Eggplant and Caramelized Onion Grain Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette

One problem with having a blog where I post recipes that I’m really excited about is that I’m always really excited. I pretty much begin every post by typing “oh my gosh you guys, this salad is the best thing ever”. Then I backspace it and start again because if I say that every time, no one will believe me. It will be like the boy who cried wolf (which I won a ribbon for presenting at the speech meet in 2nd grade. heyo.) except I’ll be crying “yay salad!” and you all will be rolling your eyes. So I refrain. But let me break that rule just really quick to say: you guys, this salad is the best. thing. ever.

I basically threw everything I love at the moment into a bowl, called it a salad and then happy danced around while eating it. Many, many nights in a row.  It starts with farro, a grain that I think should be a lot more popular than it is. It’s a little bit chewy with a toasty, nutty flavor that sets any salad made with it up for success. Then there is some roasted eggplant, caramelized onions (all hail the greatest ingredient ever to grace a salad), red grapes, spinach and some crumbly, salty feta cheese. To finish it off, I made a walnut vinaigrette to amp up those toasted nut vibes.

It might be a little bit more time intensive then some other salads but it makes fantastic leftovers. So if you have a little extra time to devote to roasting veggies one night, you can eat like a salad king (or queen) for the rest of the week. I also cannot decide if it’s better eaten hot or cold. So if you make it, let me know what you decide!

Eggplant and Caramelized Onion Grain Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette

Serves 4 as a side

| Ingredients |

  • 1 small eggplant, cubed
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup pearled farro
  • 2 cups spinach, loosely packed
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • salt and pepper

For the dressing: 

  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • salt, to taste

| Instructions |

Preheat oven to 425. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and browned, 20-25 minutes.

There are a few ways to caramelize the onions. My preferred method is to do it in a crockpot, which I explain here, because you can do a giant batch at one time and use them in everything you eat for weeks. But, if you don’t think of it the day before, you can also do them on the stovetop. Heat a tbsp. of oil or butter and add the onions, making sure not to crowd the pan. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring every 5 minutes, until the onions are deeply browned and almost jam-like in texture, about 40 minutes. There is quite honestly few things in the world better than caramelized onions. But I won’t pretend they don’t take a lot of time. If you are super short on time, toss the onion on the same pan as the eggplant and let it cook that way. It will still get brown and a little caramelized, just not quite as good.

Bring 3 cups salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the farro, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the farro is tender, 20-25 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add the spinach and toss to combine. The heat of the farro should wilt the spinach.

Once the eggplant and onions are cooked, add them to the farro/spinach mixture along with the grapes and feta cheese. Stir to combine.

Place walnuts in a small saucepan over medium heat and toast until they smell super toasty and begin to turn golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Chop toasted walnuts into small pieces and place in a blender. Add oil, vinegar, honey and mustard. Blend until smooth. If you’re blender, like mine, is not very powerful, you might have a few bits of walnut remaining which is fine. Add salt, to taste.

Add the dressing to the salad and toss to coat. Serve warm or cold. Personally, I think it is so good either way.