Plants on a mission is the slogan and guiding principle behind Carolyn Cope’s healthy foodie blog, Umami Girl. Umami Girl is as easy to fall in love with as the Christmas window displays at Williams Sonoma, for Carolyn’s love and passion for nutritious food radiates through every aspect of her captivating blog. Her mission began by hosting a weekly community-supported farm drop-off in her garage, where she learned that her life purpose no longer resided in a court of law, but rather in making fresh, whole foods delicious through thoughtful home cooking. As for the innovative name, to Carolyn, ‘umami’ represents a flavor much more than just the fifth taste. Umami is that little extra something that catapults food to a deliciousness far greater than the sum of its parts, and we are firm believers this is exactly what Carolyn is doing… making nourishing food irresistible.
When we moved from the East Coast to London a few years ago, we also started eating a largely plant-based diet. During the December holidays, we always return to the States and stay with family, which can make food choices a little tricky. For Christmas dinner that first year, I wanted to contribute something healthful and vegan that was also savory and satisfying — something that everyone would like. This is the recipe I came up with, and it was so popular that I’ve continued to make it every Christmas since.
Farro with Leeks, Mushrooms and Chestnuts
Serves 6 to 8
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (see note)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine that you like to drink
1 1/2 cups semi-pearled farro (see note)
2 1/2 cups good vegetable stock
1 Tbsp tamari
1 large bay leaf
1 cup roasted, shelled chestnuts (purchased are fine)
Trim and discard the root end and green parts of the leeks. Slice the white parts in half lengthwise, then crosswise into thin half-moons. Place in a colander and wash very well — leeks can be very sandy. Drain well.
Heat the olive oil in a wide, shallow pan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, mushrooms, salt and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally and without browning, for about 10 minutes, until leeks are becoming tender and the liquid released from the mushrooms has begun to reduce. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, one more minute. Stir in the wine and simmer briskly for two minutes.
Add the farro, stock, tamari, and bay leaf, give it all a good stir, and raise the heat to high. While the liquid comes to a boil, use your fingers to crumble the chestnuts into the pan. When it boils, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover the pan, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Serve warm. Keeps well for several days, tightly covered in the refrigerator.
For the mushrooms, any variety or combination that you like will work. I usually use half mixed wild mushrooms and half cremini or button mushrooms.
Buying farro can be tricky, since it comes in several types and is sometimes confusingly labeled. This recipe calls for semi-pearled farro, which has had part of the outer bran removed. This slightly lowers nutritional content but greatly reduces cooking time. You can substitute pearled farro or whole farro in this recipe if that’s all you can find. For pearled farro, reduce the last stage of cooking to about 20 minutes. For whole farro, you’ll need to soak it overnight first and then increase the last stage of cooking to an hour or more. You may also need to add additional stock. In all cases, cook until the farro is tender but still a little bit chewy.