Monday, November 15, 2010

Farro with Lentils and Caramelized Onions

Lately, I’ve been on a kick about discovering new grains. Enter farro, which I could not find in Montreal, but of course here it’s no problem. Farro is a wheat grain, and once cooked, it reminds me of Sugar Crisp cereal in its appearance. Like a lot of grains, it is sold either pearled or semi-pearled; the pearled variety takes longer to cook, but can be used here without a problem. The longest part here is caramelizing the onions; I took my time and started two hours before dinner, and everything worked out perfectly.

The recipe is Molly Wizenberg’s; interestingly, I also got my mujadara recipe from her, and the two are very similar. The dish is perfect for when the weather starts getting cold. It is not pretty to look at, sure, but it is comforting. You can also throw in some greens, like kale or spinach, and add some lemon juice or hot sauce. I added some feta, which went nicely with the dish even though it’s not lactose-free, but it’s optional. Like mujadara, this dish is great eaten warm for dinner, but is also good straight from the fridge for lunch.

2 medium or large yellow onions
olive oil
kosher salt
¾ cup farro (semi-pearled)
½ cup French lentils, carefully picked through for pebbles and debris
feta cheese (optional)
hot sauce (optional)
lemon juice (optional)

First, the onions: slice them thinly. Pour a few glugs of olive oil into a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or pan (I used my Dutch oven). You want to be generous here, nearly coating the bottom of the skillet. Warm the oil over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, dump in the onions. They should sizzle. Stir them to coat, and then add a couple of pinches of salt. Reduce the heat to low, and continue to cook slowly, stirring occasionally. First, they will soften a bit; then they will go a little golden; and then they will begin to caramelize. It takes a long time to do this properly, so be patient – and stir regularly, especially as they take on color. When they’re done, they will have shrunk down in volume by quite a lot, and they should be a deep amber color and almost translucent.

Meanwhile, once you’ve got the onions started, put the farro in a medium bowl, add cold water to cover, and set it aside to soak for 30 minutes. Then drain it, turn it out into a medium saucepan, and add 3 cups of cold water and ¼ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then reduce the heat and simmer until tender but still a little chewy, about 30 minutes. It’s up to you, really, how “done” you want your farro. When the farro is ready, drain it, and set aside.

While the farro is cooking, put the lentils into another medium saucepan. Add 3 cups of cold water and ¼ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then reduce the heat and simmer until tender but not falling apart, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain, and rinse briefly under cool water.

By this point, ideally, your onions will be nicely caramelized. Now combine it all – onions, farro, and lentils – in a bowl and stir gently. Taste, and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with feta crumbled on top and, if you like, hot sauce and/or a squeeze of lemon.

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