When you hear the word “salad,” a bowl of dressed lettuce or other greens may come to mind. On the other hand, chicken salad, tuna salad and potato salad don’t necessarily imply anything green and leafy. And a juicy tomato salad is usually mostly tomatoes, with garlic and herbs added.
There’s really no salad I dislike, but lately it’s grain salads I desire. Give me quinoa, wheat berries, millet, buckwheat, brown rice or white: All are good candidates for salads. But on these cusp of summer days, one made with farro is what I’ve been craving for lunch or supper.
Gaining in popularity in the United States, farro, an ancient wheatlike grain, has long been prevalent in Italy and the Mediterranean. The word farro can be used to describe three varieties of ancient wheat — spelt (Triticum spelta), einkorn (Triticum monococcum) and emmer (Triticum dicoccum). Use whichever kind you find. Long a harder-to-find grain, it’s now found in supermarkets, health-food stores, Italian grocers and, of course, online.
The grain looks a bit like barley, pale and elongated. (In fact, barley can be used as a substitute.) When cooked, farro, like barley, has a pleasant, chewy texture, and tastes a bit nutty and earthy. Compared with some other, harder grains, the cooking time is short: 20 to 30 minutes. I boil it like spaghetti, then drain it, but it can be prepared in a rice cooker.
Though it can be also cooked and served warm (simmered to make a risotto-like dish or used in soups) dressed with a vinaigrette, it makes for a filling grain salad that pairs well with seasonal vegetables.
The other night, I happened to have some skinny green beans, grown in a friend’s hothouse; the first of the local New Jersey asparagus; and a few perfectly ripe avocados, which, for me, means firm and just barely ripe. (Riper, softer avocados work better in salsas or guacamole.) I cooked the beans briefly, but I left the asparagus raw and sliced it into long, thin ribbons.
The somewhat-austere arrangement was pleasant to gaze upon, finished with a scattering of fragrant basil leaves, though a few sweet cherry tomatoes would also be welcome, as would sliced peppers, or maybe some crumbled feta. But do as you please with your own version: Add what you like, or keep it satisfyingly simple.