Hunger Management

Farro for the win

The ancient grain tastes good and is rich in fibre - very little needs to be done to jazz it up

The path to healthy living is endlessly rocky, at least for me.

When the alarm on my phone goes off at what I think is an ungodly hour, I want to hurl it across the room and go back to sleep, instead of getting up to exercise. As I imagine it smashing into pieces, I cannot help but think being free of phone will soothe many other irritations too.

Some time ago, I made a pact with myself: When not eating for work, I try - try being the loaded word - to eat healthily.

But after too many months of steel- cut oats for breakfast and quinoa for lunch or dinner, I start to resent having to eat them. Sometimes, I open the fridge, despair, shut it and go out for a plate of char kway teow, followed by a bowl of chendol.

And really, what permutations are there left for konnyaku? I eat it in shirataki noodle form, make fancy twisty things out of slices cut out of blocks of the fibre-rich yam jelly and add balls of it to soups. I am also thoroughly sick of it.

  • DO IT YOURSELF: FARRO WITH MUSHROOMS AND SPINACH

  • INGREDIENTS

    •500g semi-pearled or pearled farro

    •500ml low-sodium chicken stock

    •1 litre water

    •1 large onion

    •500g mushrooms (I used a mix of Swiss browns, fresh shiitake and shimeji)

    •2 Tbs butter or grapeseed oil

    •Salt and pepper to taste

    •100g baby spinach leaves

    •Parmesan cheese

  • METHOD

    1. Rinse the farro in a sieve under running water, rubbing the grains between your hands. Place in a medium pot and add the chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, turn the heat down to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes. Have a taste at 25 minutes and continue cooking until the farro is chewy, but not raw in the centre of the grain. There will be some liquid left in the pot - drain it.

    2. While the farro is cooking, chop the onion. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and slice thickly.

    3. Heat the butter or oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    4. Scoop the farro into a large mixing bowl, add the mushrooms and spinach. Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips off the block of cheese. Mix well. Have a taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

    5. Spoon into a serving dish and top with more strips of cheese. Serve.

    Serves six to eight as a side dish

Clearly, I have to get out of this rut.

I suppose the way to go forward is to look for variety, to spice up the same-old, same-old.

Farro has come to the rescue.

It is an ancient grain that fed Roman armies, was entombed with Egyptian kings and is said to be rich in fibre and B vitamins. All this is very nice but what's important to me is that it must taste good and this grain delivers.

Farro has a nutty flavour that is easy to like and, if you cook it in stock or with aromatics, very little else needs to be done to jazz it up.

Then there is the satisfyingly chewy texture, which is not to be sniffed at. The act of chewing makes me feel full, so I need a lot less farro than I might quinoa.

So once I decide I want to experiment with the grain, I go online to look for it. If you are doing the same, look for semi-pearled or semi- perlato farro, which has some of the bran removed so it cooks more quickly. If using whole farro, which I have not been able to find, the grain has to be soaked overnight before cooking.

Of course, right after I place my order, I find farro in Cold Storage at Great World City, from Bob's Red Mill. I have used it in this week's recipe.

Generally, the ratio is one part farro to 2 ½ or three parts liquid. I like cooking the farro with chicken stock. If using homemade stock with no salt, then replace the water called for in the recipe with it.

However, commercial chicken stock is startlingly salty, even some reduced-sodium versions. So if using that, I would use both stock and water.

Like rice, farro needs a rinsing before cooking. Rub the grains between your hands as you would rice. The cooking time is about 30 minutes, but start checking at 25 minutes.

The grains should be chewy, but they must not be hard in the middle. Once it is done, drain away whatever liquid is left in the pot and it is time to turn the cooked grain into a meal.

I have gone with mushrooms, spinach and parmesan cheese because the combination is unbeat- able. Thickly sliced mushrooms, sauteed quickly, have a texture like meat. The spinach I don't even bother to cook. I just toss the leaves with hot farro and let them wilt.

Needless to say, the more cheese, the better. But I leave it to you to decide how much you want to use.

There are many other ways to dress up the grain.

Stir some softened butter into hot farro and serve with grilled asparagus and chicken or fish.

It can even be eaten cold as a salad. Mix cooled-down farro with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, avocados and purple onion, together with some olive oil and lemon juice. For some protein, canned tuna works well.

Roasted vegetables such as peppers, corn, eggplant and zucchini are also good additions.

I now have another grain to add to my repertoire, but am sure I will get tired of it in a few months.

There is a buzz around buckwheat that is worth checking out and, of course, I can always turn to millet and teff too.

But how, pray tell, can I make exercise more palatable?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Farro for the win '. Print Edition | Subscribe