This grain salad is my perfect New Year’s resolution food—and it might be yours, too!—but not for any of the reasons you’d think.
The blueprint comes from Deb Perelman’s newest cookbook Smitten Kitchen Every Day, a tremendously appealing collection of recipes whose headnotes strike chord after rousing chord. Yes, of course I want those Pizza Beans and Pretzel Linzer Cookies. And why have I never heard of Jam-Bellied Bran Scones before—or had the sense to put jam in the belly of any baked good at all?
But the headnote that most gripped me was for this Winter Slaw with Farro. It might sound unassuming, but in her warm, immediately relatable way, Perelman sold me on the notion of grain salads “where the grain is the minority ingredient, not just a foundation that vegetables are dotted across as an afterthought.” A grain can be a salad ingredient like any other, rather than the overstuffed bed.
In the aftermath of the holidays, when many of us are feeling worn from too many foil-wrapped chocolates and cream-addled everything, this salad has all the right moves. You get cabbage’s frisky crunch, escalated by cracked toasted almonds, plus the tart-sweet pop of quickly-pickled dried apricots and salty nip of Parmesan shavings. The farro is scattered through to poke up here and there in the slaw “like nubby crouton accents,” as Perelman says, providing just enough texture to give your teeth a place to pause, and just enough heft to make slaw a meal.
So yes, this salad will make you feel energized and excited to eat slaw for dinner (and the brown bag lunches that follow—it’s great for those). And it will bring color and crunch to a barren January. But, to me, what’s even more thrilling is the reminder to try cooking something new and downright wrong-feeling, and maybe stumble on a whole new favorite genre of dishes in the process.
Perelman told me that she’d dreamed of a grain salad with such an inverted profile for some time before tasting the inspiration for this one at the West Village restaurant Via Carota—when finally, she felt more confident in making her own. Since then, she’s seen scant proportions of grains peek through in other restaurant salads (often fried freekah for toasty, popcorn-like crunch) and made lots of variations herself. She loves walnuts and diced bits of Taleggio or Robiola instead of Parmesan. I’m planning on working in pickled golden raisins next.
But restaurants are of course just one of scads of places to get your cook brain whirring. Some of my most memorable tricks have come from a bare fridge and a combination of desperation and an impish mood: Taking yesterday’s sad, dry (normally proportioned) grain salad and searing it in ripping hot oil. Grabbing frozen summer tomatoes and throwing them—whole—into a pot to defrost into an instant risotto broth. (Tell me about your lightbulb moments like these, too!)
Whether the next itch comes from a dinner out on the town, a cookbook or a watercooler conversation, or just that fridge with a lonely cup of cooked grains I can’t bear to throw away, my resolution is to make 2018 a year where I stumble on more new meals marked by surprise and discovery, simply by shaking off my preconceived notions and letting myself get weird in the kitchen.
Who’s with me?
Deb Perelman’s Winter Slaw with Farro
Serves 6 to 8
1/2 cup (100g) finely diced dried apricots
1/4 cup (60ml) white wine vinegar, plus more to taste
1 small-medium (2 pounds or a bit less than 1kg) head green cabbage
1 1/3 cups (145g) cooked farro, cooled (from about 3/4 cup uncooked)
1/3 cup (45g) roughly chopped roasted almonds
2 ounces (55g) Parmesan, thinly shaved on a grater with a vegetable peeler
3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
See full recipe on Food52
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