepper and about half of the spice mix.
2. ADD 2 tablespoons of olive oil (more if needed) to an oven-safe pan large enough to fit the chicken legs and all of the vegetables. Turn the heat to medium, and when the oil is hot add the diced onion, carrot, celery and cilantro stems (not the leaves). Add a pinch of salt, the remaining spice mix, the dried espelette chile and the bay leaves. Cook until the vegetables are completely soft and the onion is a bit translucent.
3. ADD half a can of crushed tomatoes and olives to the pan, then the chicken legs, skin-side up. Pour the chicken broth into the pan until the liquid is halfway up the chicken—you’ll want to leave some skin above the liquid so that it can crisp up in the oven.
4. BRING the ingredients to a boil on the stovetop, then place the entire pan uncovered on the middle or bottom rack of the oven (to prevent burning) for about 30 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to ensure that the skin is getting crispy but not burnt: The pan can be covered with aluminum foil or a lid if it is browning too quickly. If the chicken doesn’t seem to be browning at all, move it up a rack in the oven, but watch it closely.
5. REMOVE the pan from the oven after 30 minutes and check for doneness using a meat thermometer. The internal temperature should be 165°F. If not, place the pan it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. When it’s done, set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. While the chicken is braising in the oven…
6. BRING a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with 2 tablespoons of salt and add 2 cups of farro. Cook according to the package instructions until al dente, then drain and let cool. Toss with a bit of olive oil to help prevent clumping.
7. COMBINE the carrots, cilantro leaves, farro, almonds, a generous squeeze of lemon and 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a mixing bowl. Toss gently and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve the farro salad alongside a chicken leg, with some braising liquid spooned over it.
HERE’S ANOTHER FARRO SALAD RECIPE
Try this Farro & Beet Salad Recipe.