One of the first things I did when I got to NYC in August and started to unpack was to line up all of my grains and legumes in mason jars along a shelf in my apartment. I can’t tell you how much joy it gives me to walk by the queue of oats, wheatberries, barley, millet, quinoa, spelt berries, lentils, and so on; I smile every time I see them, imagining how many versatile meals will emerge from this simple array of healthful (and inexpensive) foods.
Grain salads are a staple for me. They’re easy to create, filling, healthy, and they make for perfect lunch leftovers. This particular grain salad happens to be one of the best I’ve made in a long time, and I’m so glad that I put it together while zucchini was still in season. If you can remember to prepare the cashew cheese in advance (I often make a batch of the stuff over the weekend), it’s a very small amount of work for an exceedingly delicious dish.
- For the herbed cashew cheese:
- 1½ cups cashews (you can substitute pine nuts), soaked for at least three hours and drained of soak water
- Juice of 1 lemon (about three tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 tablespoons water, plus extra as needed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
- For the salad:
- 10 oz. (about 1½ cups farro)
- 4 cups water or vegetable broth
- 1¼ pounds zucchini (about two large zucchini), cut into quarters lengthwise and then sliced into pieces about ½- or ¾-inch thick
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (to taste)
- ⅓ cup herbed cashew cheese, crumbed
- ¼ cup mint, chopped
- Make the cashew cheese. Place the cashews into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the S blade or a high speed blender. Add the lemon juice, nutritional yeast, garlic, sea salt, and pepper. Pulse a few times to break the cashews down. With the motor of the machine running, drizzle in the water. If you’re using a blender, increase the speed to high and blend till the cashew cheese is totally smooth, adding more water as needed. If you’re using a food processor, keep processing until the cheese has the consistency of ricotta and is quite smooth. Stop often to scrape the bowl down, and add a few more tablespoons of water if the cheese is too thick. Taste the cheese and adjust seasonings as needed. Pulse the herbs in at the very end.
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Place the water and the farro in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer until the farro is tender (about 30 minutes). Drain the farro well, and then allow it to cool in a large mixing bowl. You may add a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from clumping as it cools.
- While the farro cooks, roast the zucchini. Toss the zucchini slices with two tablespoons of olive oil, a generous pinch of salt, and pepper to taste. Spread the zucchini on two baking sheets and roast for 15 minutes, or until the zucchini is browning and tender.
- Add the zucchini to the farro, along with the lemon juice, mint, cashew cheese, and salt to taste. Toss it gently (the cashew cheese can get a little smooshed if you don't toss gingerly). Adjust all of the seasonings (you may need an extra drizzle of oil or a little more lemon). Serve.
Most grain salads boast wonderful texture, but this one is particularly varied: buttery soft zucchini, chewy farro, creamy cashew cheese. You could serve this along with a bright green salad, a summery soup (summer corn and coconut soup, easy summer gazpacho, or even one of my blended salads), a plate of roasted vegetables, or a nice slab of grilled tofu. I hope you’ll love it as much as my boyfriend and I did, when we savored each and every bite.
I’m in the midst of a heavy week of nutrition counseling; I barely had a chance to breathe today in between clients! But I can’t tell you all how great it feels to be diving back into my work. It’s funny: I embarked on my post-bacc because counseling had shown me that I wanted to work with people, to help them heal. But in many ways my post-bacc pulled me away from this sense of vocation and purpose; I was so wrapped up in beating the med school odds and surviving my classes that I couldn’t direct much of my energy outward. And I had to stop taking and responding to clients because my stress levels were so high.
I’m not where I thought I would be this fall, which is to say I’m not a first year med student. But in many ways I feel that I’ve gotten back to my original intention, which was to create a career in which I could help people to heal themselves using food as a tool. I’m as busy as I was at certain moments of my post-bacc, and I’m still putting a bunch of groundwork in place for new professional directions. But I feel more complete and more satisfied with my work than I have for a very long time.
That was a random train of thought, but as I sat here at the end of a long, exhilarating work day, I had to tell you.