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A Helpful Smile

Jun 20, 2019

I do a lot of grocery shopping. My husband and I keep well-stocked pantries and freezers in our home, but there always seems to be that one item that a new (or even old) recipe requires that I don’t seem to have. Of course, when I hit the store, I seldom purchase just that one item. I am more comfortable roaming the aisles of a grocery store than I am shopping a mall. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I stepped foot in a mall.

I don’t limit my grocery shopping to local shops. Whether traveling for work or pleasure, I am always at the ready for a stop with collapsible coolers in my car. Heading to Chamberlain for the day? Got to stop at the grocery store that stocks those perfect Persian cucumbers from Happy Hydros in Pukwana. In a town with a HyVee? It’s a mandatory stop, as is County Fair in Mitchell. Even tiny small-town grocery stores intrigue me with their narrow, overflowing aisles and sometimes unique inventories.

During all of this grocery shopping, one seemingly odd thing often happens to me. I will be toodling down the aisles with my cart or swinging my basket (on days that I try to limit my purchases to just what is on the list), and someone will stop me. Strangers approach me and ask for help. I kid you not. More often than not, while I am filling my need for peanut butter or looking over lettuce for the freshest head, someone will ask me if I know where the hummus is located or if I know which aisle has hot sauce. Sometimes I get asked how I prepare my brussels sprouts, or if I think the store-baked bread is worth the purchase. Once I was asked to help find the raisins.

As a fairly solitary person, at first this was jarring. Do I look like a grocery store employee? Does my reflexive midwestern nice smile just make me seem approachable? Is it my overflowing cart that gives me away as a grocery store junkie that might have the knowledge they seek? What makes them ask me where to find the popcorn? 

I don’t know why random people approach me in the grocery store, but to locate the farro for today’s salad recipe, you might need to seek your own source of information. I have found farro in various stores across the region in various aisles. Sometimes it is with the pasta; sometimes, with the beans and rice; sometimes, in a specialty aisle with other grains. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent location for a store that carries farro to stock it. You might need to ask. And if it is me that you stumble upon, I may not be the best help…but I will try. It seems to be my destiny when in a grocery store.

Farro and Asparagus Salad

(adapted from Food52)

Farro can be hard to hunt down in a grocery store, but the ancient grain makes a hearty salad when partnered with asparagus. Photo by Fran Hill.

This is a hearty salad best served at room temperature for optimum flavors. It works on its own as a complete meal, or compliments virtually any grilled protein to fill up your plate and your tummy.

1 pound asparagus (thin to average stalks are best suited to this recipe)
olive oil
1 cup pearled farro
kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled 

Cut the tips from the asparagus, and after trimming woody ends, slice the stalks into 1/4-inch coins.

In a heavy pot, heat about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the farro and stir to coat the grains. Toast, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and slightly colored, about 3 minutes. Season generously with salt and add about 3 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until farro is al dente. Drain.

While the farro is cooking, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil with the butter and red pepper flakes in a skillet. Allow the pepper flakes to bloom and flavor the oil, then add the asparagus to sauté briefly. (You may need to do this in batches to achieve tender-crisp asparagus. If the pan is too crowded, the asparagus will steam instead of sauté.)

Add the drained farro to the asparagus. Dress with the lemon juice and a couple tablespoons of olive oil, tossing to coat.

Allow to cool about 10 minutes and then add pistachios and feta. Stir to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Serves 4)

Fran Hill has been blogging about food at On My Plate since October of 2006. She, her husband and their three dogs ranch near Colome.


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