Grains are a versatile, tasty and nutritious option to add to your salads this spring and summer. Brown rice, millet and farro, to name a few, can turn an average salad into a full-on, delicious meal. Whole grains are packed with nutrients including protein and fiber and go a long way toward keeping you fuller for longer than just a bowl full of leaves.
But the benefits to grain salads go beyond the fact that they are good for you. Grains are relatively cheap, easy to cook and very portable since they won't wilt or get mushy like some other salad ingredients. This means a grain salad can be the star meal of your next picnic or potluck. They work great on their own or as a sophisticated side dish at your next barbecue.
"Grain salads are a versatile way to incorporate color, flavor and texture to a meal while utilizing fresh produce and bulk items such as nuts, seeds or dried fruit," Olivia Roszkowski, health-supportive culinary arts chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education told TODAY Food in an email. "They are a great option when meal-prepping larger batches for an easy lunch or side dish, travel well for a summer picnic or barbecue, and can be served room temperature."
Roszkowski said to choose grains with an outer coating, or bran, that is intact. "These have a tendency to get less soggy, as they will not soak up the vinaigrette as aggressively (i.e. using wild rice versus jasmine rice). Also try avoiding overcooked grains for optimal results."
Large, sturdier grains like farro or wheat berries are a great choice if you’re are looking for a grain salad with more chew, said Roszkowski.
"Whole wheat pasta can be a great option," she said. "Choose one with ridges for extra flavor adherence. Or try incorporating ancient grains such as quinoa, sorghum, barley, spelt berries or millet for both a delicious and nutrient-dense option. These also can be potentially considered eco-friendly because of the lower water content they need to grow."
Try pairing grains with a nice vinaigrette. "A balanced vinaigrette will include an oil, vinegar, allium such as garlic/scallion/shallot, sea salt, an emulsifier such as Dijon and a touch of sweetness," said Roszkowski. "Toss with grains when they are warm for the best absorption of flavors."
Nuts, seeds and dried fruit add crunch and sweetness to your grain salad. "Try pairing dried cherries with slivered almonds, toasted pistachios with dried currants, toasted sesame seeds with golden raisins or blistered pumpkin seeds with dried figs," suggested Roszkowski.
Add low water content vegetables to your grain salad such as broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, kale and corn, said Roszkowski. "Fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, chives, scallions, cilantro, rosemary and thyme are all great options."
There are endless possibilities when it comes to creating fun and tasty grain salads but here are a few ideas to get you started:
This recipe is super fresh and comes together quickly. Pro tip: dress the bowl — don't pour the dressing on the salad — to make sure everything gets evenly coated.
Al Roker was inspired to make this salad to replicate one he had in a favorite NYC restaurant, Charlie Bird. He loves that the addition of farro makes it hearty, healthy and filling.
This recipe replaces bulgur with the more delicate grain, quinoa. The crisp vegetables mix perfectly with the soft grains.
A garden egg is a small, white eggplant that resembles a boiled egg! The fonio and fresh herbs make this a special dish.
The nutty, chewy rye berries are a great way to incorporate the health benefits of rye and can be used the same way you would rice or quinoa in a dish.
In Lebanese culture, meals feature a big fresh salad with vegetables, herbs and bulgur wheat. Use a spoon or scoop this one up with fresh romaine hearts.