This is a grain salad that has it all going on. With pop-in-the-mouth quinoa as its base, you get zing from a huge squeeze of lemon, crunch from broccoli and crisp-tender fine beans, umami from black olives, and sweet salinity courtesy of heirloom tomatoes. Nuanced notes from best olive oil and a whisper of fresh dill, too.
Although I rarely post grain salads these days – not sure why; familiarity perhaps – this is something that I make for work at the cancer support centre in some form or other throughout the year. And of course I always make sure that there is enough for a big bowl of it for me.
In between making a couple of cakes and blending up a big vat of soup, I try and find time to perch within earshot of the oven timer, cat in lap, to dig in to this hearty but light on the tummy quinoa salad. Even if I feel a bit weary from being on my feet for awhile, this kind of food – full of a rainbow of nutrients – instantly revitalises. This, and a near-pint of cold matcha, does the trick for me. I will feel full up and energised until dinnertime at least.
Grain salad basics
Now that the summer is exiting stage left, we have so much produce to play with: the summer vegetable game is still fairly strong, but we also have the autumn players to consider. If at all possible let what is seasonal and local be your guide.
Go-to grains (and pseudo-grains) for top salads (all cooked) – quinoa is king, but we like barley, buckwheat/kasha, freekeh, wholegrain couscous, bulgur wheat and farro.
Have I left out your favourite? Let me know in the comments, and tell me how you use it!
The basic template for this kind of salad stays constant, regardless of season: roughly one-quarter volume of cooked grains to three-quarters veggies. You can – and should – throw in some cooked beans or legumes for extra staying power, but let those colourful, antioxidant-rich vegetables shine -whatever they are. Keep the vegetables fairly chunky to stand up to the heft of the grains. This isn’t the time for finely diced anything.
Where the creativity comes in is in how you dress it. Grain salads can withstand more weight than a green salad. Have you tried tossing a tahini dressing through a bowl of butterhead lettuce? Not terribly successful, is it? Stick to variations of vinaigrette and buttermilk ranch dressings for pure leaves. For grains, the only limit is your pantry.
7 dressings to change up your grain game
Creamy green (above)- the avocado, cilantro and jalapeño dressing from this salad.
Smokin’ – add a little mushed or finely chopped chipotles in adobo (from a tin is fine – decant into a glass jar and they keep for ages) to a tahini, yogurt, mayonnaise or vinaigrette-based dressing, with a clove of garlic, a touch of maple syrup for balance and some cumin. This kind of thing goes great with a black bean, griddled corn and quinoa salad
Sweet and spice – blend a mango, vinegar or lime, a little oil and some garam masala or curry paste to add into a chickpea and grain salad, with maybe some pan-fried paneer on top.
Deep, deep South – be inspired by the flavours of South America by mixing up the dressing from this Brazilian black bean salad, my most popular one on Pinterest – and even shared by Brazilians!
East-meets-West – tomato ketchup, toasted sesame oil, ginger, rice vinegar, garlic – don’t knock it til you try it. Broken edamame pasta, spring onions and prawns are lovely with this dressing. 😉
Pesto, pronto – bought or homemade pesto thinned down with a bit of lemon and evoo makes a brilliant – and super-quick – dressing for a grain salad.
Moroccan vibe – tomato paste, olive oil, lemon, honey, toasted ground caraway, cumin, coriander and cinnamon. Roasted veggies and grains love this tagine-inspired dressing.
Hopefully the above mini recipes will inspire you to think out of the box a bit to create a grain salad that is bespoke to your pantry and tastebuds.
But, if you want a straightforward quinoa salad you could do worse than make this salad before it’s time to put the heat on. 🙂
A Really Good Quinoa Salad
Instead of quinoa, try cooking up some barley, freekeh, farro or buckwheat – or use leftover grains. The salad keeps for about a day as described, but you could stash the dressing separately, only dressing the salad when you wish to eat it. Perfect for late summer picnics, lunchboxes and as a great side to grilled fish or tofu.
Tip: make double or more of the quinoa to use in other recipes during the week, or to freeze for later*. xx
90g (1/2 c) quinoa, rinsed very well in a sieve
230ml (scant 1 cup) water
Handful of fine/green beans (about 80g), trimmed and halved (runner beans are still in shops here in the UK, so that’s a good bet)
Small head of broccoli, sliced into bite-sized pieces (you may not want to use it all)
Two cupped handfuls of best cherry/grape tomatoes – about 250g, cut into pieces
12 oil-cured black olives or other flavourful olives, torn
2-3 spring onions/scallions, chopped
a few sprigs of dill or fennel fronds, picked into small bits
1 & 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp best extra virgin olive oil (evoo)
1/2 tsp honey or maple syrup
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Seeds from a green cardamom pod (or two if small), finely crushed
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
a few twists of fresh black pepper
Pinch of salt
Optional add-ins: crumbled goat’s cheese or feta, grilled halloumi; toasted nuts or seeds; cooked beans or legumes, such as chickpeas or edamame beans; cooked and flaked wild salmon
Pop the rinsed quinoa into a lidded small sauce pan and add the water. Bring to the boil then turn down to a very low simmer. Cook undercover for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat, keeping the lid on. Let it sit for five minutes then spoon into a sieve to cool a bit. This should give you perfectly cooked quinoa.
While the quinoa is cooking, steam the beans until just tender – about four minutes. Set aside to cool.
For the dressing, pop everything into a lidded jar and shake vigorously until well-blended and creamy.
Pop the cooled quinoa into a large, wide serving bowl, followed by the vegetables, dill and the dressing. Toss well with your hands or a wide spoon. Let the flavours mingle for 20 minutes at room temperate before serving.
* cool the quinoa then decant onto a parchment lined tray and pop in the freezer for an hour. Tip the frozen quinoa from the paper into a labelled bag or two.
Go with the grain – a selection of grain salads from Food To Glow
…more ideas in my Recipe Index under Salads xx
RIPE FOR PINNING!