This salad takes one of my favorite grains, Farro, combines it with the best of spring produce — asparagus and fresh peas — and then tops it off with a few scoops of pesto for flavor. You can stop here, and the salad will be delicious. But if you want to make it even more elaborate, here are some other possibilities: add sliced almonds for crunch, parmesan for umami, chickpeas for protein, arugula for a peppery kick, and/or squeezed lemon for brightness.
How to Make a Grain Salad
I love a grain salad. Because I usually cook grains in bulk and freeze them, grain-based salads are usually pretty easy to throw together. They also hold up really well, making them terrific make-ahead options for parties, showers, and potlucks.
Don’t let the long ingredient list of this recipe intimidate you! Feel free to leave out or sub in whatever you see fit. Just choose a grain (brown rice is as good as Farro if you’ve got it handy) and combine with your favorite vegetable and something flavorful like pesto, fresh herbs, a vinaigrette, or tahini dressing. Voila! You’ve got your very own signature grain salad.
As you can see above, I bought 90 percent of the ingredients at Trader Joe’s. My Bob’s Red Mill bag of Farro came from Whole Foods, but Trader Joe’s sells a smaller-sized bag of Farro you can purchase. If you buy the Trader Joe’s fresh peas, you can steam them in the microwave in the bag they come in. And Trader Joe’s also offers a microwaveable tray of asparagus (which you can purchase in lieu of the asparagus bunch pictured here). You could even buy the frozen bags of pre-cooked brown rice to use for the grain, and then this would be a no-cook meal!
When I cook rice, I COOK RICE. We’re talking 24 servings at once. Same goes for other grains, like farro, barley, and quinoa (pictured here). It takes no more effort to make 24 servings than it does to make one, so I go for it. Once it cools, I pack it up, 4 cups at a time, and freeze it.⠀⠀
When dinner time rolls around, I know I’ve got a grain in the freezer that can be ready in just 5 minutes. If I’ve stored it in a glass container, I’ll just pop it into the microwave, give it a stir after a few minutes, and take it out once warmed through. I’ll season it at that point with a little salt and pepper, or if I’m feeling like an overachiever, I’ll add fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley, or stir in a spoonful of pesto. And as you can see in this recipe, when I make a grain salad, step 1 is taken care of.
If you’d like more info on freezing grains, here’s a great how-to.
Farro is a whole grain. FYI: It’s actually a type of wheat so it is not gluten-free.
I love Farro because it’s chewy like barley, but without the slimy texture that barley can develop (this is why I think barley is great in soups and Farro is great in salads). I always cook it according to package directions and would recommend you do the same, because there are different varieties, such as pearled and semi-pearled, which will require different cooking times. However, most directions essentially require you to boil a pot of water, add the farro, bring down to a simmer, cook for about 30 minutes until tender but still chewy, and then drain the extra water off.
Farro and Asparagus Salad
This salad takes one of my favorite grains, Farro, combines it with the best of spring produce -- asparagus and fresh peas -- and then tops it off with a few scoops of pesto for flavor.
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked Farro
- 1 bunch asparagus washed, tough ends trimmed off the stalk
- 2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
- 1/2 cup prepared pesto
- 2 cups arugula washed and dried
- 1 bunch green onion washed, dried, and thinly sliced
- 1 14.5 ounce can garbanzo beans rinsed and drained
- 1 cup almonds slivered and toasted
- 1/2 cup parmesan shaved
- 1 lemon halved and squeezed
Cook Farro according to package directions. Drain and set aside, allowing to cool.
Cut asparagus into fourths. Steam, saute or roast the asparagus until tender. My favorite way is to roast: I preheat the oven to 400, toss asparagus stalks in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, scatter over baking sheet, and roast for 10-15 minutes until tender.
If using fresh green peas: boil water, add a pinch of salt, add fresh peas, bring down to a simmer, and cook 8-10 minutes until bright green, soft and sweet. If using frozen green peas: heat a saute pan over medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil, add frozen peas, a pinch of salt, and cover pan for 3-4 minutes until peas are heated through.
Combine Farro, cooked asparagus, cooked peas, and pesto. Toss to mix well. Add any of the optional ingredients, and fold to combine. Serve at room temperature. Can be made a day in advance and brought to room temperature before serving.