What characterizes Mediterranean dishes is fresh flavor, salt, and lots of cheese. Well, that is just a perfect combination for me! Those are literally my favorite things all in one meal.
It has been years since I have had real cheese, so replacing it with a vegan version is exciting, fun, and very delicious. Vegan feta is one of the stars of this recipe. The other is farro.
Farro Grain: What it is and Benefits
Let’s talk about farro for a moment. Farro is a beautiful whole grain that is a type of wheat, and therefore, contains gluten. If you are part of the minority of the population who is allergic or sensitive to wheat, you can replace farro with brown rice, quinoa, or even buckwheat in this recipe.
For everyone else – I highly recommend consuming farro! Firstly, its texture is absolutely divine. It’s soft, but not mushy. It’s very chewy and can replace barley in any recipes.
Farro also contains many incredible nutrients. It is rich in iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium, and also has quite a lot of protein. It is also rich in B vitamins and fiber (of course, as a plant food).
In addition, The fact that it is a whole grain adds great benefit, since “The consumption of three portions of whole grains a day appears as powerful as high blood pressure medications in alleviating hypertension” according to Dr. Greger’s site, nutritionfacts.org.
But, on top of everything, the most incredible compound found in farro that I am excited to share with you about are lignans. Farro is rich in lignans, which are antioxidants, and help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and even increase longevity since pro-oxidants are one of the most aging compounds.
Farro also contains phytochemicals, including polyphenols, selenium, carotenoids, and tocopherols.
That is a mouthful to say, but what you should essentially know about phytochemicals is that they are unique plant compounds (including antioxidants), that scientists have just begun to study. They serve as the plant’s own protective system, so imagine how each one plays a special role in the human body too to protect from and even reverse disease. They are just incredible, and prove why we should eat more plants!
A Note on Farro and Gluten
Many people are afraid of consuming whole grains, and particularly, gluten-containing grains, such as our adorable, comforting farro.
As you know, I pride this blog on its reliance on science, and my motivation to bring the best evidence to you, removing biases and myths.
I personally had a bias against gluten for many years and had avoided gluten, fearing that it would damage my body through inflammation.
After researching, and particularly, reading “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease”, I realized that my fears were completely misguided.
Only about 1 person in a thousand has a wheat allergy, and 1 in a 100 has celiac disease. These are very serious, and should not be taken lightly, of course. Yet many more people avoid gluten without a strong scientific backing to guide them.
I highly suggest exploring the topic of gluten on the NutritionFacts website, where scientific information is provided in full. What I learned is that gluten, and whole grains in general, do not show any inflammatory responses in the body when tested for several inflammation markers. If you are not gluten intolerant or have celiac disease, eat your whole grains, and eat your gluten (unrefined, of course)!
A Note on Olive Oil
As a Mediterranean recipe, it may be a bit surprising that this delicious farro salad does not contain olive oil like most Mediterranean recipes do.
According to the most accurate research, olive oil is not the food that accounts for the longevity of Mediterranean populations. It is their high consumption of whole grains, beans, and of course, fruits and vegetables.
When I lived in the Mediterranean myself, I consumed high amounts of olive oil and found that it clogged my digestion, pores, and gave me a caloric overdose (it is a very high-fat food that contains little nutrients for the number of calories, crowding out other more nutritious foods).
Instead of olive oil, I use olives in this recipe, which contain fiber – that the oil lacks. They also contain additional nutrients missing in the olive oil, such as calcium and iron, which are completely absent from olive oil.
In addition, I am also using the fatty, yet healthy and delicious, vegan “feta” in this recipe. You can download this oil-free recipe here. (In the PDF, it is the first recipe, or “sneaky cauliflower cheese”, but in this case, we are using it as feta. It is delicious, regardless of the name!) It is the perfect addition to oil-free dishes, as it provides the comforting flavor of oil, without it.
Easy Vegan Mediterranean Farro Salad with Vegan Feta Recipe
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Easy Vegan Mediterranean Farro Salad with Vegan Feta
A refreshing, delicious and simple vegan salad
Soak farro and chickpeas overnight, separately, in filtered water to improve their digestibility.
Rinse chickpeas and farro really well in a colander under running water, and be sure to remove any stones or dirt.
Bring two pots of water to a boil. One with about 3 cups of water (for the chickpeas), and the other with 1/2 cup water (for the farro).
Add chickpeas and farro to each, separately.
Cook each for about 30-40 minutes, or until completely tender.
The farro will most likely be ready faster, specifically when all water is absorbed in the pot.
Chop all vegetables thinly: red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, olives (pit first), and basil, and place in a bowl with spring mix.
Prepare the cauliflower cheese according to instructions. (In the PDF, it is the first recipe, or "sneaky cauliflower cheese", but in this case, we are using it as feta. It is delicious, regardless of the name!)
Add farro, chickpeas, and cheese to the bowl. Top with Italian seasoning.