Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Caramelised fennel grain bowl

A few weeks ago, I was in the United States. Every place I went, grain bowls were everywhere. I did not want a grain bowl. I was in the United States. I was on holiday. I wanted burgers and doughnuts and pizza and pancakes and pie. And Mexican food. I came home after eating all those things and I wanted a grain bowl. So I made one. Grain bowls are the new salad. As the name suggests, instead of lettuce or greens, they're built around grains: brown rice, quinoa, barley, rye, freekah and, in this case, farro. To this sturdy base, are added all sorts of different flavours and textures - salty, sweet, crunchy, chewy, spicy... You don't really need a recipe, but because I'm a recipe-follower, I found one, and liked it so much I've made it a number of times now. Fennel is a particular favourite of mine. I like it raw as much as I do braised but I'd never had it caramelised before. It turns out it couldn't be easier - just roughly chop the bulb into bite size pieces, tumble them into a skillet with a bit of oil and a sprinkling of sugar and watch them turn from white to deep, delicious coppery-brown. Add this to the cooked farro along with some sharp, salty fetta, chopped, toasted pistachios (for crunch), lemon and mint (for freshness), harissa (for heat) and dates (for sweetness). It's salad that's healthy but hearty, and packed with flavour. Better for you than a burger, and just as good.

Caramelised fennel grain bowl
Adapted from Not Without Salt

If you're making this in advance (and it's a great thing to make ahead of time, like on Sunday night for weekday lunches), leave off the mint leaves til serving as they have a tendency to go black once cut.

1 cup farro
2 cups water
pinch salt
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon harissa (more to taste)
juice and zest from 1 small lemon (more or less to tase)
1/4 cup pistachios, lightly toasted
5 dates, pitted and roughly chopped (I used dried but fresh would be delicious)
1/4 cup packed mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup crumbled fetta
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the farro with the water and salt until just tender but still has a bit of bite, about 45 minutes. Drain and cool.

In a large skillet add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the fennel and sprinkle in the sugar. Cook until the fennel is tender and deeply caramelised; copper in color, about 5 to 7 minutes over medium high heat.

In a large bowl add the farro, caramelised fennel, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, harissa and lemon zest and juice. Stir to combine.

Toss the farro with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.

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