vegetarian

Blueberry Farro Salad with Creamy Fresh Herb Dressing

blueberry farro salad with creamy fresh herb dressing

Can I just eat this for lunch every day for the rest of the summer please? Okay so maybe I would get tired of it after a week or so but add of side of watermelon and an ice cold beer and this Blueberry Farro Salad with Creamy Fresh Herb Dressing is what summer dreams are made of. 

All About Farro

What exactly is farro?

Farro, which is actually pronounced "FARE-oh" (I just found out I've been saying it wrong for years! anyone else?) is an ancient grain - meaning it has been consumed for thousands of years and has been largely unchanged over time (1). It falls into the same category as some trendier counterparts such as quinoa, millet and sorghum, all of which pack a big nutritional punch and are typically purchased unrefined.

Health Benefits of Whole Wheat

Farro is whole wheat, which means it is not suitable for the gluten-free folks out there. And although I find that wheat gets a bad rap these day, the health benefits are well established and include reduced risk for many chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke (2, 3). The high fiber content is likely responsible for these benefits since as we know, fiber acts like roughage going through the digestive tract pulling in water and waste while keeping things running smoothly. Fiber is also highly satisfying (i.e. hard to overeat) and promotes a healthy gut microbiota in addition to its many other amazing beneficial qualities. 

The Process

Let's Talk About That Dressing

Should I rename this blog, "all things tahini"? Just kidding. Although I'm back with another way to use it in this fabulous dressing recipe. The cool thing is that it's luxurious and creamy but still vegan and dairy free for those of you with dietary restrictions. Balsamic vinaigrette is great and all, but sometimes you just need something creamy, amiright? 

For this particular version, I mixed in copious amounts of fresh herbs for flavor along with some lemon juice for brightness. Something sweet is usually a good thing with tahini, even if just a drizzle so there is a touch of maple syrup to balance out the bitterness. 

Another nice thing is, you can make it ahead of time and use it on just about everything from traditional salads to grain bowls. It should last for about 5-7 days in the fridge. I know the blender is a little bit high maintenance, but trust me when I say you will thank me later! 

The Other STar Ingredients

Pictured below are the core ingredients you need to bring the actual salad together. Now, I love a simple whole grain salad as both a side dish or a light lunch in the summertime heat. My basic no-fail formula is grain + fruit + flavorful cheese + nut + dressing to bring it all together. Beyond that, you can get creative and make it your own based on what you find at the farmer's market or what you need to use up in your fridge at the moment. I also keep color and texture at top of mind. Experiment with different whole grains to find your favorite!

blueberry farro salad ingredients

The specific brand of farro that I purchased (see above) cooked in just 10 minutes. I thought that was pretty awesome because this made for a really fast lunch. While it cooks, you can seed and chop the cucumber (no need to peel). Note: I used a Persian cucumber here. I love them because they are small and less watery than the larger, traditional cucumbers. An English cucumber would also work great. 

Small dice the onion (really small) and then soak it in some cold water to take some of the bite away. This is a simple step that makes a huge difference in the final product!

Pro tip: Use the soak method on any traditionally bitter vegetable when using it raw. You would be surprised how well it works. Beware of using raw onion in salads because you might be risking onion breath for the rest of the day. Just sayin'. 

ingredients chopped up and ready to go in bowl
blueberry farro salad ingredients chopped and in bowl

Once all of your ingredients are ready to go, add them to a medium-size bowl and mix until well combined. At this point you can add the dressing and I would highly recommend chilling if you have the time. When ready to serve, garnish with walnuts (or any other favorite nut or seed) and serve as a side dish or over some mixed greens for a light lunch. 

blueberry farro salad with creamy fresh herb dressing in a bowl

Blueberry Farro Salad with Creamy Fresh Herb Dressing

Author: Leanne Ray, MS, RDN
Yield: 4 servings | Prep time: 15 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes

Salad ingredients

  • 1 cup farro

  • 1/4 red onion, small diced

  • 1/2 pint blueberries

  • 1 small Persian cucumber, seeded and diced

  • 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles

  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Dressing Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup tahini

  • Juice from one large lemon

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chives

  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley

  • 2 tsp pure maple syrup

  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

  • salt and pepper to taste

instructions

  1. Put a medium saucepan of water on the stove and bring to a boil.

  2. While the water is coming to a boil, make the dressing by adding those ingredients (tahini through garlic powder) into a food processor or blender and running until mixed thoroughly. Slowly stream in warm water while the motor is still running until consistency is smooth and creamy (should drip from a spoon). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a jar or other airtight container and put in the refrigerator to chill.

  3. Once water is boiling, cook farro per package directions.

  4. Meanwhile, prep the onion, blueberries and cucumber and add to a large bowl along with the farro.

  5. Add about 1/2 cup of the dressing to the salad (or per preference) and mix well to combine. Top with walnuts just before serving.


Sources:

1. Whole Grains Council. Whole Grains 101 (Wheat). Retrieved from https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whats-whole-grain/ancient-grains. 

2. Zong G, Gao A, Hu FB and Sun Q. Whole Grain Intake and Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Circulation. 2016; 133(24):2370-80. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25646321. 

3. Dagfinn A, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2016;353:i2716. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2716.

Spring Strawberry Salad with Orange Champagne Vinaigrette

strawberry feta salad individual portion

Easter is coming guys. If you're anything like me, you wait until the last minute to figure out what your contribution to the big family brunch will be. If this is the case, I have the easiest fresh and seasonal salad that will definitely go over well with any crowd. It has everything a spring salad should - fresh leafy greens, seasonal fruit, salty feta, toasted almonds and a homemade dressing that leaves people asking - what was in that? I'm all about contrast with my salads and this one covers all the bases. 

strawberry feta spring salad in salad bowl

As a side note: somehow I developed a reputation as the resident salad-contributor to a lot of social events. Not even because I'm a dietitian but because I like coming up with different combinations! Most people think the salad is the boring part of the meal but I like to think of it as the perfect compliment. Vegetables should never be obligatory and with a salad this good, the greens can absolutely be a favorite side. Anyone else agree? 

strawberry feta salad with easter linen

With this one I started with the traditional components of an Easter salad but made it just slightly more gourmet with toasted nuts and a dressing that really pops. Both of these are insanely easy, so you can impress without learning any complicated new techniques or having to search for out-of-the-box ingredients. And while you can certainly add the almonds without toasting, PLEASE just do me a favor and do not skip this step. It takes just a few extra minutes and seriously amplifies the flavor. Similarly, adding fresh-squeezed orange juice isn't totally necessary, but it is a special occasion so I say just go for it. 

Spring Strawberry Salad with Orange Champagne Vinaigrette

Spring Strawberry Salad with Orange Champagne Vinaigrette

Author: Leanne Ray, MS, RDN
Yield: 6-8 servings | Prep time: 20 minutes

ingredients

  • 12 oz spring mix

  • 16 oz strawberries, halved

  • 4 oz feta cheese

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar

  • 1 medium orange (I like Cara Cara)

  • 1 tsp honey

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • salt & pepper to taste

instructions

  1. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat; add almonds and stir frequently toasting until fragrant and browned (watching carefully not to burn). Transfer to a plate and cool completely in a single layer.

  2. Make the dressing: add vinegar, orange juice and honey to a 16 oz jar and mix with a fork until well combined. Then add olive oil, screw the lid on and shake vigorously. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  3. Add greens to a large salad bowl along with the chopped strawberries, feta cheese crumbles and toasted almonds. Add dressing per preference (you likely won't need it all) and toss well. Serve immediately. Store any remaining dressing in the fridge for up to 5 days.


Five Plant-Based Proteins & How to Use Them

With Earth Month still going strong, I wanted to talk sustainability as it relates to our food choices (in case you missed it, see last week's post on how I made my kitchen more green!). I once heard a conference presenter state three simple ways that we can all make more sustainable food choices and it has really stuck with me ever since:

  1. Eat only as much food as you need (as opposed to routinely over-eating)
  2. Minimize food waste as much as possible
  3. Focus on plants, cut back on animal products

I loved how realistic these were (she wasn't telling everyone to go vegan tomorrow) and I also think this gives us something concrete to work on. Many of you are probably thinking, "so what do I eat instead?" Here are five plant proteins with some suggestions for how to use them:

Chickpeas

If you have followed me on Instagram for a while, you know how much I love garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas). The canned version is a definite pantry staple in my house as they are so incredibly versatile. You can use them to make homemade hummus, add them to salads, or season/roast them to eat for a salty/crunchy snack. 

hummus plates.JPG

Edamame

Edamame is another term for a whole soybean, the highest protein bean/lentil out there! Most people are probably familiar with them in the context of sushi (steamed and salted), but I also buy them frozen (pre-shelled) so I can add them into stir-fry, noodle dishes or fried rice for color, texture and protein. 

Peanuts and/or Peanut Butter

Did you know peanuts are actually a legume, not a nut? You learn something new every day. Of all of the "nuts" that they are generally lumped in with, peanuts are the most protein dense with 7 grams per serving. There's way more to PB than just sandwiches, like creamy peanut noodles, or peanut-based salad dressings. You can also add it to smoothies for an extra nutritional punch, or add crushed peanuts to salad or curry as a finishing touch.  

Kale Salad with Peanuts.JPG

Hemp Seeds

These are a relatively newer trend compare to others and might be a little bit more difficult to find. If you can get a hold of them, I would highly recommend! I buy them at Trader Joe's and love their nutty taste and soft texture (compared to most other seeds). With 10 grams or protein per three tablespoons, these are an easy way to add protein to just about anything. They are also a good source of iron and magnesium.

Soy Milk

This is a great alternative to cow's milk if you are lactose intolerant, or if you just want to experiment with some non-dairy options. Soy is the only milk substitute that is comparable in terms of protein, plus it's a naturally good source of omega-3 fatty acids and I like the creaminess it adds to oatmeal. Many people also use it in lattes/cappuccinos!

cappucino.JPG

Once you start experimenting, it becomes fun to try some new and interesting foods. When it comes to protein, the key is variety and timing (spreading intake throughout the day instead of all at one meal). Hopefully this provided some new insight on plant-based protein sources!

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