Grains

A Genius New Salad Craze, Shepherded by Smitten Kitchen

January  3, 2018

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?

Photos by Rocky Luten

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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11 Comments

Michelle M. January 20, 2018
This sounds great, but I actually first saw this idea at Sprouted Kitchen, where Sara Forte makes this incredible salad with toasted quinoa as an accentuating component: https://www.sproutedkitchen.com/home/2013/1/24/winter-greens-crispy-quinoa-salad.html If you do this you need to use a MEYER lemon (if possible) for the super fantastic dressing.
 
Sydney N. January 16, 2018
Made this salad and I have to share: it was made even better by adding citrus !! I put in orange segments and spritzed in some juice from the cut off rind and it totally MADE the salad!!
 
Leslie C. January 15, 2018
Tweaked this, given what was in my fridge. Subbed red cabbage for green, dried cranberries for apricots, grated Parmesan for shaved. Kept the overall gist of the recipe, though, and the result was great. Definitely not something I'd have thought of without Deb Perelman's inspiration.
 
Ruth K. January 3, 2018
Love the idea...as someone who needs whole grains but needs to watch her overall carb intake, this is the way to go. <br />I do have a small bone to pick with the word "headnote": I had to look it up, and found it is a prefix or executive summary, typically affixed to laws. If I'm gonna get wild and crazy in the kitchen - no lawyers.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 3, 2018
Hi Ruth, I'm so glad you asked this—I'm so steeped in recipe writing lingo I forgot that headnote isn't a common word. The recipe's headnote is the brief note from the author at the beginning to describe the recipe—here's a bit more on what we thought made a good one back in 2012: https://food52.com/blog/3808-how-to-write-a-headnote
 
Ruth K. January 3, 2018
Love the idea...as someone who needs whole grains but needs to watch her overall carb intake, this is the way to go. <br />I do have a small bone to pick with the word "headnote": I had to look it up, and found it is a prefix or executive summary, typically affixed to laws. If I'm gonna get wild and crazy in the kitchen - no lawyers.
 
Warren January 3, 2018
Ruth, I am a Type II diabetic and carbs are a concern of mine as well. The benefit of the grains is that they digest slower and their Glycemic Index (GI) is much lower than a lot of the "usual carbs", so you don't get the blood-sugar spike after eating.