When the final days of winter flirt with sunny warmth, only to shrink back into a chill from that wicked wind, I gravitate toward hearty salads for dinner: combinations of roasted vegetables, grains and greens dressed in a pungent, sometimes spicy vinaigrette. But they’re not always the quickest to come by: Some of my favorite grains take the longest to cook. Those tough greens may need help becoming soft. And the vegetables require some oven time.
If I’m organized, my refrigerator plays the part of a pre-prepped salad bar. Ingredients that took their turns in the oven, pot or mixing bowl on more leisurely days now sit in containers, awaiting my decisions about how to combine them. But when I’m not so organized, I look for quick ways to get the job done without sacrificing flavor.
In the grain category, farro comes to the rescue because in its semi-pearled variety (the default if it’s imported from Italy) it needs just a 20-minute simmer, making it a viable alternative, timewise, to simple white rice but with so much more character. It’s also one of the most forgiving grains I’ve encountered; the window of doneness allows you to cook it for even twice as long and it stays slightly chewy and nutty. In the meantime, Brussels sprouts and carrots can go in a hot oven together, with the sprouts getting brown-edged and tender in just about as long as it takes for the carrots to slightly soften, keeping a little of their crunch. Kale just needs a massage — you have been massaging your kale, haven’t you? — for it to become silky-smooth, much more pleasant to eat than when it is tough and fibrous.
To pull it all together, I splash on a vaguely Middle Eastern vinaigrette made from the spice blend za’atar, feta, olive oil and a heavy dose of red wine vinegar. To keep in the same flavor profile and add even more textures, I chop up dried figs and scatter in slivered almonds.
This is a mix-and-match approach: Keep roughly to the same proportions, and sub in and out other grains, leafy greens, nuts, fruit and dressing. As the days and nights get warmer, the elements can get lighter, right along with your spirit as spring begins.