As we head into major sweet season, I crave low-fat, veggie and grain dishes. This Farro and Brussels Sprouts with Apple dish answers my cravings big time. And I think you’ll like it too. Tasty and healthy. Side or salad. Vegan too, though you might not guess that when you dig in.
After I decided on a low-fat, veggie and grain theme, I turned to what I had on hand. Farro in the freezer and brussels sprouts in the refrigerator. And a few apples from my CSA, with tahini that almost always sits at the back of the fridge, waiting to be called into action.
I do enjoy farro and brussels sprouts. However, individually those ingredients don’t “float my boat” and I didn’t have a good way to combine them – until now. Taking my inspiration from a recipe in Food & Wine, I discovered a few tricks that meld these ingredients into a tasty side or salad.
First, no one element predominates. There is enough farro to be noticable, but not so much that it becomes a farro-centered dish. There are only a few ingredients, but each one plays a role in the final flavor profile of the dish.
Second, the mix of flavors is key – don’t leave one out or the dish becomes unbalanced. That said, you can always substitute. No tart apple? That’s OK. Use a tart pear or plum, or add more lemon juice to one that doesn’t have the tartness you would expect from a tart apple. I suppose you could even substitute for the farro (try freekeh or wheatberries) or brussel sprouts (use a Napa cabbage or bok choy). My beloved even once substituted chocolate balsamic vinegar for the pomegranate molasses. I am not recommending that last substitution, but it does show how creative a cook (or eater) can be.
Farro and Brussels Sprouts
Farro is a wheat-based grain. Like quinoa, it does well with toasting. But in this recipe, you toast the farro after it is cooked, not before. And you don’t need much fat at all, just a bit of olive oil to coat the pan. You add the cooked farro under high heat and toast it for a few minutes. As a nutty aroma that wafts up when you stir the farro, you’ll be glad you took the few minutes extra to toast it. If you don’t already know how to cook farro, or need a refresher, check out this guide.
Brussels sprouts are, to my mind, tiny cabbages. By the way, do you know the proper spelling of this vegetable? It is brussels sprouts, not brussel or Brussel sprouts. Even if you’re only referring to a single sprout, it is a brussels sprout. PS – the Chicago Manual of Style says it is lower case, although the American Heritage Dictionary would capitalize the ingredient. I’m going with the Chicago Manual except in the name of the recipe, where I have capitalized every word. And that’s your English lesson for today.
Lots of recipes, like this one, call for roasting them with a dash of balsamic vinegar. But you can also transform them into crunchy bits by thinly slicing sprouts as part of a salad. In this recipe, I both thinly slice them for crunchiness and also cook them for a short time, to moderate the raw quality they often have in salad.
Making Farro and Brussels Sprouts with Apple
Start with the apple. Cut it any way that suits you, as long as the final result is relatively tiny pieces, not more than 1/2-inch/1.27 cm. Don’t worry about uniformity. I used my trusty metal apple corer, then cut the slices. But you can do whatever works for you. Add the lemon juice to the apple pieces. The juice gives the dish a bit of extra tanginess, and it helps prevent the apple from browning.
Then heat the pan (preferably cast iron), until its quite hot. Add the olive oil just to coat the pan, then the cooked farro and stir frequently, for about 5 minutes. You’ll hear a nice crackling sound as you stir the grains. Once you can inhale the nutty aroma of the toasted farro when you bend over the pan, you’re done. Be careful of “spitting” grains of farro as they cook!
Once the farro is toasted, add the shredded brussels sprouts. Again, cutting them is not a science. Do it whichever way you find easiest to get thin pieces after removing the stems and dirty outer leaves. Although this results in a pile of refuse, think of all the good compost you have created. Cooking the brussels sprouts for a few minutes minimizes the bitterness of the raw vegetable. Again, stirring is important.
Finally, off the heat, add the tahini/water dressing, salt and pepper, and the apple pieces. Tossing again, the dish comes together. Then, whether you dish it out warm as a side or chilled as a salad, just before serving drizzle pomegranate molasses. That final touch adds a hit of sweetness that caps off the simple, yet well-flavored dish.
Tasting the End Result
So what does this Farro and Brussels Sprouts with Apple dish taste like? In a phrase, it is chewy, nutty, crunchy and slightly sweet. A veritable burst of different flavors when you take a mouthful. The chew comes from the farro – enough to notice it, but not so much that you tire of it. The nutty flavor is the toasted farro and the tahini sauce. The still-slightly crunchy chards of brussels sprouts add a savory element. And the tart apple mixed with a tad of lemon juice create crunch and zip. Then top it off with a drizzle of sweet pomegranate molasses.
Warm, the dish has less bite. It’s a good complement to a simple fish or poultry dish as a side. Chilled, it becomes a tart and even crunchier salad, perfect on its own or sitting on a bed of lettuce.
Farro and Brussels Sprouts with Apple
This delightful combination works well as either a side dish served warm or as a chilled salad.
- 1 medium tart apple, chopped into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, from about 1/2 a lemon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup cooked farro, chilled to just below room temperature About 5 & 1/4 oz/150 g (See note about how to cook farro)
- 2 heaping cups thinly sliced brussels sprouts About 15 brussel sprouts/10 oz/280 g which makes about 6 & 1/2 oz/185 g thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon tahini mixed with 2 tablespoons of water
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, for drizzling on side/salad when serving
In a medium-small bowl, add the lemon juice to the small pieces of apple, toss to coat and set aside.
Heat a heavy 10-inch/24 cm skillet with 2-inch/5 cm sides. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat until a piece of farro sizzles when it comes in contact with the skillet. Add the farro and cook on high heat, turning frequently, for about 5 minutes, until the farro gives off a nutty aroma. Individual grains of farro may "jump" – that's OK, just don't let it burn.
Once the farro is toasted, turn the heat down to medium, add the thinly sliced brussels sprouts and cook for approximately 5 minutes, tossing the brussels sprouts frequently, until they are softened and their color brightens.
Take the mixture off the heat, add the tahini mixed with water (to loosen the tahini into a dressing-like consistency), salt and pepper, and toss until well combined. Then add the apple pieces and toss again.
Either serve warm as a side, or chill in the refrigerator and serve as a salad. In either case, drizzle a bit of pomegranate molasses on the top of each serving.