As Memorial Day picnics and potlucks approach, shrug off potato salads and coleslaw, and arrive in style with protein-packed, texturally interesting grain salads. Barley, bulgur, wheat berries, Kamut, millet, and farro work well alone, but don't be afraid to mix and match -- grain salads provide ample opportunity to use up those loitering bits sitting in near-empty jars in the pantry. As a bonus, many of these grains are gluten free.
Preparing the Grains
- Each of these grains has a different cooking time -- fine bulgur needs just a quick soak in hot water, while Kamut requires about an hour of simmering. You can find basic instructions for several types of grains here.
- If you plan to mix your grains, consider adding them one at a time to the cooking liquid so that they finish cooking together.
- For smaller grains like quinoa and millet, cook until the liquid has been absorbed, then fluff with a fork.
- For larger grains like farro and kamut, drain off the cooking liquid, then coat the grains with a tiny bit of oil to prevent clumping.
Adding Flavor to the Pot
- Seize the opportunity to sneak extra flavor into the grains while they're simmering in the pot.
- Bay leaves scent the cooking water with their delicate, floral perfume and amp up the intrinsic earthiness of the grains.
- Add a hunk of fresh ginger or section of smashed lemongrass for an Asian vibe.
- For a Southwestern groove, toast whole cumin seeds and a small dried chile in the pot before adding the grains and cooking liquid.
- For grains like bulgur that only need a soak, add lemon juice to the soaking water to brighten the flavor.
- Toss the cooled (or warm if serving immediately) cooked grains with a bold vinaigrette or a favorite creamy dressing.
- Dress the salad 20 minutes before serving so the flavors have time to meld -- much less and the flavors won't meld; much more and any acidic notes will become dull.
Creating Balance with Other Ingredients
- Blanched green beans, roasted mushrooms, and wilted greens should be cooked then cooled completely before adding them to the grains. Alternatively, massage chopped raw kale with a little olive oil and salt and let it sit while the other components are prepared.
- Shredded raw carrots or cabbage, slivers of sweet peppers, and sweet onions add desirable crunch.
- Add cooked chickpeas or lentils for more protein.
- Crumbly cheeses are best for grain salads -- choose Parmesan, feta, or ricotta salata.
- Toss in toasted walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, or sunflower kernels for a nutty edge.
- Create a bed of salad greens or buttery bib lettuce for your grain salad, or toss peppery baby arugula right into the mix.
- Spring herbs add vibrancy and a fresh pop of color.
A Few of Our Favorite Combinations
- Try bulgur with a Mediterranean bent: orange segments, meaty olives, parsley, and brined feta.
- Farro has an earthy quality that is right at home alongside mushrooms, bitter greens, and walnut oil.
- Mild-mannered millet can be enhanced by sweet ingredients for a hearty breakfast. Try adding stone fruits and a touch of maple syrup.
Tuscan Lunch Salad
Orange Ginger Bulgur Salad
Pearled Barley, Corn and Tomato Salad with Avocado Pipian
Tomato, Basil and Millet Salad
Three-Bean Salad with Quinoa
Farro Salad with Roasted Mushrooms and Parmesan [FOOD52] (pictured at top)
Radish and Pecan Grain Salad [FOOD52] (pictured above, left)
Summer Farro Salad [FOOD52] (pictured above, right)
All photos by Sarah Shatz.
Do you have any go-to recipes for grain salads? Is there a grain you're excited to try in this style? Share your cooking tips and ideas in the comments section below!
Like this post? See last week's From Scratch topic: Compound Butter.