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Farro, An Ancient Whole Grain – Fiery Red Bean Chili Recipe

by Jeanette on November 8, 2010 · 4 Comments
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Fiery Red Bean Chili
Fiery Red Bean Chili

Recently, farro has been gaining popularity on restaurant menus in the form of risottos, salads and side dishes.  You might think it’s a trendy new whole grain (it certainly sounds more interesting than brown rice or barley), but according to an article in The Seattle Times, farro actually “traces its roots back 17,000 years to the beginning of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia.”


It is grown in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, Switzerland and Italy, and more recently in the United States (in Washington State by Bluebird Grain Farms).

In Italy, farro is often used in a rustic farro soup (“Zuppa di Farro”), and a traditional whole grain Easter pie (“Pastiera de Grana”); in Switzerland, it is used to make bread.

Farro is a whole grain that looks a little like barley, and retains a soft but chewy texture when cooked.  Not to be confused with spelt (although they are apparently related and similar in nutritional profiles), farro is rich in fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C, and E, and is low in gluten.  When combined with legumes, it becomes a complete protein

There are three grades of farro:
  • hulled, with all of the outer bran intact
  • semi-pearled, with a portion of the outer bran removed, and 
  • cracked, with the entire outer bran removed and broken into small coarse pieces
Soaking is only suggested for hulled farro, which will reduce cooking time.  Semi-pearled and cracked farro do not need to be pre-soaked, since some or all of the hard outer bran has been removed.  Cooking farro is simple; it is cooked in water to cover, and then drained before use.
Although not widely available and fairly expensive, I was able to find farro in a local Italian grocery store.  Hopefully, now that farro is starting to be grown in the United States, it will become more accessible and less expensive so more people can try it and add it to their repetoire of whole grains.

If you’re able to get your hands on farro, try substituting it for brown rice, barley or wheat berries in a recipe.  I like it for its soft but chewy texture.  When making stews or thicker soups, farro can be cooked right into the stew or soup. The starches from the farro will help thicken the stew or soup.  When using farro in lighter soups, I prefer to cook the farro separately and add it towards the end of the cooking time.



How To Cook Farro

This recipe is for semi-pearled farro as that’s what I was able to find at the local Italian store. I like to make extra and freeze packets of farro so I have some on hand for soups. 
Cooked (left) and Dry (right) Semi-Pearled Farro
Cooked (left) and  Dry (right) Semi-Pearled Farro
2 cups semi-pearled farro
4 cups water

Place farro and water in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook, covered, for 20-25 minutes.  Farro should be tender but still slightly chewy.  Drain, rinse, and drain again. 

Here’s a recipe for a fiery red bean chili that is hearty, with lots of flavor. I’ve added cooked farro, but you can cook the farro right in the chili, about 20-25 minutes before it’s done; just make sure to add more broth since farro will expand and absorb liquid.


Fiery Red Bean Chili

Harissa, a North African chili paste, adds a nice depth of flavor and warmth to this chili, while the sweet potatoes compliment the spiciness.  I’ve named this “fiery” after the deep red color from the harissa, not because it is that spicy.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (or one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans (or one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)

1 cup sweet potato, cut into 1/2″ pieces
One 15-ounce can fire roasted chopped tomatoes 
2 tablespoons harissa
8 cups vegetable stock

2 cups cooked farro
chopped scallions for garnish

Heat oil in large soup pot.  Add onions, carrots and celery; cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes.  Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and coriander.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add black beans, kidney beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, harissa, and stock; bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes until the sweet potatoes are tender.  Add farro and cook another 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Top with chopped scallions and serve.

Some Farro Soup Recipes:
Jeanette’s Healthy Living’s Mixed Vegetable Soup with Wheat Berries and Baby Spinach (substitute farro for wheat berries)
Jeanette’s Healthy Living’s Mushroom Soup with Spinach and Farro
Farm & A Frying Pan’s Cranberry Bean & Farro Soup
The Accidental Southerner’s Mushroom Farro Soup

Anti-cancer Ingredients: Onion, Carrot, Garlic, Beans, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Farro
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Comments

  1. It is amazing to me to realize just how many ingredients I have never tried. Another one to add to the list, farro. Looking forward to the day I get to try this. Looks delicious!

  2. It is amazing how many ingredients are out there. I love trying foods I've never cooked before. Farro has been around for a long time (17,000 years!), but I'm still pretty new to it. Right now, I love adding it to soups as a whole grain.

  3. What a healthy and delicious looking soup! I haven't heard of some of these ingredient either, but the look great!

  4. Thanks Marly. This is a hearty soup with a lot of flavor. Whole grains add more heft to the soup and the harissa gives it an extra punch.

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