Can anyone share a good basic method for grain salads?
I'm hoping someone out there has mastered the grain salad and can enlighten me.
I have a six month old baby and am just starting to try to cook a bit more, and eat a bit healthier, after the bare-bones survival of the newborn phase. I like things that can be made ahead and that are good cold or at room temperature since I'm often interrupted (or holding a baby) while eating.
Grain salads seem like a good idea in theory--brown rice, barley, quinoa, some vegetables, some flavorings. Nice and healthy and should keep well in the fridge.
But I always seem to end up with mush when I improvise a salad of this sort. Does anyone have any tips? Do you let the grains cool first? Rinse them? At what point do you mix everything together, and what kind of dressing do you use? And what do you like to add in to make them a bit more exciting and appetizing? (So you don't just feel like you're eating cold, hard brown rice . . . )
Or if you just have a specific recipe you like, please share. Thanks in advance hounds!
Wheat berries are my favorite base for a grain salad (and a staple of my summertime cooking routine). I never soak them--just dump them into a pot of water, bring to a boil, add a little salt, and simmer for about 30-35 minutes. Sometimes I add a handful of lentils (baby french lentils--they hold their shape well); they complement each other quite nicely. After 30 minutes, test a berry (and a lentil if you've cooked them together) to see if it's done. If it is, drain and then put into a bowl. I like to add a vinaigrette dressing while they are still warm--the berries seem to soak up a bit of the dressing. Then, add whatever strikes your fancy--halved grape tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, herbs, shredded carrots, whatever you've got in the fridge that's compatible. For the dressing, you can make your own or use your favorite bottled dressing (e.g. Newman's Own Light Balsamic). Salt and pepper to taste and store in the refrigerator when cool enough.
Sometimes I just cook up a bunch of wheat berries and keep them in the fridge, using them throughout the week, rather than making a salad immediately. I give them a quick rinse, no more than that before cooking.
The only one I make is tabbouleh. I put the bulgur to soak in cold water while I chop the vegetables. I use only parsley, fresh mint, and scallions, a lot of each. I do not use cucumber or tomato as they make the tabbouleh too wet and nasty. I drain the bulgur very well, pressing it into a colander with the back of a wood spoon. I mix in the vegetables with lemon juice and olive oil, plus salt to taste. The resulting consistency should be kind of crumbly. Predominant flavors should be lemon and mint. You can have your tomato and cucmber on the side and eat the whole thing on lettuce.
If you have time to whomp up some hummos, it goes well with this.
I have a good tip. Rice salad - boil the rice in a ton of salted water or chicken stock like you would do pasta. The grains do not then cling to one another like they might when regular cooking. You get individual grains. Sometimes I start with wheat berries and then 15 minutes or so into it I add the multi grained rice to the pot. You could also try bulgar. Boiling water over the top and then put a lid on it and let it sit until absorbed. Put a little oil over the top and pop it in the fridge until you are ready to use it. You can also premake your dressing (like a vinaigrette) in a lidded jar. Dump in the ingredients then shake and lid. Pop into the fridge. That way you have a grain ready, can chop veggies when you get a spare minute and then dump on the dressing and you have dinner.
I decide what will go in the salad by roaming around the fridge. What do I need to ditch? Sounds gross, but it isn't. I also keep canned beans on hand and generally pop in some toasted nuts and cheese.
Things I put in:
halved grape tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, roasted veggies, radishes, corn, peas, edamame, celery,red pepper, olives, avocados... black beans, garbanzos, red beans, black eyed peas... fresh herbs like cilantro, flat leaf parsley... walnuts, pine nuts, pecans, hazelnuts... feta, goat cheese... chicken, shrimp, left over marinated steak, salmon
Further hints: if you add cheese - crumbly is best and add it at the end otherwise it goops up the salad. Same goes for fish. Don't add it until the end or it might get into such small pieces that it gets lost.
I do let the grains cool - usually to approximately room temp. Rinsing depends on the grain (I rinse most things but not quinoa or bulgur). Draining WELL is important. I get my grains in a bowl, then add whatever dressing I'm using (I often just wisk together lemon juice, olive oil and salt or make a balsamic dressing or something like that). Then I add whatever veggies I'm using (this nearly always includes red peppers - roasted or raw depending on the dish), sometimes there is cheese to add or maybe beans and I used to almost always add toasted nuts (until we ended up with a severe nut allergy in the family).
I'll type up some combinations later this evening.