Think you need to avoid Italian food if you're trying to eat healthier? Nope! This fabulous ancient grain salad is loaded with all the delicious flavors of Italy minus the refined carbs and high-calorie counts!
Happy New Year! We're excited to welcome not only a new year, but a brand new decade! I've got a zillion fresh, new recipe ideas as we venture into 2020 and this healthy, delicious Slow Roasted Tomato Ancient Grain Salad is where we'll start. It's been a frequent flyer on our menu over the past few weeks -it's so good, we can't seem to get enough!
Have you noticed that almost everyone loves Italian food? But Italian food is often fairly high in calories and refined carbs, with many dishes including pasta and often not super healthy.
That's where this ancient grain salad differs. Although it's bursting with all the delicious flavors of Italy; fresh basil, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, pine nuts and tomatoes, it's also super healthy and has enough protein to serve it as a main course.
Winter tomato transformation
Although I don't generally purchase tomatoes in the cooler months, I find that the little cherry and grape tomatoes are decently sweet and juicy, even offseason. But when you drizzle them with a splash of olive oil and roast them in a slow oven sprinkled with Italian seasoning, garlic salt and a pinch of sugar, these little multi-hued orbs are transformed into caramelized, intensely delicious little flavor bombs. They also make a really pretty presentation in this ancient grain salad.
What are ancient grains?
You might be wondering, what in the world are ancient grains? "Ancient" doesn't mean these grains have been sitting around for a long time like a bottle of fine wine or your grandmother's prized fruitcake. According to The Whole Grains Council, ancient is a term for "grains that are largely unchanged over the last several hundred years". That means they have been planted and cultivated the same way for many, many years and have not been refined or re-engineered by man.
Ancient grains include sorghum, freekeh, bulgur, teﬀ, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, chia, wild rice, rye, einkorn, farro (also called emmer), Kamut and spelt.
Are ancient grains gluten-free?
Some of the ancient grains are gluten-free and others aren't. In this particular ancient grain salad, the quinoa is gluten-free while the farro is a type of wheat, therefore not gluten-free. Other gluten-free ancient grains include amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff. If you're looking for a gluten-free salad, this recipe could definitely be made with just quinoa or with quinoa and one of the other gluten-free grains.
Two for one!
As mentioned above, this ancient grain salad recipe includes both quinoa and farro. They're both super healthy and loaded with wonderful nutritional benefits. Quinoa is one of the most protein-rich foods available and is super high in fiber. Farro is low in calories and fat, plus it has high levels of protein, as well as fiber and antioxidants. They're both winners and definitely fall into the "superfoods" category!
Cook them in the same pot!
I love the way the quinoa lightens the salad, while the farro gives it a delicious heartiness.
Perhaps you're thinking that you wouldn't want to cook two different grains for one salad. You don't have to! I figured out a way to cook them both perfect - and in the same pot! First, rinse each of the grains well with cold water in a fine-mesh strainer. This removes any dirt or powdery coating (which in the case of quinoa, can cause a bitter taste).
Next, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt liberally. While the water is heating, note the cooking times on the packages for each grain. For me, the farro instructions specified 10 minutes (I used quick-cooking farro from Trader Joe's). The quinoa package instructions included a cooking time of 15 minutes.
Add the grain first with the longer cook time (for me, the quinoa) and return water to a boil. Set a timer for the number of minutes for the longer cooking grain (for me 15 minutes) minus the number of minutes for the shorter cooking grain (for me 10 minutes). (So I set a timer for 5 minutes.) When the timer goes off, add the second grain and return to a boil. Set the timer now for the total cook time of the second grain and take a break. When the timer goes off, it's time to drain the grains!
Now the grains are ready for this delicious ancient grain salad. Or, if you like to prep ahead, you can also store them in the refrigerator at this point. When you're ready for the salad, just pull them out and combine them with the other ingredients.
A side or main, you choose
This Slow Roasted Tomato Ancient Grain Salad makes a delicious meal on its own, but is also a fabulous side for just about any entree. I've served it with both grilled chicken and steak, but it would also be wonderful with salmon, pork tenderloin, shrimp or as a side with burgers.
Café Tips for making this Ancient Grain Salad
- The dressing for this salad is a super simple, 3-ingredient recipe that works well on lots of other salads. I like to make a double batch and have it on hand to make easy, healthy meals on the run. It's the same dressing I use in this Butternut Squash Black Rice Salad.
- There are different types of farro; whole, semi-pearled and pearled. Each of these varieties has a different cooking time with whole farro taking the longest and pearled farro the shortest. Be sure to look at the package directions for whichever type you're using and follow that amount of time.
- When cooking two types of grain in the same pot, start with a large pot of boiling water. While the water is coming to a boil, rinse the grains well (separately) in a fine-mesh strainer. Once the water is boiling, add salt then the grain with the longest cook time. Set a timer for when to add the second grain. Simply subtract the number of minutes for the shorter cooking grain from that of the longer cooking grain. When the timer goes off, add the second grain. Set a timer again, this time for the cooking time of the second grain. When the second timer alarms, drain the grains and proceed with the recipe.
- An example of how long to cook the grains: my quinoa (a tri-colored mix from Trader Joe's) calls for a cooking time of 15 minutes. My farro (a quick-cooking variety from Trader Joe's) calls for a cooking time of 10 minutes. After my water comes to a boil, I add the salt and the quinoa and set a timer for 5 minutes. (quinoa time minus farro time). When the timer goes off, I add the farro and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the second timer goes off, the grains are done and ready to be drained. You don't have to use Trader Jo grains, but you do need to check the package instructions for whatever grains you use.
- A fine-mesh strainer is an important and useful kitchen tool. It's nice to have a small one for straining juices and sauces, washing herbs, dusting with powdered sugar, etc. and a large one for grains, rice, sifting flour, steaming veggies, etc. The strainer set below is great as it's not expensive and includes 3 nice-sized strainers.
- You can cook grains in advance. After draining well, drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and stir to coat. Will keep well for 3-5 days refrigerated. I like to cook a large pot of ancient grains on the weekend then use them for healthy sides and salads all week long.
- You can also roast the tomatoes in advance and store them in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. When transferring them to a storage container, just gently scoop them up keeping the tomatoes intact. Don't try to stir them or you'll lose the pretty shapes.
- I use a mixture of different colored and shaped tomatoes (cherry, grape, etc.). Feel free to use just one variety if desired.
- This salad can be served warm or at room temperature. It's a great choice for a party, potluck or picnic as it travels well, is super delicious and decently healthy.
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear other’s results and ideas for variations.
- 4 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 cups uncooked farro
- 1 teaspoon butter
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 medium clove garlic finely minced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves finely chopped
- 1 cup shaved Parmesan Cheese
- ½ cup halved kalamata olives
- ½ medium red onion finely diced
- fresh basil leaves for garnish, if desired
Preheat oven to 325˚F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. I like to have the edges of parchment paper extending slightly over the edges of the pan for easy cleanup.
Wash, pat dry and halve tomatoes. Arrange them, cut side up, on the prepared sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil then sprinkle evenly with the garlic salt, Italian seasoning, sugar and pepper. Roast tomatoes in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes until tomatoes are shriveled, but still slightly juicy. Set aside.
While the tomatoes are roasting, prepare the quinoa and farro. Check the package of each grain to determine the cooking time. Rinse each grain separately in a fine-mesh strainer and drain well.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add two tablespoons of kosher salt and the longer cooking time grain. Check the package instructions for your grains and set a timer for the number of minutes of the longer cooking grain minus the minutes of the shorter cooking grain. Add the longer cooking grain and continue to boil. When the timer alarms, add the second grain and set a timer for the cooking time of the second grain. When the timer alarms, drain the grains and proceed with the recipe.
Melt butter in a small sauté pan over low heat. Add the pine nuts and kosher salt and stir. Cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently.
Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close jar tightly and shake well.
Finely chop the fresh basil and set aside. Roughly chop the shaved parmesan into small bits and set aside.
Combine cooked grains, half of the tomatoes, half of the pine nuts, all of the olives, the red onion, the Parmesan cheese and the finely chopped basil in a large bowl. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the dressing and gently stir to combine. Top salad with remaining tomatoes, pine nuts and the basil leaves. Pass extra dressing at the table.
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips.
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