1. Cooking

From the food editor: A wholesome bowl to counteract all of the comfort foods of 2017

Balsamic-Honey Farro Bowl. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.
Balsamic-Honey Farro Bowl. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.
Published Feb. 24, 2017

A couple weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast while cooking. I do this a lot. It's how I pass the time in a quiet kitchen. (Though I need more food podcasts to listen to — let me know if you have any suggestions.)

It was an episode of the New York Times' Still Processing podcast, with pop culture writers Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham. They talk about everything, from Oscar-nominated movies to race in America to making turkey gravy.

This particular episode from Feb. 16 included a segment from the Times' food reporter Tejal Rao, who was there to talk about comfort food. Specifically, what the term means and how it applies to food in different cultures.

Rao read a list of comfort food dishes she had collected in a casual survey of people she knew, and found that, even across cultural lines, most of them contained the same kind of ingredients (overwhelmingly, rice).

There's just something about salty starches and luxurious baked goods that have a way of bypassing our rational thoughts and going straight to the emotional centers of our bodies in need of nourishment.

It was at this point in the podcast that I stopped to think about my eating and cooking habits the past two months. I've made three cakes (two were for birthdays, but still). Ham and cheese scones. Lemon poppyseed muffins. Ricotta gnocchi.

There seemed to be a natural bend toward foods that make me feel good, that induce warm feelings and full bellies. That the trend was more pronounced during the first two months of what has been a fraught and fractured 2017 surely isn't a coincidence.

For March, I'm making a commitment to be more cognizant of the comfort food cravings and indulge only in moderation. We'll see how it goes. Healthy, satisfying dinners help, and so the recipe featured here will definitely be in the new rotation.

In a sense, it's a comforting dish. For one thing, it's a bowl, which for some reason always feels more fun to eat from than a plate.

The recipe calls for cooking each ingredient separately, then building the bowl to create a multi-layered, very flavorful final product. The first time I made it, I topped it with pickled shallots and that's it. The next time, I added some thick Parmesan shavings, which made the whole thing feel more decadent than it had any right to. You could use rice in place of the farro, or any grain you have.

Make sure to generously salt and pepper the dish as you go; the simple spices provide a contrast to the sweet (but quite light) honey sauce. It's one way to trick your mind into thinking you're eating something bad for you — a quick way to make yourself feel good.