When I get bored, one of two things are bound to happen: either I chop off my hair, or I create a riff on a classic recipe. Since I shaved my hair off at the beginning of the year, I decided a new spin on arroz con gandules was more appropriate. So, my friend, I present to you farro-z con gandules! Instead of using rice, which is traditional in this dish, I’m cooking with farro. The same bold flavors, typical of Puerto Rican arroz con gandules, are still here, so don’t worry about it lacking the taste you know and love. This version has double the amount of protein and fiber as the old-standby, and- truth be told- I find I like this version much better.
What is Farro con Gandules?
Farro-z con gandules is a cutesy name I came up with while trying to think of new ways to change up my traditional recipes. Instead of using medium or short grain rice like we do when making arroz con gandules, we’re using a quick-cooking pearled farro. The result is a heartier, more substantial side dish that can easily transform into a main course with the addition of meat. This recipe is actually a vegan recipe, so it’s safe for your non-meating eating friends. Because of that, I highly recommend serving it at your upcoming holiday meals.
It’s important to note that while farro is not wheat, it is a wheat species, which means it contains a small amount of gluten proteins. As a result, it’s not recommended for those follow a completely gluten-free diet. Low gluten diet? Sure. But, be mindful that it’s still in there.
My friend, Jessica, is a culinary scientist and she explains what farro is in great detail here. It really is fascinating if, like me, you’re really into food knowledge. Take a minute to read more on the grain itself over on Jessica’s site.
So, What’s the Difference Between Farro and Rice?
Farro and rice really are two different beasts. Yes, both are grains, but, farro originates in the Middle East and its name actually encompasses a few different species.
Rice, is just…well, it’s rice. It is straightforward and to the point, so to speak.
Rice cultivation first began in China more than 5,000 years ago. It’s a very important staple in most of the world’s diets- including the Hispanic culture. Rice is a grain, like farro, but it’s raised submerged in water or paddies, whereas farro is grown above soil on dry land. Farro is most comparable to unhusked brown rice as far as its appearance, cook time, and texture goes.
Farro is more nuanced than rice is. It’s a grain related to wheat and enjoyed by many countries, mainly in Europe, more specifically Italy; but it’s also eaten in many parts of the Middle East. Among the types of farros there are einkorn, emmer, and spelt. You may have heard of spelt if you’re into milling and baking your own grains. The type we will use in this recipe is pearled emmer (or farro medio), which is the most commonly grown farro. Emmer is the mid-range of the farro crew. It doesn’t take as long to cook as einkorn, but it’s not a trash-farro like spelt is (at least according to Italians).
Is Farro a Grain or a Pasta?
Well, let’s say it’s a grain that eats like a pasta. Whereas rice and pasta will turn to mush if overcooked, emmer maintains a chewy texture. I mean, I’m sure you can overcook farro if you tried, but you’d really have to put forth an effort to do so. Instead of breaking down to pulp, farro tastes al dente even if overcooked for a few minutes.
It isn’t a pasta, though. Farro is a straight-up grain, much like kamut and quinoa. Pasta is made, not grown from the ground. You can, however, cook farro the same way you’d cook pasta: boil in salted water and toss it in your favorite sauce.
Is Farro con Gandules Healthier Than Arroz con Gandules?
When it comes to nutrition, farro beats out rice in more ways than one. Rice is more for sustaining life, which is why I love it so much. But, rice has an unimpressive nutrition label while just 1/4 cup of farro provides 20% of the daily recommended fiber intake as well as 6 grams of protein. Another advantage farro has over rice is the amount of B vitamins it provides. One-quarter cup of farro provides 20% of the recommended daily intake of niacin (or Vit B).
Brown rice is the only member of the rice family that can remotely compete with farro for nutrition. But, a quarter-cup of steamed brown rice only provides just over 1 gram of protein, and less than 1 gram of fiber. Because I love rice and it means so much to me, I won’t even talk about white rice. Just suffice it to say that, compared to white rice, brown rice is the better nutritional choice. However, farro beats them both- nutritionally, that is.
What Does Farro Taste Like?
Farro tastes nutty and chewy. To me, it tastes a lot like a whole grain pasta, albeit a really tasty one. I’m probably going to lose my PR card, but I prefer farro con gandules to arroz con gandules because of how filling and satisfying the texture of the farro makes the dish.
Take a look at this handful of farro. When buying farro, try to buy a brand that has light brown, cleft grains. Emmer farro should have white stripes and some white peeking out of the kernels. You don’t want to inadvertently pick up spelt that’s masking as emmer. If you do, your farro con gandules is likely to end up mushy since spelt cooks much faster than emmer.
When in doubt, go with an Italian farro. You know they won’t do you dirty when it comes to food.
What Ingredients are Used to Make Farro con Gandules?
Okay, enough about farro, let’s get to making this farro con gandules recipe.
Besides pearled (or quick-cooking) Italian farro, you will need olive oil, a can of gandules, a can of tomato sauce, water plus the reserved liquid from the can of gandules, sazón, adobo, sofrito, granulated onion powder, granulated garlic, dried oregano leaves, and black pepper.
Prep the farro for the dish by rinsing it under cold, running water. This step isn’t a must, but I do it to remove excess starch from the manufacturing and packaging process. Simply measure the farro into a fine-mesh strainer and rinse it for 1 minute under the tap. Leave the farro in the strainer to allow all of the excess water to drain away.
Is Puerto Rican Food Spicy?
I think a common misconception- with regards to Hispanic food, at least- is that all of it is spicy-hot. In fact, very few countries have spicy dishes. Mexican is the first cuisine that comes to mind when I think of inherently spicy foods. They love their chile peppers and they do it right. On the other hand, Puerto Rican recipes are not at all spicy. I mean, they’re not spicy until we add piqué (hot sauce) to them. Don’t assume that the amount of seasoning and flavoring used in a recipe equates to spicy. When you dine at Caribbean Hispanic (Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico) restaurants or make recipes from those countries, you’re not likely to encounter heat.
This farro con gandules is going to taste herby- not spicy- from the sofrito base, and flavorful from the spices we add to the sauce. The gandules and farro will add an earthy, nutty flavor to the final dish.
Can I Add Meat to This Dish?
While this recipe is a vegan option, you most certainly can add meat to it. Doing so will easily transform it from a side dish to a main. If you choose to add meat, brown it in the first step in the olive oil for 4-5 minutes. Feel free to refer to my Arroz con Gandules recipe for detailed steps on how to make it with meat.
How Do I Season the Farro con Gandules?
To prepare the farro con gandules, you need a heavy-bottomed caldero or a dutch oven. A heavy-bottomed pot is essential because you don’t want to scorch the farro on the bottom of the pot during the final step of steaming.
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers in the pot, use a cooking spoon to stir in the sofrito. Heat the sofrito, stirring occasionally, until it’s fragrant, or for 2 minutes. Once the smell of the sofrito wafts heavily to your nose, stir in the tomato sauce. Bring the tomato-sofrito sauce up to a simmer, stirring frequently.
Add the spices to the tomato sauce in the pot, stirring to combine them with the sauce. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer once more.
Once the sauce begins to simmer, add the rinsed and drained farro to the pot. Stir the farro into the sauce mixture to coat each grain. This will lower the chances of the farro sticking together too much after steaming.
After you coat the farro, add the olives and capers to the pot.
Next, add the water and the liquid you reserved from draining the gandules earlier.
What Kind of Gandules Do I Use in this Recipe?
Gandules (or pigeon peas) are not made from pigeons. When it comes to which type of gandul you should use in this recipe, there really is no difference. Manufacturers lead you to believe that green or brown pigeon peas are different, but flavor-wise, they’re not. One (the brown) is more mature than the other (the green). Consequently, whatever can of gandules you have access to is the one you should use.
Frozen gandules are even better than canned, but I don’t always have an easy time sourcing them. If you opt to use dried gandules, you’ll need to follow the instructions on the package to rehydrate them, which usually takes 8-12 hours. Here’s more info on rehydrating dried beans for cooking.
Stir the gandules into the pot, then allow the liquid in the pot to come to a rapid boil without stirring.
How Long Do I Need to Cook Farro con Gandules?
Once the liquid is boiling, begin a timer. Allow the liquid to boil for 8-10 minutes, or until the liquid is mostly evaporated. One of the biggest problems people have when making grains like rice or farro is that it comes out too hard or too mushy. It’s important to allow most of the liquid to evaporate prior to covering and steaming the grains.
Once most of the liquid has evaporated and you see some of the farro con gandules peeking through the liquid, give the mixture a good stir. Spread the mixture in the pot so the surface is flat.
Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pot. Push the lid of the pot onto that piece of foil.
The tight seal, created by the foil, between the lid and the pot will steam the farro more efficiently than putting the lid on by itself. Steam the farro con gandules for 15 minutes, or until the water is completely evaporated and the farro is al dente (meaning it still has a bit of chew to the grain).
What Should I Serve With This?
Before you serve the farro con gandules, you need to fluff it a bit with your fork or a spoon. The dish will be saucier and the grains of farro plumper than arroz con gandules but treat it the same way.
Once fluffed and ready to eat, serve the farro with your choice of protein or on its own with a side salad and/or sliced bread.
Are you an egg eater? Top your farro con gandules with an over-easy egg and you have a complete meal.
How Should I Store Farro con Gandules?
Transfer leftover farro to a food storage container and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days.
I know folks who keep their leftover rice at room temperature, in fact, my mother did it all the time and we never died from eating it the next day. That said, the perfect A I earned in my Sanitation course in college compels me to discourage you from leaving it out over-night on the counter. Either keep it in the fridge and reheat it in the microwave, or freeze it for later.
Can I Make Farro con Gandules Ahead?
Like pasta or arroz con gandules, this dish gets better and tastier the longer it sits. I mean, don’t go leaving it for a week, but the next day’s serving of farro tastes even better than when you first make it.
You can make this recipe two days ahead. Store it in food containers in the fridge and reheat as needed in the microwave or in the oven.
How Do I Make This For Large Parties?
Make this dish for a large party a day or two ahead. It cuts down on the amount of work required the day of your event. Triple or quadruple the recipe- just make sure your pot is big enough to hold all of it- or make multiple batches. Spoon the farro con gandules into a disposable roasting pan and cover it with a layer of aluminum foil. Store it in the fridge until 1 hour before serving it.
Thirty minutes before you plan to serve, add a 1/2 cup of water to the pan with the farro. Re-cover the pan with the foil and warm it in a 350°F (177°C) oven for 20 minutes, stirring the farro every so often to heat it evenly. Check it before you remove it from the oven to ensure it’s heated throughout.
Does It Freeze Well?
Farro con gandules freezes magnificently.
After cooking completely, allow the farro to cool. Transfer it to freezer-storage bags and freeze until solid. Farro freezes for 2 months.
Thaw the farro under refrigeration overnight, or 6 hours. Once thawed, reheat it in the microwave or using the oven method outlined above. That’s that!
Stay tuned here for more riffs on classic recipes. Share some of your riffs with me in the comments below, too! Be sure to pin this recipe to your vegan or vegetarian boards and share it with your friends.
Farro con Gandules (Farro with Pigeon Peas)
- 4 1/2 qt caldero or dutch oven
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup sofrito
- 1 cup (227 grams) tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons adobo
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sazón (or 1 packet)
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion powder
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups (360 grams) Italian emmer farro (pearled or quick-cooking farro) rinsed and drained
- 6 manzanilla olives
- 1 teaspoon capers
- 2 cups (475 ml) water
- 15 ounce can (425 grams) gandules (drained and liquid reserved)
- In a 4 1/2 qt caldero or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once in the pot begins to shimmer, use a cooking spoon to stir in the sofrito. Heat the sofrito until it's fragrant, or for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. After the sofrito becomes fragrant, stir in the tomato sauce. Bring the tomato-sofrito sauce up to a simmer, stirring frequently.
- Add the adobo, sazón, granulated onion powder, granulated garlic, oregano, and black pepper to the tomato sauce in the pot, stirring to combine them with the sauce. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer once more.
- Once the sauce begins to simmer, add the rinsed and drained farro to the pot. Stir the farro into the sauce mixture to coat each grain. After you farro is mixed in, add the olives and capers to the pot.
- Next, add the water and the liquid you reserved from draining the gandules earlier. Add the gandules to the pot, stirring to combine them with the farro. Allow the liquid in the pot to come to a rapid boil without stirring.
- Once the liquid is boiling, begin a timer. Allow the liquid to boil for 8-10 minutes, or until the liquid is mostly evaporated. When most of the liquid has evaporated and you see some of the farro con gandules peeking through the liquid, give the mixture a good stir. Spread the mixture in the pot so the surface is flat.
- Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pot. Push the lid of the pot onto that piece of foil.Steam the farro con gandules for 15 minutes, or until the water is completely evaporated and the farro is al dente (meaning it still has a bit of chew to the grain).
- Fluff the farro con gandules with a fork or spoon before serving. The dish will be saucier and the grains of farro plumper than arroz con gandules.Once fluffed and ready to eat, serve the farro with your choice of protein or on its own with a side salad and/or sliced bread.
Storage Instructions:Transfer leftover farro to a food storage container and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze for 2 months.
Make Ahead Instructions:
- Prepare the farro con gandules as instructed up to two days ahead.
- Store the farro in food containers in the fridge and reheat as needed in the microwave or in the oven.
For Large Parties:
- Triple or quadruple the ingredients, or make multiple batches of the farro con gandules.
- Spoon the farro con gandules into a disposable roasting pan and cover it with a layer of aluminum foil. Store it in the fridge until 1 hour before serving it.
- Thirty minutes before you plan to serve, add a 1/2 cup of water to the pan with the farro.
- Re-cover the pan with the foil and warm it in a pre-heated 350°F (177°C) oven for 20 minutes, stirring the farro every so often to heat it evenly.
- Check the farro before removing it from the oven to ensure it's heated throughout.
- After cooking completely, allow the farro con gandules to cool.
- Transfer the farro to freezer-storage bags and freeze until solid. Freeze for 2 months.
- Thaw the farro under refrigeration overnight, or 6 hours.
- Once thawed, reheat it in the microwave or using the oven method outlined above.