Farro and Cucumber Salad with Feta, Dill and Mint

Once I discovered tzatziki in college (alla Trader Joe’s), I practically lived off the stuff. The combination of crispy cucumbers, garlic, dill and mint suspended in a thick sour cream-like mixture rendered me powerless against eating it with a spoon, straight from the container. (Hardly my worst vice at that time, but still…that stuff is rich.)

Tzatziki is still one of my favorite summertime snacks. Thanks to a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, I’m no longer beholden to Trader Joe’s, but rather to the produce section at our co-op which boasts half a dozen different varieties of cucumbers come August.

There are lemon cucumbers, which resemble their namesake citrus in size, color and shape. There are Mediterranean varieties with thin skins, tiny seeds and dense flesh. There are long English cucs and tiny pickling cucs. But my favorite kind of all are the painted serpents with their gaudy stripes and slender curves that resist confinement in a plastic bag, flopping out onto the conveyor belt like spring-loaded snakes in a can of peanut brittle. One produce worker calls them “Dr. Seussian.” They are the variety I use when I make tzatziki, which is so rich and delicious, I still want to just eat it with a spoon.

Which is why I made this salad, inspired by one I enjoyed at Pizzetta 211 a few months ago. Cool grains of farro were tossed with large chunks of cucumber and dressed with a ton of very flavorful olive oil. I liked it so much that I scribbled down those ingredients that I could figure out in a tiny notebook.

When our wonderful cat-sitter left us a bag of farro (thank you, Bex!), I decided to try my hand at making a Pizzetta-like farro salad. So I looked around for my notebook…and couldn’t find it. I Googled (for the recipe, not my notebook), but got nothing. Their menu changes weekly, so the salad is long gone, and I have no recollection as to what was in it other than farro, cucumbers and olive oil.

Luckily, you don’t really need a recipe to make a salad, just a set of tastebuds. I added radishes for color and crunch (as well as a Lily Pulitzer pink-on-green effect), and I channeled Deborah Madison’s tzatziki with crushed garlic, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, mint, and dill. I added feta, the ultimate salad cheese, to the top. I found that Bulgarian sheep feta is just right here, as it has a softer texture than cow’s milk feta, but a more assertive tang than French sheep feta. (I had to taste them all to determine this – I did it for you.)

My first bite was eye-opening, and I couldn’t wait to inhale this plate when I was done taking its picture. The chew of the farro plays against the crunch of the vegetables. Bright herbs liven up earthy grains. The dill, cucumber and white wine vinegar taste familiar; I think they make the pickle area of my brain light up. The mint and feta place it firmly in the Mediterranean camp. The whole effect is cooling and fresh, and every bit as addictive as tzatziki itself.

Best of all, you can eat it with a spoon straight from the bowl and not have to worry about the freshman fifteen.

Summery salads:

Green, Yellow and Romano Bean Salad with Sweet Corn and Feta
Melon with Lime, Feta and Mint
Orzo and Roasted Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

One year ago:

Plum, Rhubarb, and Raspberry Cardamom Crisp

Two years ago:

Zucchini, Corn and Chèvre-Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Three years ago:

Chocolate Rosemary Pots de Crème

Farro and Cucumber Salad with Feta, Dill and Mint

If you soak your farro in cool water for 3 hours or up to overnight, it will cook more quickly and evenly. This is a fun place to showcase different varieties of cucumber; I used 2 painted serpents and 1 lemon cucumber. The best ones for this salad are ones with thin skin, dense flesh, and tiny seeds. English and Mediterranean varieties should all work well. Taste the skin before you cut them, and peel it away if it tastes bitter or tough. If your cucs have large seeds, you’ll want to scrape them out; they will release liquid that could make the salad watery.

I like this salad when freshly made. The mint will turn brown after an hour or two, so if you decide to make the salad ahead, add the mint at the last minute. I bet roasted beets and/or carrots would make a nice replacement for
cucumbers if you find yourself in need of a cool grain salad in the fall
or winter.

Serves 4 as a light meal, 6 as an appetizer or side dish

1 cup farro (I use semi-pearled)
sea or kosher salt
2-3 medium-sized cucumbers (see headnote)
1 small bunch radishes
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and pressed (or minced)
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2-4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)
2-3 teaspoons white wine vinegar (to taste)
black pepper
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped dill
2-4 ounces feta (I used Bulgarian sheep feta), sliced or crumbled
flaky salt

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Drain the farro if you soaked it, and add it to the boiling water. Cook until the farro is tender but not falling apart, 30-45 minutes. Drain the farro, rinse with cool water, and drain again. Place the farro in a large bowl and set aside. (The farro can be cooked 1-2 days in advance and refrigerated.)

Slice the cucumbers into either 1/8″ thick slices if skinny, or cut into 1″ square chunks if fatter. Trim the radishes and slice them thinly. Add the cucumbers and radishes to the farro. Add the garlic, olive oil, the smaller amounts of lemon juice and vinegar, and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Toss well. Toss in the mint and dill and taste, adding more lemon, vinegar, salt or pepper if you feel the salad needs it. Scatter as much feta as you like over the top of the salad.

Serve within an hour or two, while the mint is fresh and green. As the salad sits, the farro will absorb flavor and moisture, so you’ll want to taste it again before serving, adding more of the vinaigrette components if you feel the salad needs it.

When you serve the salad, top each plate or bowl with a few drops of olive oil, a few flecks of flaky salt, a dusting of black pepper, and a few small mint leaves.

22 thoughts on “Farro and Cucumber Salad with Feta, Dill and Mint”

  1. I have to tell you, I found your blog a few days ago, and then proceeded to read every single recipe until the your first spelt cracker post. I love, love your blog and the recipes!! I couldn't resist going out and buying a plethora of ingredients to try your amazing recipes!!! I was dreaming about your buckwheat crepes last night, so that was the first thing I went for!

    Anyway! I'm so glad I found your blog!!! :)

    1. Wow, that's amazing!!! Thank you SO much for reading, and cooking, and leaving such a wonderfully sweet comment! :D Please come back and let me know how everything turns out!

      Ps. I'm seriously drooling over your pan-fried calzone things – yum!!

  2. What a beautiful salad! Crispy cucumber & radish sound perfect with chewy farro. Now I want to run off to the store and find a bunch of ancient grains…although I should probably just use up the barley in my freezer, huh?

    1. This would totally work with barley in place of farro. Hopefully the stuff in your freezer isn't too ancient! ;) Thanks for the kind words, Eileen!

  3. Oh boy, time for me to comment on a thousand posts at once because I'm behind on everything! :D

    This salad sounds amazing! I don't even know where to begin. I love salads that contrast hearty grains against fresh herbs and veggies, and farro is a serious favorite. And the radishes make it look especially beautiful. (My mom and I are making a bunch of food/desserts for the big fundraiser at the performing arts center where she volunteers, and the rest of the food planning team has been talking about wanting a colorful summery vegetarian salad. I think this might be it!!)

    1. That makes me SO happy, Carey!!! :D You'll have to let me know how you like it. This was my first time using farro in a salad, and I'm pretty much hooked. It's got a great texture, and it's healthy, but doesn't taste like punishment food.

      Your parents sound incredibly cool. I can't wait to see what else you guys make! Please take pictures?

  4. I agree with everyone…this salad looks awesomely delicious! I was just going to ask you what I should do with some gorgeous, happy mint I have growing on my front porch. And what about us grain-less people? No, I didn't' say "brain-less" although I know that's what you were thinking. (caught ya!) I'm going to try it without any grains and see what happens…any suggestions?

    1. Hi Mom!
      Your comment reminds me of a joke: What do vegetarian zombies eat?
      I think it will still be good without the farro, and you'll want to use more of the vegetables, or add the dressing ingredients to taste. Or you could try it with quinoa, which I think you eat even though it's a grain. Let me know how it goes. :)

    2. Oh…funny! :)

      And thanks for the suggestion; I'll let you know how it comes out with a little quinoa, and since I've never seen those gorgeous cucumbers anywhere near me, I'll have to use the little Persian ones. Should still be great! And btw, your recipe story cracked me up. You're pretty funny!

  5. Oh Alanna, this is just beautiful. The colors, the flavors, the textures. I'm smitten. I love tzataki too, and I love that it helped inspire this lovely salad.

  6. My first time on your blog and I love the colorful and the very yummy salad. I use dill a lot and I think it's one of those things which is used rarely. I love love this recipe. BEAUTIFUL.
    Nice to meet you Alanna.

    1. Hi, Asha! Holy crap, your photography is beautiful! Thank you for the sweet and lovely comment! I often neglect dill – it's not my favorite herb, but it's so necessary sometimes, like in tzatziki or pickles (or this salad). Cheers. :)

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