A Quick Guide to Grain Bowls

Alone with cheese and pepper, or in big grain bowls, farro can do it all.

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By Tejal Rao

Like many cooks I know, I don’t always follow recipes for grain bowls at home. Instead, I tend to use up what I have in the fridge and pantry, mixing and matching, figuring out how to make odds and ends delicious.

A perfect grain bowl has four basic components, all of which are generously seasoned individually so they each taste great — even before they’re piled together in the bowl! Take this ideal farro broccoli bowl with lemony tahini from Melissa Clark.

Break it down, and you’ve got:

Base: Boiled farro
(Other options: rice, lentils, quinoa, barley or a mix of these things)

Dressing: Lemony tahini
(Other options: lemon and olive oil, blistered tomatoes, ginger-scallion sauce)

Topping: Roasted broccoli, jammy-yolked eggs
(Other options: crispy tofu, avocado, fried mushrooms, vegetarian kimchi)

Garnish: Sliced radishes, scallions, hot sauce
(Other options: pickled chiles, fried garlic, furikake, za’atar)

Look at it this way, and the possibilities for a heap of boiled farro are endless. You could toss farro and chopped radicchio in a little vegan Caesar dressing, put roasted chickpeas on top and garnish it all with herbs, lemon zest and walnuts.

Or you could make a quick miso vinaigrette, and put sautéed edamame, wilted greens and raw sliced snap peas on top, garnishing it all with pickled onions and chile crisp. Reach for the things that you like! Make it up as you go.

If you’re not already familiar with farro, try this recipe from Yasmin Fahr. While the farro boils, you roast tomatoes and onion, then mix it all together with pesto and cheese. Spring vegetables like asparagus and peas would be especially good here, too.

I don’t think I appreciated farro until I made Samin Nosrat’s simple and delicious farro e pepe, which draws all the deliciousness from a perfect cacio e pepe and applies it to the ancient grain.

Look for semi-pearled or pearled farro when you’re shopping — some or all of the bran will be removed, which means it cooks pretty quickly. Once boiled and drained, those gently chewy grains get dressed with pecorino and pepper to make a beautiful, glossy, risotto-like dish that’s deeply comforting.

It’s perfect just the way it is! But if you wanted to add some vegetables, you could stir in some warm, blanched peas or some clean baby spinach right at the end to wilt in the heat of the pan and take on some of the sauce. I’ve never had leftovers, but if you’re lucky enough to have extra, you’ll have the most luxurious start imaginable for a grain bowl the next day.

Farro e Pepe

Go to the recipe.

Farro Broccoli Bowl With Lemony Tahini

Go to the recipe.

Farro With Blistered Tomatoes, Pesto and Spinach

Go to the recipe.

One More Thing

At the end of last week, my husband pulled the big ladder out of the garage and picked about 200 lemons from our tree — I cannot believe how much fruit it was hiding!

I shared most of the haul with our neighbors, but I’m still garnishing unsparingly with lemon zest as if I’ll never run out of the stuff, which feels extremely luxurious. And I’m putting sliced lemons in my water every day, spa style. But other than preserving lemons in salt — I trust Paula Wolfert’s technique — what are your favorite ways to put a dozen or more lemons to excellent use?

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