Having a stash of cooked grains in your refrigerator is a definite “twofer.” You can easily make a salad for dinner, just by combining some fresh vegetables and a drizzle of dressing. That will give you, by virtue of the grains, your entire meal, complete with protein.
Or, if you prefer, simply grill a protein—fish, beef, pork, shrimp, and serve the salad alongside. Don’t want to turn on the grill? Pick up a rotisserie chicken at the market, and your dinner is complete. Place your salad on a large serving plate, carve the chicken and arrange it on top. Voilà! Dinner is ready.
Let’s start with the grains. One cup, cooked in heavily salted water, will yield between two and a half and three cups cooked grains. Drain the grains and toss with a little more salt (taste for tenderness AND salt), then let them cool. If you want to use them right away—i.e., that day or evening—add about a third of a cup of olive oil, and some freshly ground black pepper.
Finely dice a red onion and let it stand in a couple of TBSPs of vinegar for a few minutes (perhaps while you cook the grains). Then you need something crunchy: nuts or seeds; something sweet: dried cranberries or fresh berries; a little spice: minced hot pepper or fresh garlic; and something fresh. This last category includes your gorgeous fresh vegetables from the farmers market: radishes, peas, tomatoes, and/or herbs. Give it a taste again and decide what more to add.
Your choice of grains is up to you. We now have a vast selection in most supermarkets. What’s best for this type of salad? I think short grain brown rice works well, as do quinoa, farro, barley, whole wheat couscous, and sorghum.
Quinoa is not a true grain; rather it is an edible seed that is high in protein, fiber, calcium, and other minerals. The only piece of kitchen equipment you may need for cooking quinoa is a fine-meshed sieve (for rinsing the quinoa before cooking, and for draining after you cook it).
Farro is an ancient cousin of wheat; it has a faintly sweet taste and appealing chewy texture. Most farro is imported from Italy, and is partially pearled, meaning that some of the bran has been removed—this speeds up the cooking process. It does not harden when refrigerated, so it is excellent for salads that you want to prepare in advance.
If you purchase quick cooking barley, all of the germ and much of the bran have been rubbed off. You can use either quick-cooking (pearled) barley, or regular barley—you decide, based on how much time you have. Whole wheat couscous is not actually a grain, but rather a tiny, pellet-sized pasta made of whole grain flour and water. It usually needs just a brief soaking in just boiled water; to prevent it from clumping, it’s a good idea to coat the couscous with a little oil before steeping in water (or broth for additional flavor).
Sorghum is my latest discovery; it is a gluten-free pseudo grain, like quinoa. It’s actually a grass, but cooks up like a grain. It’s round like pearl couscous and a little chewy, like farro. It’s nice to be able to offer gluten-free friends and family something other than rice and quinoa—and it’s a less expensive alternative, to boot. If you want a little grain trivia to go with your salads, sorghum is the fifth-most important cereal crop in the world, preceded by corn, rice, wheat, and barley.
Now you have your cooked grains stored in the refrigerator. What to make? Here are a few ideas, culled from some of my favorite cooking websites.
Addictive Carrot Quinoa Salad With Lemon Tahini Dressing
(adapted from alexandraskitchen.com)
½ cup each: water and well-stirred tahini
1–2 cloves garlic finely minced
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1.5 lbs carrots, scrubbed well, ends trimmed, peeled if very dirty
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
2⁄3 cup pine nuts or other nut, optional
1 cup finely minced parsley, plus more to taste
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil; add 2 teaspoons kosher salt along with the quinoa and cook for 10-12 minutes or until you see the white tail begin to pop from the kernels; then drain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside. Meanwhile, whisk together the dressing ingredients; taste and adjust the dressing with more maple syrup and salt, as desired. Shred the carrots and place them in a large bowl; season with a teaspoon of kosher salt and toss, then set aside. In a medium skillet, toast the pine nuts over medium heat watching closely the entire time; stir frequently. When the nuts are toasty, remove the skillet from the heat. Add the quinoa, pine nuts, and parsley to the bowl with the carrots; add the dressing and toss to coat (this is best done with your hands). Taste and adjust as needed with more salt or lemon; serve immediately or pack into containers and stash in the fridge.
Pea And Barley Salad With Lemon Yogurt Dressing
(adapted from naturallyella.com)
1 cup cooked barley
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (thaw peas if using frozen)
¼ cup minced red onion
2 TBSP roasted sunflower seeds
1 oz feta cheese
For the dressing:
2 TBSP each: Greek yogurt and lemon juice
1 TBSP olive oil
3 TBSP minced parsley
1 TBSP minced chives
For the salad, combine the farro, peas, red onion, sunflower seeds, and feta, set aside. Make the dressing by combining the remaining ingredients in a jar with lid; shake well until combined and pour over salad. Toss everything to combine, taste, and add salt/pepper as needed.
Farro Salad With Roasted Corn, Red Pepper And Red Onion
(adapted from alexandraskitchen.com)
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
2 red peppers, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 cup of semi-pearled farro
cilantro, a lot (or as much as you like)
1 hot chili pepper, such as Thai bird or jalapeno, minced
fresh-squeezed lime juice or white balsamic vinegar (or a combination—about 1 TBSP lime juice and 1 TBSP white balsamic vinegar)
Preheat the oven to 450°F; place a pot of water on to boil. Toss corn kernels with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste on a sheet pan and roast for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the corn is just beginning to char. Meanwhile, add farro to pot of boiling water; add a big pinch of kosher salt and cook for about 15 minutes—taste a few kernels after 15 minutes. Drain the farro, and add to a large bowl.
Season with a big pinch of kosher salt and drizzle olive oil over the farro while it’s still warm (about 3 TBSP of oil). Squeeze lime juice and/or white balsamic over top—again, you don’t have to measure, but if you like to, start with about 1 TBSP each of lime juice and vinegar (or two TBSP of either lime juice or vinegar) and adjust after everything has all been mixed together. Add the roasted corn, diced red pepper, red onion, cilantro and chili pepper to the bowl; toss to combine, then taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Roasted Cherry Tomato, Arugula And Sorghum Salad
(adapted from cookieandkate.com)
1 cup sorghum, rinsed in a fine mesh colander
3 cups water
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP each: olive oil and lemon juice
¼ teaspoon each: red pepper flakes and fine grain sea salt
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 cups baby arugula or spinach
1⁄4 cup crumbled feta
2 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese
Optional: 1 can (14 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
First, cook the sorghum: combine rinsed sorghum and three cups water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the sorghum is pleasantly tender but still has some chew to it, about 55 to 65 minutes (you can wait until the sorghum is halfway cooked before proceeding with the recipe).
To roast the cherry tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400°F and line a small, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. Toss the whole cherry tomatoes with one TBSP olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast until the tomatoes are soft, plump and starting to burst open, about 18 minutes.
Make the dressing: whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper until emulsified. Once the sorghum is done cooking, drain off any excess water and pour the cooked sorghum into a serving bowl. Pour in all of the dressing, all of the cherry tomatoes and their juices, the arugula, feta, Parmesan and chickpeas (optional). Toss well and serve.
Kale And Brown Rice Salad With Zippy Lemon Dressing
(adapted from pinchofyum.com)
juice of one lemon
juice of one orange
½ cup each: olive oil and chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove
1–2 teaspoons honey
1 TBSP olive oil
1 bunch kale (chopped, without stems, to yield about 4 cups)
2 cups cooked brown rice
a few handfuls of kettle-cooked salt and pepper potato chips, crushed
dried cranberries for topping
Pulse all the dressing ingredients in a food processor until smooth; set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat; add the kale and sauté until wilted to about half of the original volume. Add the brown rice and stir-fry for a few minutes together with the kale until everything is heated through. Add the dressing into the pan (start with about half of it) and toss to combine. Just before serving (can be served hot or cold), toss with the chips; top with dried cranberries.
Coucous, Melon And Cucumber Salad
(adapted from Whole Grains for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff)
1 TBSP each: toasted sesame seeds and pepitas
2 tbsp toasted sliced almonds
3 TBSP white wine vinegar
Juice of 1½ limes
½ tsp each: crushed red pepper and ground cumin
3 TBSP olive oil
3 cups cooked whole grain couscous, cooled
Half a small honeydew melon or cantaloupe
Half an English cucumber, sliced into half moons
½cup fresh mint or basil
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lime juice, red pepper and cumin; add salt to taste. Gradually whisk in the oil, then stir in the couscous, melon, and cucumber and toss to combine; adjust the seasonings and sprinkle with the toasted seeds and nuts before serving.