We rely heavily on grain and rice salads in the wintertime, packing them with the filling, nutrient-dense ingredients they need to become a hearty meal. But then again, the prospect of a dish that requires just one round of cooking, yet can last for days in the refrigerator, is pretty enticing when the temperature starts to rise. Because grain salads are so flexible, you can do a lot of improvising with them, too, using them as vehicles for whatever tasty in-season produce you happen to have picked up recently. And, at the end of the day, they're just plain easy, a feature we can appreciate all year long.
Asparagus and peas with farro, cucumber and tomato with quinoa, and mango and avocado with black rice are just a few of the fresh, seasonally appropriate combinations you'll find in the 20 recipes listed below. If you need a recap of various grains and how to use them, check our comprehensive guide to whole grains here.
Because it starts off parboiled, bulgur cooks up very quickly, making it a good choice for weeknight dinners. Soaking it in boiling water yields a fluffier texture than simmering. For this salad, we toss cooked bulgur with a combination of ingredients that work surprisingly well together: crispy radish and tart apple, flaky smoked trout, and candied lemon, which lends a bright, tangy touch without tasting harsh.
This salad is full of diverse flavors and textures, pairing earthy, fluffy bulgur with bitter radicchio, sweet and chewy dried apricots, crunchy walnuts (toasted first, for deeper flavor), and fresh herbs. We dress the salad very simply, with a mixture of olive oil, agave nectar, and lemon juice.
American tabbouleh tends to be heavy on the bulgur, but in the Middle East, parsley is the real focus of this cooling summer salad. We salt the tomatoes and parsley to help draw out excess liquid and then use the drained-off tomato water to soak the grain. To keep the herbs looking and tasting their freshest, chop them by hand instead of using a food processor.
Nutty farro and sturdy kale are well suited to a cold-weather salad but get transformed into a springier one with the addition of asparagus and peas. You can swap out those vegetables for whatever seasonal items you've got on hand though. Briny feta and a tangy Dijon vinaigrette brighten up the dish further.
For a more summery take, combine cooked farro with roasted zucchini, eggplant, red and yellow peppers, and onion. Lightly caramelizing the vegetables in the oven brings out their rich sweetness while white beans and lentils bulk up the salad into a main course.
In contrast with mild farro, spelt is hearty and toasty, which means it's ripe for pairing with brighter flavors. In this recipe, that means cooked mushrooms and leeks marinated in vinegar—each piece gives the salad a pop of tartness that cuts through the heavy grain. A sprinkling of fruity Espelette pepper powder is an elegant finishing touch.
With malty rye berries, tender carrots, red onion, and fresh cilantro and celery, plus Marcona almonds for crunch, this vegan salad delivers a whole range of flavors and textures. An acidic dressing flavored with mustard, lemon, and vinegar adds plenty of brightness. If you don't have rye berries, wheat berries or barley will work, too.
For a salad that truly eats like a meal, try this combination of sweet roasted fennel bulb, peppery arugula, and rich, salty Pecorino and prosciutto. Any whole grain will do here—rye berries, wheat berries, spelt, and farro are all solid choices.
Dill, mustard, and salmon is a classic trio, and we put it to use in this salad of pearled (Israeli) couscous. Adding fresh spinach while the grain is still hot helps the leaves wilt a little. After that, simply mix in chopped dill, mustard, and lemon juice. Then flake in tender sautéed salmon, and lunch is ready.
While some grains get soggy after they're dressed, quinoa only gets better as it sits, which means it's a handy ingredient for make-ahead salads to take to work or school. This one is loosely based on tabbouleh, featuring quinoa mixed with tomatoes, cucumber, and fresh parsley and mint. As with tabbouleh, be sure to salt and drain the tomatoes and cucumber before incorporating.
Inspired by the Middle Eastern bread salad fattoush, this salad is buzzing with bright ingredients: dried cherries, mint, parsley, feta, and pomegranate seeds. And, to really punch up the tanginess, we dress it with a lemon vinaigrette flavored with sumac, a Middle Eastern spice with a bold, tart flavor.
Black rice is a delicate beast: Cook it too little, and it'll end up unpleasantly chewy; too much, and it'll turn soggy. For the right consistency, pull it from the heat just as it loses its bite. Once you've cooked the rice, combine it with avocado, mango, orange, cilantro, and toasted pepitas for a colorful salad with a whiff of tropical flavor.
Dried cranberries and pecans may be thought of as fall ingredients, but they're available packaged year-round, so why not pick them up in the summertime? Here, we use them in a robust salad of wild rice dressed with an orange-scented vinaigrette. Just a teaspoon of honey gives the vinaigrette a touch of sweetness but doesn't overwhelm.
The earthiness of wild rice gets even earthier when combined with sautéed mushrooms, celery root, and toasted pine nuts. Cooking the rice with chicken stock and dried mushrooms creates a deeper savory taste while finishing it off with fresh parsley, chives, and a dash of cider vinegar balances out its flavors. The result? A deliciously nutty grain salad that works just as well as a stuffing or dressing.
This grain salad is all about contrast. While the wild rice, toasted pecans, and celery offer their nutty flavors, dried cranberries and pickled apples swoop in with tart elements. Not only do the cranberries and apples offer a burst of fruitiness, but they add brightness and color to an otherwise earth-toned dish.
Have you ever seen a grain salad as bright as this one? Texture and color are the stars of the show here. It’s a combination of chewy whole red winter wheat, roasted beets and their sautéed greens, apples, and toasted pecans that makes for a refreshing and filling salad. Pickling the apples keeps them from browning while omitting lettuce prevents it from wilting—meaning you can enjoy it for days if, for some reason, you don’t manage to finish it in one sitting.
To prevent overcooking farro, keep an eye on it as it cooks—sometimes following package directions will leave you with swollen grains. Once you’ve drained and cooled the grain, toss in those fresh ingredients: juicy tomatoes, cooling cucumbers, and aromatic herbs, along with red wine vinaigrette, pine nuts, and crumbled blue cheese. It’s a refreshing dish for those warmer days, and it’s anything but boring.
We took Thai grilled beef salad (neua nam tok) and made it vegetarian with a substitution of grilled vegetables that give off a deep, charred flavor. An addition of fragrant Jasmine rice gives an added texture while a lime vinaigrette made with Sriracha and fish sauce offers a nice bite. Topping it off with toasted cashews provides a subtle nuttiness and extra crunch.
We never say no to a salad with bacon, especially one that uses every last bit of it. Here, we take the rendered bacon fat and use it as the base of a dressing along with lemon juice and Dijon mustard. This vinaigrette is poured over a mix of nutty wheat berries, peppery watercress, red onion, and scallion while the juicy bacon bits and grated Parmesan add a meaty flavor and savory crunch.
Nothing says comfort and familiarity quite like the classic combination of beans and rice. Here, we make it more interesting with ingredients like fresh tomatoes, sharp cheddar, onions, and cilantro. Perhaps the boldest addition is the kick of the banana pepper-chile vinaigrette. We like to think of this salad as a jazzed up taco in a bowl.
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