Grain Salads Make Easy, Satisfying, and Portable Lunches

In my on-going quest to find healthy and delicious lunches to bring to work, I’ve stumbled into a grain salad habit that’s quickly becoming an obsession. It started with a pearl barley, roasted vegetable, and pesto combination that I made over and over again, eternally happy that it was easy to make, kept for several days, and could be stored in a plastic container and stay mess-free in my bag. For many of the very same reasons, grain salads are also great for entertaining. They can be prepped hours or even a day or two before the party, and served at room temperature, so they’re one less thing you need to worry about when guests arrive. Another plus: Because grain salads pack so well, they make fantastic potluck dishes. I’m sure I’ll return to that original barley, veggie, and pesto combination, but over the last few months, I’ve experimented with various grains and add-ins. Quinoa (or even a blend of red, white, and black quinoa) makes a frequent appearance, as do farro, kamut, and black rice; sometimes I even use regular old brown rice. I’ve also tried different veggies, including grilled zucchini, marinated kale, raw spinach, and spicy eggplant. You can also add fresh herbs, beans, fresh or dried fruit, cheese, and nuts. Meat, poultry, and even fish can be added; they just tend to shorten the shelf life of salads, so they’re less ideal for lunch, but might be perfect for a party. In keeping with that first grain salad, I often make a pesto, but it’s rarely the standard basil and pine nut rendition. I tend to use whatever herb or green, nuts, and cheese, I have on hand, adding and blending until I get the right flavor and texture. Other times, I skip the pesto and sauté minced shallots in olive oil then drizzle that over the salad, along with some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Lately, my favorite grain salad features kamut, raw spinach, roasted grapes, and toasted pepitas, all tossed in that shallot “dressing” I described. But I’m sure I’ll come up with something else in another week or two. On Saturday or Sunday, after a trip to the farmers’ market, I usually create my salad for the week. Typically I don’t follow a recipe, but for inspiration and to get you started, here are five recipes for grain salads. Black Rice Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette Quinoa Salad with Kale, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan Summer Squash and Red Quinoa Salad with Walnuts (shown here) Farro and Pine Nut Tabbouleh Grilled Portobello and Farro Salad For more ideas, check out our Grain Salad Slideshow.

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