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How to Make a Great Whole Grain Salad + 9 Recipes

Posted: October 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Lunch Recipes, Whole Grains | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Whole grains are a perfect choice for the lunch box, because they are cheap, filling, and best of all, they hold up well until you get a chance to eat.

One of the best habits you can adopt to streamline your cooking is batch cooking a new whole grain every week to make into salads, add heft to soups, or serve as a side to any meal. I like cooking my grains in a good flavored stock or well–salted water to add a little depth. At the same time, I’ll roast a pan of seasonal vegetables. For those of you with a little less time on your hands, there are also some great ready to eat and frozen grains on the market* (see below).

My favorite way to prepare them? The Whole Grain Salad. Essentially, I pick any whole grain (and there are so many to choose from), add in “the fixins” and toss with a vinaigrette, a handful of torn fresh herbs, and salt and pepper. Your grains will hold up splendidly until lunch, and the longer your salad sits, the better the flavors will infuse into each bite.

Many of the salads I make have decidedly “mature” flavor profiles, but these can be great salads for a kid’s lunchbox as well.

Things to think about: to achieve your ideal grain salad, you want a range of textures and flavors. I like something chewy, something crunchy and something soft. As for flavor, I like something earthy, nutty, green, sweet and tart. And sometimes I like a little punch of heat: either from red pepper flakes or hot sauce.

The Formula: the good thing is that these salads are flexible. You can make them as big or as small as you need. Usually, for a lunch box I serve ½ to 1 cup of whole grain as a portion. I like my salads on the more vegetable laden side, so I’ll add about a cup of vegetables per person, but ½ cup is probably more reasonable. The dressing amount is up to you – you want to add a small amount at first, and toss your salad and taste – if you need more, add a small amount, toss and taste. I usually add my salt and pepper to the dressing, but sometimes it’ll need more salt if it tastes a little bit flat. Sometimes I’ll pack a little lemon wedge to brighten it up before I eat.

The Grains: some of the best grains for lunches are the ones that are firmer in texture when cooked: barley, wheat berry, farro. Bulgur makes a softer salad, millet and quinoa are even softer. I also use a lot of brown rice, wild rice and Israeli cous-cous (not technically a grain, but a tiny round pasta) as the base to my salads. (Technically quinoa, wild rice, and israeli cous cous aren’t true grains, but we use them in the same way).

The Fixin’s: here you can go wild, but typically I like to add seasonal vegetables (particularly roasted vegetables, but I like a mix of cooked and raw vegetables), some sort of bean, fresh herbs, and cheese. Sometimes I’ll add a small handful of nuts or dried fruit as well.

The Dressing and Herbs: this is where you get some flexibility to really change the flavor profile of your dish. You can choose a soy-ginger marinade, or maybe a Californian Green Goddess dressing, or a citrus vinaigrette. Most often I just use a basic vinaigrette of one part vinegar to three parts oil. If you feel uneasy making your own dressings, there is no shame here in using your favorite bottled dressing, (but making your own is cheaper and more flavorful). Don’t be afraid to add a good amount of fresh herbs, I like to think of them as a vegetable rather than just a garnish. Green is good!

9  Great Whole Grain Salads:

These aren’t traditional recipes, but combinations that I like and start with. I typically use a few cups of grain (but sometimes I double it). Don’t be afraid to mix and match your grains, or use multiple grains at once. I might swap out the vegetable, add some chopped egg or crispy bacon or tofu (although, you have to be more careful about how long you keep them in your lunch box when you add those). Usually I keep them room temperature, but if I’m eating them at home for lunch, I might re-heat them on the stove and eat them warm and call it a “pilaf”. For those with a little less time on your hands, you can use pre-cooked grains (*see below), frozen vegetables, and bottled dressing, and these will still taste pretty darn good.

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Basil and Feta: take 2 cups of cooked farro, and toss with a chopped ripe tomato (I find that cherry tomatoes work well in winter time, when you can’t find sweet ripe heirlooms). Add a handful of roughly chopped or torn basil, crumble in some feta cheese, and toss with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Not Quite Tabbouleh Salad: take 2 cups cooked bulgur wheat and mix with a cup or so of chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Add a handful of chopped parsley, some cherry tomatoes, a small chopped shallot, a sprinkle of cumin, and some lemon vinaigrette.

Greek Wheat Berry Salad: take 2 cups of cooked wheat berries, and toss with 1 medium cucumber, chopped. Add a small handful of chopped dill, a ½ cup of yogurt, and the juice and zest of a lemon. (You might want to try half the lemon juice, but I like it quite tart). You can also toss in some feta and pine nuts if you’d like to gild the lily.

Barley Salad with Broccoli, Blue Cheese and Walnuts: take 2 cups of cooked barley, add 2 cups of roasted (or steamed) broccoli, cut into bite size pieces. Add crumbles of a strong blue cheese, some toasted walnuts, and toss with balsamic vinaigrette.

Quinoa, Black Bean and Corn Salad: take 2 cups of cooked quinoa, add ½ cup of black beans, and ½ cup fresh (or frozen) corn kernels, and ½ cup chopped red bell pepper. Add some chopped red onion and avocado (if you like them), a dash of cumin, and top with lime vinaigrette. Kick it up with some hot sauce, or a few spoonfuls of salsa if you’d like.

Brown Rice, Asparagus and Edamame Salad: take 2 cups of brown rice, and mix with a cup of asparagus, ½ cup of edamame (or broad beans, or peas), a good handful of torn mint and a lemony vinaigrette. This one is good with bacon.

Wild Rice, Cranberry and Nut Salad: take 2 cups of cooked wild rice, add in 1/2 cup dried cranberries, ¼ cup toasted hazelnuts (or walnuts, or almonds) and toss with a citrus vinaigrette. (Orange juice and zest is stellar in this).

Bulgur with Eggplant, Pistachios and Mint: take 2 cups of cooked bulgur, toss in a cup of roasted (or grilled) cubed eggplant. Toss in a handful of pistachios and some freshly torn mint. Toss with a lemon vinaigrette. You can also add in a couple of black olives and feta, and you’ll be a happy camper.

Israeli Couscous and Cauliflower Salad: take 2 cups of cooked Israeli couscous, and add two cups of roughly chopped roasted cauliflower. Toss with fresh parsley and a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil, with a tablespoon of capers and a few chopped anchovy filets.

A note on precooked grains: I’ve long since made it a habit to cook batches of grains at the beginning of the week. I’ll often freeze small portions of cooked grains to reheat. As this isn’t practical for everyone, I’ve also spent a lot of time tasting pre-packaged grains (both shelf stable and frozen), and find many of them to be really good. Trader Joe’s has some really good options (frozen organic brown rice, frozen organic jasmine rice, fully cooked wild rice, and their multi-grain pilaf). My other favorite is a company called Village Harvest which I tried several years ago at the Fancy Food Show and fell in love with. They recently sent me some of their frozen whole grain samples (it pays to write about companies you love, I tell you) – and what sets them apart is the flash freezing which really preserves the grain, and their combinations: my favorites being the Farro & Red Rice, and Wheatberry & Barley.

4 Great Grains To Add To Your Diet Today

Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Pantry staples | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Whole grains are ideal foods to add to your lunches. Healthy and versatile, a small portion of grain can help fill you up and leave you satiated. They can be tossed with vegetables to make a pilaf, added by the handful to soups, or mixed in to salads to add texture and flavor.

While most people are used to using only a handful of grains (or perhaps even just rice), there are so many options in a range of flavors and textures. Try adding one of these five toothsome grains to add new dimension to your mid-day meal.

Bulgur Wheat

image (Photo: PurcellMountainFarms)

A type of grain originally from the Middle East, made by cooking wheatberries, drying them out, and cracking off the bran. It’s the main ingredient in Tabbouleh, a middle eastern salad with tomatoes and parsley. Bulgur cooks quickly in under 20 minutes – either soaking in boiling water or simmering.


image  (Photo: Enlightened Cooking)

Millet is a staple grain in India, although it is eaten all over asia and even in some areas of eastern Europe. It is commonly served as a porridge, but lends itself well to curries, and served with beans and squashes. It is best cooked by toasting the grains lightly, and simmering with a liquid for 35 minutes or so.


image (Photo:

Not a true grain, Quinoa is technically a member of the grass family, very high in protein. It was historically eaten by the Incas, and is widely used in South America, particularly Peru. It’s taste is slightly nutty, and can be used in place of rice. It tastes particularly delicious with fruit and nuts as a breakfast grain. To cook, rinse quinoa well (to remove the saponins – natural plant defense – which cause bitterness), and cook for about 15-18 minutes.


image (Photo: Gratio)

Buckwheat is a grain most commonly used in Eastern Europe (the ingredient in Kasha – a pasta dish with buckwheat and onions) as well as in Asian cuisine as the main ingredient in Soba noodles. It is also commonly ground into a flour, and used (for example) in pancakes. It is nutty in flavor, and cooks in 15-20 minutes.

Ready to start cooking? Here are a few cookbooks filled with useful grain recipes to help get you started.

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Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living – for quick weekday meals, with very simple ingredients and ideas for experimentation and substitution based on what you have in your pantry.

Lorna Sass’s Whole Grains for Busy People: Fast, Flavor-Packed Meals and More for Everyone – For quick, everyday recipes based on whole grains in a variety of different preparations and flavor profiles.

And a few more ideas on the subject over at The Second Lunch:

One Pot Salsa Chicken with Mock Caesar Salad

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Dinner | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

It’s been a busy weekend: Devon’s mom came to visit for two days and we had lovely food at Tartine (morning buns), the Slanted Door (imperial rolls, chicken claypot, and halibut with spicy gingered fish sauce), and Cheeseboard Pizza (pizza and salad of the day). At the bookstore, Alice Waters was here to sign copies of her new book ‘In the Green Kitchen’ on Saturday. And then on Sunday I hosted food trivia when Cynthia Nims came to talk about her book ‘Gourmet Game Night‘.

For the past few days I’ve been coming home from work exhausted. Which is, of course, the case for most people in the real world. I admit that the recent dinners have been a little bit neglected – pasta with butter and parmigiano and grilled asparagus on Sunday night, and nothing but a bowl of pea puree yesterday. Tonight I vowed to eat well. I settled on One Pot Salsa Chicken with Mock Caesar Salad. Which took me all of half an hour. I started the chicken dish right when I got home, and the salad came together while everything was cooking. Dinner was well received.

This salad was inspired by Canal House Cooking, Volume 3, although I forgot to actually take the book home with me, so it’s more loosely what I remember from the recipe, and limited to what I had in my own kitchen. This makes about double the amount of dressing, but the leftovers easily go in the fridge for another day.

Mock Cesar Salad:

1 clove of garlic

1 tablespoon anchovy paste

1 teaspoon Maille whole grain mustard

juice of one lemon (I used a Meyer)

salt and pepper

about 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano

1 medium romaine lettuce, washed and chopped

In a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, anchovy paste, and mustard into a smooth paste. Add the juice of a lemon, season with salt and pepper, and pour in the olive oil. Transfer to an old jar, and give a really big shake. Just before serving, pour half of the dressing on the lettuce, grate on the cheese, and toss. I didn’t actually have enough parmigiano, so I supplemented with a tiny bit of Saxon Creamery Big Ed’s, a hard cheese that I picked up at Rainbow.

One Pot Salsa Chicken:

In my big Le Creuset pot, I put some olive oil and sauteed three cut up chicken thighs (about a pound of meat) on medium heat giving them a good seal. I like them to crisp up a bit, and let them fry for about 3 minutes on each side.

Now for my seasoning – I won’t lie, I rarely measure when I’m tired. I added about a tablespoon of cumin (several really good shakes of my new supply from Rainbow grocery), some freshly ground black pepper, and a good pinch of sea salt. By which I mean, almost enough sea salt to sustain an ocean-based ecosystem, because rather than being intelligent and shaking it into my hand, I shook it directly into the pot. After spicing, I gave the pot two more minutes of cooking.

I then added one can of pinto beans (no salt added) including the liquid, and a jar of Trader Joe’s Salsa Authentica. I also added 3/4 cup of bulgur wheat, turned the heat down to low, and simmered for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld and the bulgur to fully cook.

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