It was a beautiful and sunny day in Seattle last weekend. I had a chance to stroll downtown and visit the famous Pike Place farmer’s market and take in the glory of fresh produce. Farmer’s markets never fail to inspire me, and many of my food discoveries have happened in a farmer’s market.
I was looking for mushrooms since they are in season now, and happened to come upon these long, thin and stalky looking greens in a small container nestled next to the morels and the portabella mushrooms. I might have easily dismissed them and gazed past them, but for the fact that I ate a salad with those exact same greens just a few hours ago in one of the restaurants around the market. So they caught my attention, and I decided to cook with them.
Since the salad I ate also contained porcini mushrooms, I bought a couple porcinis too. Porcinis cost an arm and a leg. They look like stools that mini cave people might use. The oft used consolation is that a little goes a long way.
So, most of us know mushrooms, but did you know sea beans? Sea beans, also called Salicornia are seasonal succulent plants that grown in salty marshes. Check this wikipedia page for more. Sea beans are high in iodine, calcium, iron, vitamin A and are also a source of vegetarian protein. They are salty in taste and I feel like I am eating tiny well seasoned asparagus when I eat them. To prepare the sea beans, I removed any bits of brown on the beans, and dunked them for a brief 30 seconds in boiling water, and transferred them to a bowl of cold water. Drain and you are ready to use them.
Besides sea beans and porcinis, the other component of this dish is farro. Farro is an ancient grain that looks like wheat. Although it contains gluten, the levels are much lower in farro than they are in a grain like wheat. Farro is high in fiber and contains B vitamins, zinc and iron. Farro has a nice chew to it and is a grain that fills you up nicely.
Farro picks up flavors of whatever cooking liquid you are using, so you will usually find recipes that call for farro to be cooked in stock or apple juice or apple cider. The liquid used is about 2.5-3 times the amount of farro. Combine the liquid and farro, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook covered, until the farro is tender. You know the farro is cooked when the grains sort of split to expose the lighter colored insides. I did not have stock or apple juice in my pantry and so for this recipe, I cooked the farro like I might cook pasta – use more water and drain it when the pasta is cooked. Since I used water which has no flavor of its own, I salted the water and also added about a tsp of sugar.
Serves 4 Cooking time 30-45 mins Ingredients: 2 tbsps olive oil, extra for garnish 1/4 cup sliced red onion 1 clove garlic, sliced 1 tbsp fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dry thyme 2 porcini mushrooms, sliced 1 cup sea beans, prepared as per notes above 1.5 cups farro, rinsed, cooked and cooled Salt and pepper to taste Grated pecorino romano, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for garnish Method: Heat oil in a pan, drop in the sliced red onion and garlic. Sprinkle some salt over the onions and garlic. Add the thyme and mushrooms, cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid but still look plump. Incorporate the sea beans into the pan, followed by the farro. Toss everything around until the farro is warmed up. Serve warm. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and grate some pecorino romano on the dish.