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Grain Salads: Full of Flavor, Full of Nutrition!

Grain Salads: Full of Flavor, Full of Nutrition!

Easy-to-cook grains make refreshing and good-for-you salads.

By FamilyTime

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Looking for a main course or side salad? Think beyond the expected lettuces and pastas and instead turn your attention to grains.

From rice to more esoteric grains such as quinoa, grains make a splendid base to all sorts of flavorful salads, most of which benefit from being made ahead of time.

Whether you choose plain, long-grain white rice or prefer brown rice or medium-grain Asian-style rice, the world's most popular grain makes great salads.

Cook the rice until it's tender but still firm. Let it cool until slightly warm or completely cool and then toss it with the other ingredients.

You can make rice salads with leftover rice from the previous night's meal, but be sure the leftover hasn't been dressed with butter, oil, or other seasonings. Plain is best for rice salad.

Brown rice requires longer cooking than white rice but its crunchy texture and nutty flavor make it a natural for pairing with steamed, grilled, or raw veggies. Toss in a few cashews or walnuts. Delicious!

Other Grains
Other than rice, bulgur is the most commonly used grain in salads. It tastes pleasantly nutty and blends with flavors such as garlic, ginger, mint, and citrus.

Tabbouleh is classic salad made with bulgur, tomatoes, scallions, mint, and lemon juice.

Bulgur cooks in less than 15 minutes when gently simmered. You can also pour boiling water over the grain and let it sit for 30 to 40 minutes until softened.

Couscous is not really a grain - it's pasta - but when it comes to grain salads, it behaves like a grain, and so we include it here.

Couscous cooks in minutes. It does not need any more tending than pouring boiling water over it and letting it soak for about five minutes. Fluff with a fork and it's ready.

Quinoa is an ancient South American grain that is easy to cook and increasingly easy to find in health food stores. Use it in place of bulgur or couscous. It cooks quickly in simmering water and is extremely nutritious.

Building the Salad
Because grains are mild flavored yet substantial, they make great starting-off points for all sorts of salads. Add grilled meat, poached chicken, salty ham, spicy sausages, and cooked shrimp, lobster, clams, or briny mussels.

Rice, bulgur, quinoa, and couscous blend happily with cooked and raw vegetables. They also take nicely to pairing with dried fruits and heaps of fresh herbs.

Begin with cooked grains that are still slightly warm or completely cool. Toss them with the other ingredients and dressing.

Dressings made with olive oil, vinegar, citrus juice, soy sauce, and similar ingredients do best on grain salads. Add chopped garlic or herbs to boost the flavor.

Tips for Success
To increase the flavor of the grains, cook or soak them in chicken, beef, or vegetable broth, or mix the broth with wine and herbs.

Drain the grains well. Most of the time, the grains will absorb the liquid, but in case they do not, drain them so that the dressing is not diluted. If the grains are slightly warm when you toss them with the dressing, they will absorb more flavor.

Season the salad liberally and use bold-flavored dressings and vinaigrettes. As they sit, the grains absorb flavors.

If you make the salad ahead of time and refrigerate it, let it sit on the countertop for 10 or 15 minutes to warm it up and for its flavors to develop. Taste it and adjust the seasonings before serving. Don't be surprised if the salad needs additional dressing or seasoning.

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Tagged With: grains, salads, warm weather, quinoa, bulgur

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