beets, feta + farro
*This is a guest post from my friend Clayton Pasley. Also, I can’t help but think of this.
My name is Clayton (“Tex”), and I’m a first-year law student in Virginia. In the past year and a half, my goal in cooking has been to maximize health benefits while minimizing cost as much as possible. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve found that by not buying meat, I can save plenty of money and time in the kitchen. I also found that by forcing myself to cook without meat, I’ve become much more creative in my cooking.
My basic approach has been a “grains and greens” mentality. Between various starchy grains (along with potatoes) and leafy greens along with other vegetables, I’ve created a repertoire of recipes I can make that are quick and cost no more than $5 or $6.
This recipe has been a go-to. It’s low on prep, easy to assemble, and takes advantage of roasting, which can be time-consuming, but worth it.
Besides tasting great and looking cool, beets can be cooked with the greens still attached. The greens look and taste like chard (so they’re kind of bitter). If you plan to use both the beet root and greens, make sure to separate the greens and store them in the crisper if you aren’t going to cook them right away. You can also definitely make this without the greens if you prefer.
Farro is a variety of wheat coated with a hard to remove husk. The presence of the husk makes it useless in flour production, and so despite being one of the first crops ever cultivated by humans, it is produced on an extremely small scale in few locations around the world. This makes it slightly more expensive than other bulk grain options, but with 7g of protein in one serving, there’s still more bang for your buck than the meat counter. It is prized in Italy, where it is featured in the cuisines of the country’s poor, mountainous regions (it thrives in bad soil). Yet when cooked well, it has an excellent texture and rich, earthy flavor. The grains are similar in size to long-grain rice, but with a more rounded shape.
The saltiness of the feta balances both the sweetness of the beets and the bitterness of the greens. If you don’t like using beets because they turn everything red, try using golden beets. Just as delicious, but you don’t run the risk of having your kitchen look like a crime scene. Serves 2.
What you’ll need:
- 1 bunch (about 3 large or 6 small) beets, greens attached
- 1 cup farro (It should be available in the bulk bins at your local specialty grocer; if not, Bob’s Red Mill sells it in 24-oz packages at the store or online)
- ¼ cup feta cheese
- Pepper (and plenty of it)
I cook the three components in the following order. Total, it takes about an hour and a half, but most of that time is waiting for the beets to cook. Sometimes, I will roast the beets ahead of time and assemble the rest later.
For the Beets
Note: You will want to work on these first, since they take at least an hour to cook and another half-hour to cool down before you can handle them. I usually like to start working on the other components of the meal about ten to fifteen minutes before the beets are ready to take out of the oven.
1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Separate the greens from the beet roots, hold on to greens for later use, and chop off the “stem” from the bottom of the beet and the knobby part that connects to the greens on top.
3. Wrap beets in aluminum foil, and then place them on a foil-lined baking sheet (I go crazy on the foil because you don’t run the risk of having to clean a beet-stained baking sheet later).
4. Place in oven for 60 minutes; I’ve found that for smaller beets this is usually enough to cook them thoroughly, and in general it’s hard to overcook beets. When in doubt, stick a paring knife into the beet. If the beet resists at all, let it go for another ten minutes.
5. Once done, take the beets out of the oven and let cool.
6. Once the beets are cooled, unwrap them and peel off the skin. If the beets are done, you should be able to peel off the skin pretty easily with a paring knife.
7. Dice the beets into ¼ inch pieces.
For the Farro
Note: Yes, it really is this easy, and yes, it really tastes this good.
1. Bring farro and 2 cups water to a boil.
2. As water begins to boil, add a couple of pinches of salt. Once boiling, cover with lid and turn heat to low.
3. Simmer covered for 30 minutes and then take off heat to let stand, covered, for 10 minutes (by letting it sit for awhile, I’ve found it really improves the texture).
For the Greens
Note: This is an adaptation of how I cook chard. Normally with chard I separate the stem from the leaves and cook the stems a little longer. I’ve found this step isn’t really necessary with beet greens, since the stems aren’t as substantial.
1. Bring a medium-sized pot ¾ full of water to a boil.
2. While waiting for the water to boil, wash the greens.
3. Once the water is boiling, generously salt the water.
4. Place the greens in the boiling water and make sure they are submerged.
5. Boil for 4 minutes. Drain the greens through a colander and then immediately run them under cold water until the greens are no longer hot to the touch.
6. Once the greens are cool, squeeze out as much excess water as you can (be warned: the water will be stained red).
7. Transfer the drained greens to a cutting board and roughly chop.
At this point, just take the farro, diced beets, and chopped greens and mix them in a bowl. No need to add salt since everything has been seasoned separately. I then throw in the feta and crack a bunch of black pepper on top.