5 Grain Salads for Summer

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[Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

I realize there's a chance grains don't wow you, unless you're a vegetarian or staunchly health-conscious. But even if you consider them a necessary (or unavoidable) evil, I'd say looks can be deceiving. Grains come in many forms, and they're a wonderful vehicle for flavors. The trick is striking the right balance: when combined with sweet, seasonal fruits, green herbs, and crunchy, fresh vegetables, simple grains have the potential to become magical.

In our week-long series on grain salads, I amped up a variety of grains (and one whole-grain pasta) with bold flavors, using tangy vinaigrettes, lots of different textures, and global flavors to make the dishes pop. Contrasting colors don't hurt either: making a dish pretty has a way of making it more delicious.

In all cases, the key is to be careful not to overcook the grains: once tossed with the dressing, even slightly overcooked grains have a way of seeming very overcooked. The last thing you want is a soggy mess, so pull them from the heat while they still have just a little chew.

Much like a traditional pasta salad, grain salads tend soak up liquid over time. Since all of these can be prepared in advance, I made sure each recipe had a little extra vinaigrette than might be needed at first: if you do make one of these salads ahead, give it a stir and a taste before serving, and if it seems like it needs a little extra dressing at that point, go ahead and add some of the reserved amount as needed.

Each of the grain salads are potluck-appropriate, so don't hesitate to serve them at room temperature. In fact, I'd encourage it.

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