Quinoa has been praised as a super grain because of its complete protein content and it’s delectable nutty taste. But the demand for quinoa has brought some difficulties. For one, the price of quinoa has been steadily increasing and has doubled in the last five years. Also it becomes difficult to source quinoa in large quantities since the US import has increased by almost ten-folded in the past 10 years. In fact, people in quinoa growing countries such as Peru and Bolivia have been complaining that it is not affordable to them anymore because of the high demand and foreign buyers have no problem shelling out top dollar for the trendy grain. Who knows how much longer quinoa will be available at a reasonable price and on my menu, so I have been exploring different grain substitutes. As a result, I rediscovered faro, which I had cooked with back in my young chef days before I moved to the US and really liked it.
Blue Ribbon Grain
In German speaking countries it is called Einkorn or Emmer and in Italy it is know as faro. In English speaking countries it’s known as spelt generally. There are differences between them on a chromosomal level, but often they’re put in the same sales bucket. For my part I like to call the grain faro since it sounds more mysterious.
Generally it is a good idea to pre-soak it for at least four hours, which makes the cooking process a quick affair. Thanks to its nutty flavor profile it’s very forgiving to the novice cook. A little salt, some strongish herbs such as rosemary or thyme and you’ll have a tasty grain after a +/- 40 minute cooking time. Faro reminds me of barley in size and it keeps a seductive chew, which makes it perfect for a risotto-like preparation. It’s versatile in recipes from hot applications in saucy dishes such as stews to salads. All that makes faro the blue ribbon grain of the season.
Any Gluten in Faro?
For folks that have a gluten intolerance, faro may be a good substitute, but it still contains some gluten albeit much less than wheat. But if any gluten intake makes you crawl up in pain stay away from it!
Basic Faro Recipes
(recipe makes four servings)
1.5 cups faro
¼ teaspoon sea salt
5 grindings black pepper
3 tablespoons vinegar such as brown rice or apple cider
1 teaspoon rosemary or thyme leaves, chopped
- Soak faro in hot water for 4 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
- In a pot combine faro with 1.5 cups hot water, salt, black pepper and vinegar. Cook on medium heat setting covered with a tight fitting lid for 10 minutes. Switch heat setting to low and add the chopped herb and continue to cook 15 minutes longer covered.
Chef’s Note: 1 cup raw faro makes approximately 2.5 cups cooked faro.
Faro serving suggestions using the cooked faro:
- Try adding faro to soups to make them more hearty, e.g., switch out the pasta in Minestrone for faro, or instead of adding rice to a tomato soup use faro instead.
- Add faro to a stew instead of potatoes. The faro will adapt to any flavor profile of the sauce. Try lamb stew with carrots, squash and faro.
- Instead of using rice in a risotto, use cooked faro. Faro brings along the “al dente” texture similar to risotto rice. Try a combo of faro and roasted mushrooms finished with a touch of soy sauce to boost the umami flavor.
- Toss cooked faro in a fall salad, e.g., cranberries or raisins, walnuts or pecans, chopped kale, endive or radicchio salad. Dress it with a simple extra virgin olive oil and cider vinegar mixture. Plus some grindings of black pepper and a few sprinkles of salt will make a satisfying salad creation.
- Try faro combined with roasted root vegetables as a side dish for fish such as pan roasted striped bass or grilled salmon.
- Last not but least think of a faro rice pudding – use faro for a hearty treat instead of rice.