I’m working on saying “yes” to more things lately (except for dogs and babies), so when my friend Bay asked if I would like to accompany her to a baking class last week, I immediately accepted. After all, I enjoy classes, and my baking skills could definitely use some work. Win-win.
On Tuesday evening, I met Bay outside El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette on the always festive Lower East Side. Having spent the afternoon daydreaming about baking some sort of delightful hipster pastry (which seemed likely given the location), I was pretty pumped. I’d even worn an outfit that I thought would look nice with an apron and/or artfully covered in flour/chocolate. Priorities.
Based on my experience in Le Cordon Bleu kitchens, I was mildly confused when we entered El Rey. The tiny café was packed with people loudly chatting over the few tables or leaning against the coffee bar. As far as a cooking set-up, there was a very small open kitchen in the back of the room that could fit a single person, maybe two Gwyneths, at most.
I was about to ask Bay, “What is this? A baking school for ants?!!!” but then Enrique Iglesias appeared to welcome us to the class, and I shut up.
El Rey’s head chef, a shockingly good-looking young gentleman that bore a striking resemblance to the aforementioned musician (post-mole, of course), was our teacher for the evening. He gave a brief speech about El Rey’s food philosophy, before explaining the format of the hour-long class in a ridiculously sexy voice. There would be a demonstration on how to make Aleppo-spiced sweet potato bread with candied pecans, followed by a tasting of the finished product, and then a short Q&A/discussion session.
Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed by this format, but like the other members of the class, I was briefly hypnotized by Enrique, whose appearance almost made up for the lack of actual baking. However, after 15 minutes of listening to him talk about roasting sweet potatoes and what it means to “emulsify” something, I found myself distracted. (Good looks and a melodious voice will only get you so far.)
Despite my best efforts to refocus on the demonstration, I couldn’t stop staring at the lunch menu written on a chalkboard behind me. It was a vision. A smorgasbord of locally-sourced, organic, mostly-vegan fare, all of which had some sort of creative spin. It took superhuman restraint not to interrupt the class with something along the lines of, “Listen, Enrique, I dig what you’re doing with the sweet potato bread, but it’s May. Can we talk about salads?”
Obviously, I kept it together until the bread batter was completed, but as soon as the tasting commenced, I covertly pulled out my phone and started jotting down the more delightful sounding dishes that I wanted to recreate in my kitchen. At the top of my list was the Shaved Vegetable Salad with Farro and Maple Roasted Pecans.
Long story short, this salad is the edible embodiment of spring. In fact, the lyrics to “I Can See Clearly Now” come to mind when I think about the light, bright, sunshiny aspects of this vegan miracle. Tender spring greens tossed with a mélange of crunchy vegetables, slightly chewy farro, caramelized maple pecans, and a slightly sweet lemon-y dressing makes for a flavor and texture-fest like you’ve never experienced before. I can confidently say that it falls very, very far outside the “stupid salad” category, friends.
More importantly, eating this fabulous green creation will make you feel all glorious and supermodel-y. Each pretty portion is packed with antioxidants, B vitamins, essential minerals, protein and fiber. Pecans provide healthy fats, and the farro is rich in cyanogenic glucosides, which sound terrifying, but actually stimulate your immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. Whoop whoooop.
After eating this for lunch yesterday, I was very disappointed that nobody was around to witness my insta-glow (yet another reason that I need an assistant). It was so impressive that I was tempted to stand on my fire escape and shout, “Hey everyone, come see how good I look!”
I settled for texting my roommate.
If you’re giving this salad the brush-off and thinking, “Serena, this recipe sounds absurdly laborious. I have to cook farro, roast nuts, and shave a bunch of vegetables. For a salad? STFU.” Take it down a notch, my busy and important friends, it’s much less taxing than it seems. Cooking farro requires all of 15 minutes, as does candying the nuts, and you can do both things simultaneously if you’re capable of domestic multitasking. Shaving the vegetables is actually a breeze with a vegetable peeler, and if it takes more than 7-10 minutes to do all the shaving, you should probably be worried about your manual dexterity.
That said, feel free to use pre-cooked farro (or quinoa, brown rice, barley, etc.) and raw pecans if you’re seriously pressed for time and/or lazy. Oh, and if you’re planning to serve this as an appetizer or side dish at an upcoming soirée (hallelujah), you can easily prepare the salad in advance, pop it in the fridge, and add the nuts and dressing just before serving. Done and done.
T-2 weeks until bikini/mankini season, peeps. For the sake of health (and not scaring children on the beach), let’s eat more salads.
Blogger’s Note: Thank you to chef Gerardo Gonzalez (Enrique’s real name) for inspiring this spring masterpiece. You are my hero.
Shaved Vegetable Salad with Farro and Maple Roasted Pecans: (Serves 4)
½ cup semi-pearled faro, uncooked (or 1¼ cups cooked faro)
½ cup raw pecans
2 teaspoons good quality maple syrup
2 medium carrots, shaved
1 small zucchini, shaved
½ red onion, shaved
2 baby radishes, shaved
5 ounces baby lettuces (I used a mix of baby romaine and baby arugula.)
For the dressing:
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons good quality maple syrup
Fresh ground pepper
Preparing your Shaved Vegetable Salad with Farro and Maple Roasted Pecans:
-Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Set aside.
-Place the pecans in a small bowl with the maple syrup. Add a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper and gently toss to coat.
-Place the pecans on the prepared baking sheet in an even layer. –Transfer to the oven and roast for 8-10 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until fragrant and slightly darkened in color. (Careful not to burn these, peeps!) Set aside to cool while you prepare your salad.
-Using a vegetable peeler or mandolin, shave the carrots, zucchini, red onion, and radishes. Please watch your fingers. (Yes, you can use a regular chef’s knife if you don’t have peeler or mandolin, but please get a vegetable peeler ASAP. Seriously.)
-Add the shaved vegetables and drizzle with the dressing. Toss to coat.
-Transfer salad to a platter (or plates) and top with the maple roasted pecans. Serve immediately.
- ½ cup semi-pearled farro
- ½ cup raw pecans
- 2 teaspoons good quality maple syrup
- Kosher salt
- Cayenne pepper
- 2 medium carrots, shaved
- 1 small zucchini, shaved
- ½ red onion, shaved
- 2 baby radishes, shaved
- 5 ounces baby lettuces (I used a mix of baby romaine and baby arugula.)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons good quality maple syrup
- Fresh ground pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Set aside.
- Place the pecans in a small bowl with the maple syrup. Add a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper and gently toss to coat. Place the pecans on the prepared baking sheet in an even layer. Transfer to the oven and roast for 8-10 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until fragrant and slightly darkened in color. (Careful not to burn these, peeps!) Set aside to cool while you prepare your salad.
- Moving on to the farro! Bring a small pot of water to a boil. When boiling, add the farro and cook for 13-15 minutes until al dente. Strain and set aside to cool.
- Using a vegetable peeler or mandolin, shave the carrots, zucchini, red onion, and radishes. Please watch your fingers. (Yes, you can use a regular chef’s knife if you don’t have peeler or mandolin, but please get a vegetable peeler ASAP. Seriously.)
- In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and maple syrup. Season with salt, fresh ground pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.
- Place the baby lettuces in a large bowl or dish and add the cooked faro and the shaved vegetables. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat.
- Transfer salad to a platter (or plates) and top with the maple roasted pecans. Serve immediately.
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