Mystery food goes against the grain

Kate McKay's Farro and roasted vegetable salad.
Kate McKay's Farro and roasted vegetable salad. 

I've been on a health kick lately, so much so that my children have started calling me ''no wheat, no dairy'' instead of ''mum''. So off I went in search of interesting ways to be a no-wheat-no-dairy mum, and, along with the pending summer, ways to make a salad into a meal.

I stumbled on a foodstuff called farro, which looked for all intents and purposes like brown rice and ticked all the boxes on my health kick without being yet another bowl of brown rice. Barrelling into the project, you can imagine what my kids made of it when we all learnt that farro is actually a type of wheat.

Too late! she cried. By this stage, having suffered enough from watching my children gulping down big glasses of milk and having their morning eggs on toast, I convince myself that if it at least looks like brown rice it must be good for me.

I also convince myself that it might not exactly be wheat, simply because Wikipedia tells me there is much debate about what it actually is. I will leave you to that controversy, but notwithstanding my efforts to resist the idea that it originates from wheat, I think the best definition I can come up with is that is a sort of wheatish thing that looks like brown rice. I like it more than brown rice, it is firmer and has a nuttier flavour.

Halfway into the no-wheat thing we spend a weekend on a friend's farm near Cootamundra. The wheat is jumping out of the ground, and my husband accuses me of chipping away at our friend's business model bit by bit.

So, having embarked on the journey, there is one main rule of thumb for turning husky foodstuffs into something tasty: The dressing is critical, along with the liberal use of spices and chilli. Harissa is a Tunisian blend of many spices, chilli, garlic, tomatoes, onion and olive oil. So this has a lot of the work done and gives it a Middle Eastern flavour. I have also made this a few times with just carrots and parsnips, and it works. Perhaps less can be more in salads.

>> Kate McKay is co-owner of Lynwood Preserves.


Farro and roasted vegetable salad

1 cup uncooked farro

2 small zucchinis

1 eggplant

5 carrots

1 capsicum

1 red onion, in wedges

1 bunch coriander, chopped (reserve some to garnish)

1 handful mint, chopped (reserve some to garnish)

¾ cup crumbled feta


about 3 tsp harissa (see below, or use store- bought but adjust quantity for the heat, which varies considerably)

5 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

a pinch salt

Cover the farro with plenty of water in a saucepan and soak for 15 or 20 minutes. Discard and refresh the water, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, chop the vegetables into chunks, toss in olive oil salt and pepper, and roast for 20 minutes, or until cooked, in a moderate oven. Make sure the roasting tray is not overcrowded - use two trays if need be.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously. Season with salt and pepper and add more harissa or lemon juice if required.

To assemble, put the farro and roasted vegetables in a salad bowl, adding the feta, coriander and mint, toss, top with reserved herbs and serve.


If you feel like the extra work and a far superior product, make your own harissa.

2 red capsicums

½ tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp olive oil

2 small red onions, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

4 medium-hot, fresh red chillies (more if you want), chopped

1 tbsp tomato puree

4 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sea salt

Char the capsicums by turning on the gas cooktop for about 15 minutes, or you can do this in the oven. Once they are black all over, put them in a bowl and cover with cling film. When they are cool, remove the skin and seeds.

Dry roast the spices in a frying pan for a minute or two, then grind them to a powder in a mortar and pestle. Fry the onion, garlic and chilli in the olive oil for 10 minutes or so. Let this cool, then put all the ingredients, adding the tomato puree, lemon juice and salt into a small bowl and blitz to a paste with a stick blender. Add more oil as you go if the paste is too stiff.

Store in a glass jar with a film of oil on top.