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Stay on track for a nutritious new year with this Mediterranean Farro Salad

An ancient grain of the wheat family, farro is an excellent source of protein, fiber and iron which all help to promote good nutrition and a feeling of being full.

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Sarah's Mediterranean Farro Salad is a nutritious and filling side dish featuring a medley of classic Sicilian flavors.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum
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FARGO — With a nod to my husband’s Sicilian heritage, I am continuing my healthy recipe theme this week with a Mediterranean Farro Salad with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette. This versatile salad is the perfect combination of flavor and nutrition, and it pairs well with chicken and seafood, either as a side dish or combined.

Farro and barley are my family’s favorite grains, and you can use either one for this recipe, as well as quinoa, couscous, rice or even orzo pasta. Farro is a staple in my home pantry, and I have been pleased to find it regularly available in our local grocery stores, instead of having it to seek it out online.

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Farro is an ancient grain of the wheat family and a great source of protein, fiber and iron.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

An ancient grain of the wheat family, farro is an excellent source of protein, fiber and iron which all help to promote good nutrition and a feeling of being full. Farro has a wonderfully nutty flavor and a tender texture that allows the grains to absorb flavors well. I cook the farro with a bay leaf and salt in a blend of water and chicken stock to enhance its overall taste, and I do this with all grains unless a recipe specifies another liquid to be used.

Despite its tender structure, farro has a pleasantly slight crunch to its texture that helps it hold up well in big-batch salads. I cook the farro until nearly all the liquid is absorbed and the grains are al dente – tender and chewy with a slight crunch – which takes about 30 minutes. I prepare the Lemon Basil Vinaigrette while the farro is cooking so that I have it on hand as soon as the farro is ready.

The dressing is a blend of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, basil and crushed red peppers. To keep it simple, I use dried basil for this recipe, and you could also use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic if desired. You can make the vinaigrette up to a week in advance and the recipe can easily be doubled or even tripled to use in other salads.

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Once the farro is cooked, I drain the water and immediately toss it with a couple tablespoons of the vinaigrette, to infuse the grains with flavor and keep them from clumping together as the farro cools. Once cool, I toss the farro with the salad ingredients and the remaining vinaigrette.

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The farro is cooked until al dente and then tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, red onion, kalamata olives and feta cheese.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

For this recipe, I did a quick purge of my pantry which is, unsurprisingly, full of Sicilian flavors, including sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, chickpeas, red onion, lemon and cucumber. Crumbled feta cheese adds just the right amount of salty creaminess to the salad, and pairs well with the bold flavors of the other components.

I chop the ingredients into similar, bite-size pieces so that every fork or spoonful has a sampling of all the flavors. The feta cheese and olives have their own salty profile, so be sure to taste the salad once combined before adding additional seasoning. The salad can be served warm or at room temperature and will hold up well in the refrigerator for at least four to five days.

Healthy, fresh and delicious, this Mediterranean Farro Salad is the perfect way to stay on track for a nutritious new year.

Mediterranean Farro Salad with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

Serves: 4 to 6

For the Farro:

1 cup farro
1 14.5-ounce can of chicken stock
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons Lemony Garlic vinaigrette

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Sarah tosses the cooked farro with some homemade Lemon Basil Vinaigrette to help the grains absorb the flavors and prevent them from clumping as the farro cools.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

For the Lemon Basil Vinaigrette:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced (or ½ teaspoon garlic powder)
1 teaspoon dried basil (or 1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped)
Pinch of crushed red peppers
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

For the Salad:

Cooked farro, cooled
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup cucumber, small-diced
¼ to ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
½ cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
Seasoning to taste

Directions:

To cook the farro, place the chicken stock and water in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette: Place all the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and whisk vigorously until well combined and fully emulsified. Set aside for later use in recipe or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to one week.

Once the pot of liquid has begun to boil, add the farro, bay leaf and kosher salt and return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the grain softens but still has a slight crunch.

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Remove the pot from the burner, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain the farro into a strainer and discard the bay leaf. Transfer the farro to a large bowl and drizzle it immediately with 2 tablespoons of the Lemony Garlic vinaigrette; toss to combine, then let the farro cool for 10 minutes.

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Sarah recommends chopping the salad ingredients in bite-size pieces so that every spoonful is loaded with flavor.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

To the cooled farro, add the chickpeas, cucumbers, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, red onion and feta cheese. Drizzle with half of the remaining vinaigrette and toss to combine. Add the rest of the vinaigrette and toss again. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving so that the flavors can meld together or refrigerate overnight and bring to room temperature before serving. This salad may also be served warm. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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