Put Down the Boxed Pilaf

The from-scratch stuff is easy, healthier, and a whole lot tastier.
Put Down the Boxed Pilaf
This pilaf recipe uses farro, a chewy, nutty ancient grain, tossed with bright and herbaceous seasonings. (Lynda Balslev for Tastefood)
10/30/2023
Updated:
10/30/2023
0:00

If you’ve ever prepared rice pilaf, chances are you’ve made it from a boxed mix—the slim package filled with dried rice and a sachet of spices (with likely a sprinkling of other, less-natural ingredients). In fact, a pilaf is easy to make from scratch with whole and healthy ingredients, and, more importantly, it will taste better. The method is simple and makes for an easy side or vegetarian dish.

The principle behind a pilaf is to sauté grains and then steam them in a flavorful broth, embellished with aromatics such as garlic, onion, and dried spices. In this recipe, hearty farro is the grain. Farro is an ancient wheat grain (which means that it’s not gluten-free) with a chewy texture and a nutty, earthy flavor. It’s protein- and nutrient-rich, packed with fiber, iron, and magnesium. If you prefer another grain, bulgur or rice are good substitutes. (Note that the cooking times will vary.)

Farro is protein- and nutrient-rich, packed with fiber, iron, and magnesium. (Anna Fedorova_it/Shutterstock)
Farro is protein- and nutrient-rich, packed with fiber, iron, and magnesium. (Anna Fedorova_it/Shutterstock)

You'll find various forms of farro available in the shops. Whole farro is the healthiest and the heartiest, but it requires a long cooking time, preferably preceded by an overnight soak in water. Semi-pearled farro has some of its fiber-rich bran removed while retaining enough to give it character and a good dose of nutrients. Pearled farro has all of the bran removed, so while it will cook quickly, it’s the least flavorful and nutritious. Unless otherwise specified, semi-pearled farro is generally a happy medium for ease of cooking and flavor.

Once cooked, the farro is tossed with toasted almonds, lemon, mint, and parsley, resulting in a bright, nutty, herbaceous side dish. Depending on how salty your stock is, adjust the amount of salt to taste.

This pilaf recipe uses farro, a chewy, nutty ancient grain, tossed with bright and herbaceous seasonings. (Lynda Balslev for Tastefood)
This pilaf recipe uses farro, a chewy, nutty ancient grain, tossed with bright and herbaceous seasonings. (Lynda Balslev for Tastefood)

Farro Pilaf

Active time: 35 to 40 minutes Total time: 35 to 40 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-pearled farro, rinsed
  • 2 1/4 cups chicken stock or water
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds (or pine nuts)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the farro and stir to toast the grains, about 30 seconds more.

Carefully add the stock (it will bubble vigorously), then add the salt, cumin, coriander, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer until the farro is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

Transfer the farro to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the almonds, lemon zest, parsley, and mint. Gently stir to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her Danish husband, two children, a cat, and a dog. Balslev studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine in Paris and worked as a personal chef, culinary instructor, and food writer in Switzerland and Denmark. Copyright 2021 Lynda Balslev. Distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication.