Best Farro Dish Ever: Chef Eric Samaniego, Little Sparrow

Chefs, Cooking, Recipes, Restaurants By Jul 30, 2014

Little Sparrow’s Warm Farro Salad with Arugula

When I query friends about Little Sparrow, the modern American cafe in downtown Santa Ana, they struggle to pinpoint their favorite dish. They are indecisive because a top choice is blurred when so many dishes reach perfection.

Executive Chef Eric Samaniego has a seductive menu that reflects both his talent and his passion for from-scratch cuisine.


Some argue that the charcuterie plate is the pinnacle, with its made-in-house rillettes and terrines.  Others lobby for the grilled pork chops teamed with tomatillo sauce and red quinoa, or the finale of sweet-tart strawberry and rhubarb cobbler.


The warm farro salad is my clear cut favorite. It has earthy nuttiness and alluring chewiness, and is gently toasted and then cooked in a leek-based stock.  It’s combined with sautéed mushrooms, a concoction of robust slices of king “trumpet” oyster mushrooms … 

and more diminutive honshimeji, a clustered variety that is similar to oyster mushrooms but with dark brown caps and very slender stems.


Caramelized with skill and patience, the fleshy mushrooms add sweetness and umami meatiness to the grain.


The mixture tosses with baby arugula, just enough to slightly wilt the bright green leaves. Once plated, it is topped with a 5:10 egg, a soft-boiled beauty that when boiled for exactly 5 minutes and ten seconds delivers solid white and runny yolk. Once a guest’s fork pierces the egg, the yolk provides a delectable sauce that brings all the flavors together.

I was delighted when he consented to tape a video in my kitchen to show each step of the salad’s preparation. He offered many interesting tips in the process and I had a chance to ask him about some of his other favorite things:
Best Gizmo: A deba knife made by Aritsugu purchased on a recent trip to Tokyo (the company was founded in 1560, making it one of the oldest still existing knifemakers in Japan).
Look It Up: Favorite cookbook is “Culinary Artistry” by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. He says that the pages are filled with coffee stains.
Kitchen Heros: He spent 7 years spent working with Chef-Restaurateur David Myers in Los Angeles, 2 years at Sona followed by 5 years at Comme Ca. He says that Myers molded him into the chef he is today.
Off Hours: Appreciates spending time with her wife of 11 years and their two children, Brieana and Benjamin.
The Competition: His favorite restaurant (other than Little Sparrow) is Broadway By Amar Santana, Laguna Beach. He says that it is always fund and exciting.

Little Sparrow’s Warm Farro Salad with Arugula
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
Pinch of salt
2 cups semi-pearled Italian farro, see cook’s notes
4 to 5 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound oyster mushrooms, cut at base, see cook’s notes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup baby arugula
Four 5:10 eggs, see step #3
Small drizzle of soy sauce
Small drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Chopped fresh herbs: parsley, chives
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of fleur de sel or sea salt
Cook’s notes: Most restaurants and home cooks use semi-pearled farro, grains that are processed to retain some but not all of the exterior bran. Semi-pearled (the package often says “semi-perlato”) cooks in 20 to 25 minutes in simmering water or broth. If the package doesn’t designate it as “semi-pearled,” look at the cooking directions on the package; if it says that it cooks in less than 25 minutes, you can assume it is semi-pearled. Farro is sold in the natural food section of some supermarkets and at natural food stores or Italian markets. For the video, Samaniego used King oyster mushrooms and honshimeji mushrooms, but advises that cremini mushrooms and oyster mushrooms would work as well. It is easier to prepare 5:10 eggs in advance (it is difficult to peel them when they are hot); chill and peel, then reheat just before serving by submerging them in hot water for 30 seconds.
1. In a large deep skillet on medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until softened, about 4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and farro; cook until lightly toasted. Add the broth and turn to high heat. Once the liquid is boiling reduce to simmer. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain.
2. In a separate large deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil on medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until tender and caramelized, being mindful not to overcrowd the pan. Season with a pinch of salt and little freshly ground black pepper toward the end of cooking. Toss in the cooked farro. Adjust seasoning. Just before serving add in the arugula and toss just slightly wilt the leaves. Taste; add salt and/or pepper as needed.
3. Cook the 5:10 eggs: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Place unpeeled raw eggs in water and cook for 5 minutes and 10 seconds exactly (chef used his cellphone to time them). Remove and shock in a bowl of ice water. Peel the eggs, just before serving run the eggs under some running hot water for 30 seconds (see cook’s notes).
4. Serve in individual bowls, or in a large platter. Drizzle with a little soy sauce. Top with a 5:10 eggs. Drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil on top of each egg; season each with fine sea salt, pepper, and chopped fresh herbs.
Source: Eric Samaniego, executive chef at Little Sparrow, Santa Ana




Dukka (also spelled “dukkah”) is an Egyptian specialty that is blend of spices, roasted nuts and toasted sesame seeds. One way to serve it is to combine the blend with good olive oil and dip bread or grilled pita into it. When eating it this way, I like to include a good dollop of yogurt as well.

Dukka makes a crunchy coating for cooked chicken or fish. It is delicious sprinkled over mixed green salads or green beans tossed with a little olive oil. The recipe used here is adapted from a formula devised by Susan Carter, manager at Savory Spice Shop, Corona del Mar. Carter adds sunflower seeds and Sucanat (whole cane) sugar to her blend.

Yield: about 1 1/2 cups
2/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup roasted, salted cashews
1/4 cup roasted pistachios, salted or unsalted
3 tablespoons ground coriander seeds
2 tablespoons ground cumin seeds
Optional: 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste, see cook’s notes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cook’s notes: If using salted nuts do not add salt. Most cashews in the marketplace are roasted. If you buy raw pistachios, roast them on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned. Watch carefully because nuts burn easily. Cool nuts before using in this recipe. This mixture is delicious sprinkled on the kale salad (recipe included).
1. Toast sesame seeds. Place a rimmed plate or bowl next to stove. Place half of sesame seeds in medium-sized dry saucepan on medium heat. Toast until golden (lightly browned) using a spatula to stir constantly (a heatproof silicone spatula works well). Sesame seeds burn easily. Place seeds on plate and repeat process with remaining sesame seeds. Set aside to cool.
2. Place nuts in food processor. Pulse until nuts are chopped (some pieces will be fairly large, others ground into a powder). In a bowl, stir together the nuts, cooled sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, salt (if using) and pepper. Store in an airtight container. Best used within two weeks (it usually disappears in just a few days at my house).
Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 50 calories, 95 percent of calories from fat, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 15 mg sodium, 0.1 g fiber


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