Bagged Lunch Ideas: Curried Sweet Potato Farro Salad with Dried Fruit & Nuts

I love good, hearty grain salads year round, but especially in the colder months when a light salad of mixed greens just doesn't feel like enough. No way am I ever going to have "just a salad" when it's freezing outside.

But if "just a salad" is packed with gorgeous nutty grains, roasted sweet potatoes, dried apricots and cranberries, toasted pumpkin seeds, almonds, and lovely warm spices well then, yeah, I can totally get behind that.

Farro is one of my favorite grains--nutty and packed with fiber and protein, it's one of those grains that you can really feel good about eating. Essentially whole spelt, it feels healthy and wholesome, like it can erase whatever food sins you committed earlier in the day.

Skipped breakfast? Have a bowl of farro!

Ate chocolate chip cookies for lunch? Farro!

Went out late last night, overslept, and got into work late? Pretty sure a bowl of farro will fix that!

When I first started cooking with farro I learned that I had to soak it for a couple hours before cooking with it. Not much in terms of effort, but definitely required a bit of advance planning. But the other day I happened to glance at the directions on a new bag I had just bought and saw that it recommended simply rinsing and cooking it in boiling water or broth, much the way I would a pot of quinoa or rice.

I decided to give it a shot, rinsing it thoroughly then combining with the water and bringing it up to a boil. In about 15 or so minutes, it was done! Fluffy, with a little bit of a chewy texture.

Unlike rice, cooked farro doesn't absorb all the liquid it's cooked in, so I drained it and then rinsed in very cold water before proceeding with my recipe. (The final rinse was just to cool it down since I was making a salad; for hot dishes there is no need to rinse.)

I tossed the farro with sweet potato that I'd diced and roasted, along with some chopped dried apricots and cranberries. I made a quick dressing with balsamic vinegar (I chose a strawberry one I had in the pantry to complement the dried fruit, but any good balsamic will work) and olive oil, seasoned with lime zest, curry powder, cayenne, and a few other herbs and spices. At the end, I folded in some lightly toasted sliced almonds and pumpkin seeds, for a bit of added crunch.

The results were exactly what I'd been craving and I ate two bowls of it right on the spot (all under the pretext of "recipe testing," of course).

This is one of those dishes that is really best at room temperature, so it's perfect for bagged lunches or for entertaining a crowd. You can make the dish well in advance as it keeps for about a week (if not more).

You should also feel free to improvise, swapping out other nuts or dried fruits, using butternut squash or zucchini, or even adding in cooked shrimp or diced chicken to make it a heartier dish.  If you don't have or like farro, you can use wheat berries, couscous, quinoa, barley, or even brown rice instead (just follow prepare each of those according to their specific directions before proceeding with the recipe.) When I had some yesterday afternoon, I topped it with a dollop of Greek yogurt and found that it added a perfect bit of tang.

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Curried Sweet Potato Farro Salad with Dried Fruit & Nuts

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1 1/2 cup uncooked farro (whole spelt)
4 cups water
kosher salt
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, washed and diced (but not peeled)
4-5 sage leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
1/4 cup parsley, minced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
For the dressing
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Zest of one lime
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cayenne

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the farro and water in a medium pot and add about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes until the farro is tender with just a bit of chew. Once ready, drain the farro well and rinse under cold water to cool. Let drain in a colander while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

While the farro cooks, toss the diced sweet potatoes and sage leaves with a few teaspoons of olive oil and season well with kosher salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the pieces are fork tender. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Toss the cooled farro with the cooked sweet potatoes (including the sage), parsley, scallions, cranberries, and apricots. Make sure everything is evenly distributed.

Combine the almonds and pumpkin seeds in a large skillet and toast over medium heat about 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan regularly and keeping a close eye on them so they don't burn. You just want them to warm up and smell a little bit toasted. Remove from heat and let cool.

Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing: olive oil, balsamic, lime zest, curry powder, turmeric, and cayenne. Pour dressing onto the farro mixture and toss to coat evenly. Fold in the cooled and toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds. Season with additional kosher salt and black pepper, to taste.

Serve at room temperature or chill, if desired. Will keep well in an air-tight container in the fridge for at least one week. 

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