Lightening up vegetable salad adds nutrition

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Back in my restaurants days, we made a delicious summer salad of white rice with peas, shredded carrots and radishes dressed with a dill mayonnaise. It was tasty and filling but not terribly nutritious. I figured there had to be a way to make it lighter, and there was.

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Farro and vegetable salad with cucumber ranch dressing.  MATTHEW MEAD/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MATTHEW MEAD/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Farro and vegetable salad with cucumber ranch dressing.

I started by replacing the white rice with farro. A nutritious form of whole wheat from Italy, farro boasts a pleasingly nutty taste and a slightly chewy texture.

The prep time for farro depends on the variety you buy. There are three kinds sold in America – whole, semi-pearled and pearled. All three tend to be labeled simply “farro,” though the instructions on the package are more specific.

Whole farro – bran and husk included – is the most nutritious and takes the longest to cook. Pearled farro – with the bran and husk removed – takes the least time. Just follow the instructions on the package and plan ahead. If you cook a big batch during the weekend, you can freeze it in 2-, 3- or 4-cup portions.

I retired the peas in the original recipe in favor of edamame, which really jack up the protein content. Most grocers offer both shelled and in-the-pod varieties. For this recipe, you’ll want the shelled version. They boil up in about 5 minutes.
I’ve retained the shredded carrots and the radishes, but I’ve ditched the full-fat mayonnaise in favor of ranch dressing. Thanks to its buttermilk base, ranch dressing is one of those magical ingredients that is at once full of flavor and low in calories. I partnered it with a bit of oil, a bit of low-fat mayonnaise, some garlic and fresh herbs. Then, I added chopped cucumber, which gives the salad a fresh flavor. This dressing would make a lovely dip for vegetables and a tangy sauce for grilled chicken or shrimp.

The salad is pretty versatile. If you have carnivores coming for dinner, you can bulk it up with some chicken or shrimp. I’d be content with a sprinkling of feta.

FARRO AND VEGETABLE SALAD WITH CUCUMBER RANCH DRESSING
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped seedless cucumber
  • ¼ cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon, dill or parsley
  • 2 cups cooked farro
  • 1 cup cooked shelled edamame
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup shredded radishes
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

In a blender, combine the cucumber, mayonnaise, buttermilk, garlic, lemon juice, oil and salt and pepper, to taste. Puree until smooth. Stir in the chives and tarragon, then transfer to a jar and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together the farro, edamame, carrots and radishes. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, add the feta to the salad, if using. Toss the salad with two thirds of the dressing, then divide among six serving plates. Serve extra dressing on the side.


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