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Build 'bowls' with versatile 'ancient grain'

The grain bowl’s rise to prominence over the past decade proves the Mediterranean diet isn’t old news.

Whole grains remain a staple of the decades-old regimen still upheld by the American Heart Association and current government dietary guidelines. And we’re not specifically talking about whole-grain bread, pasta and other prepared products. Cooked as intact specimens, the pantheon of whole grains is a vital component of consuming more fiber, filling up without lots of meat and saturated fats and generally avoiding processed foods.

A recipe for farro pilaf in this month’s Oregon Healthy Living magazine (see Sunday's e-edition) puts a spin on this side-dish genre with one of the so-called “ancient grains.” Derived from several wheat species that held sway prior to widespread hybridization, this nutty, chewy alternative to brown rice can go in numerous directions, flavor-wise. I like the Los Angeles Times’ pairing with tuna, brined olives and cucumbers, which evokes the Mediterranean classic Salade Nicoise.

Try other proteins such as beans or meat, leafy vegetables such as arugula, crunchy vegetables like fennel or carrots, herbs such as cilantro and a fatty element, like nuts. If you can’t find hot smoked paprika, you can substitute a combination of 3/4 teaspoon smoked or regular paprika and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

Smoky Tomato Farro Grain Bowls With Tuna and Olives

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more

1 small onion, peeled and finely diced

1 small red bell pepper, cored and finely diced

Kosher salt, to taste

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon hot pimentón (smoked paprika)

2 cups farro (14 ounces)

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, plus more

1 (11.5-ounce) can tomato juice concentrate (1 1/2 cups)

2 tins (4 ounces each) high-quality tuna packed in olive oil

1/2 cup good olives

1 small radicchio, cored and chopped

1 Persian or other mini cucumber, sliced

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and bell pepper, season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until a little tender, for about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, paprika and a pinch of salt; stir well for 1 minute. Raise heat to high and stir in the farro. Add the vinegar and cook, stirring, until acidic smell burns off. Add the tomato juice and 1 1/4 cups cold water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring and scraping bottom of pot occasionally, until farro is tender and water is absorbed, for 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Gently fold farro to evenly mix all ingredients, then let cool to room temperature. Farro alone can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Divide farro among bowls and top with the tuna, olives, radicchio, cucumber and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil, then splash with a little vinegar and sprinkle lightly with salt before serving. Assembled grain bowl can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 8 hours.

Makes 6 servings.

Tribune News Service photo