Though slightly more time-consuming in preparation than other salads, grain salads can be made in bulk and served over a period of several days to a week.
Because they don't wilt, these salads only get better with time.
Use pearled barley as a base for a chicken or tuna salad that's more than just a sandwich filler. Toss millet with garden vegetables and a spicy jalapeno dressing, or bulgur wheat with tortellini, Parmesan and handfuls of fresh basil. Make a corn salad with kidney beans and a chili mayonnaise, or kasha with smoked salmon and a shallot vinaigrette.
Rice can be one of the most versatile of salad grains, especially when one looks at the array of rices available now in gourmet markets and health-food stores. In addition to familiar long-grain white rice, there are hearty aromatic red rices, nutty brown rice, delicately perfumed basmati rice and pungent, dark wild rice.
Rice salads are especially beautiful when several varieties are combined in one salad. To lessen preparation time and the number of pots on the stove, choose rices with similar cooking times so they can be simmered together. Otherwise, you'll have to prepare each rice in a separate pot and combine them after cooking.
One of the newest grains to hit the U.S. market is an ancient South American species called quinoa. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a small, round seed that resembles a tiny, pale lentil. It cooks in less than 15 minutes, during which time it doubles in size and sprouts a tiny curled thread. This unique appearance, along with its high protein content and delicate flavor, makes it one of the most interesting new ingredients on the market. However, you may have trouble finding it. If your local grocery doesn't stock it, try a health-food store or a gourmet market.
Make quinoa in the style of tabouleh, a classic Middle Eastern grain salad flavored with mint, onion and tomato. Though usually made with bulgur wheat, variations on tabouleh can be made with any grain. Quinoa can be tossed with vegetables and a simple vinaigrette, or shrimp and an herbed mayonnaise. Try quinoa in a yogurt dressing with poached chicken and herbs, or mix it with several types of mushrooms and threads of red and green onion.
Grains can be kept in bulk indefinitely under refrigeration or for several months tightly covered in a cool, dark cupboard. Avoid exposing grains to light, which can destroy some of their B vitamins, and keep them away from heat and humidity, which cause grains to ferment.
Though more and more supermarkets have begun to enlarge their selection of whole grains, health-food stores are still a better source for most consumers. Since grains are not one of the most used products in the American larder, health-food stores will tend to have a quicker turnover in grain inventories, thus usually providing a fresher product.
The following salads employ a variety of grains. Though some call for almost an hour of cooking, it is not time that requires your attention. Most whole grains can be left unattended on the stove while you prepare other ingredients.
BARLEY CHICKEN SALAD
1 cup pearl barley
6 cups boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds chicken breasts
3 ribs celery, peeled and diced
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, covered saucepan, simmer the barley in the boiling water with
salt until grains are swollen and tender, about 40 minutes. Drain well.
At the same time, bake the chicken breast on a sheet pan in a preheated 450-degree oven for 30 minutes. Cool. Remove the skin from the chicken and the meat from the bone. Chop the meat into bite-size pieces, and discard the bones and skin. Toss the chicken with the cooked barley, celery and walnuts.
In a separate bowl, blend the mayonnaise with the mustard, tarragon and tarragon vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the barley salad with this dressing and adjust seasoning. Place in a loosely covered bowl, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Toss before serving. Makes six to eight servings.
MIXED RICE SALAD WITH ROASTED PEPPERS
2/3 cup brown rice
2/3 cup brown basmati rice
2/3 cup wild rice
5 cups boiling water
4 bell peppers of assorted colors
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Wash the rices in several changes of cold water, and drain well. Over low heat in a heavy saucepan, stir the washed rices into the boiling water mixed with the salt. Allow the water to return to a boil, then turn the heat down so that the water simmers gently. Cover the pan and cook until the water has been absorbed, about 45 to 50 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, roast the peppers by placing them directly on a high flame of a gas range or under a broiler. Turn so that the skins of the peppers blacken evenly. When the skins are completely charred, place the peppers in a paper bag, close loosely, and set aside for 10 minutes.
Peel the charred skin from the peppers with your fingers. It will slip off easily. If the skin clings to your fingers, wash them off and continue peeling but avoid running the peppers under water, for it will wash away much of their flavor. When the peppers are peeled, removed the stems and seeds, and finely dice the flesh of the peppers. Set aside.
When the rice is finished cooking, toss it with the roasted peppers, oil, vinegar, lime juice, parsley, salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate until time to serve. Makes six to eight servings.
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
Place the quinoa in a strainer, and wash well under cold running water. Combine the washed quinoa in a heavy saucepan with the two cups of water and the salt.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes until all the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Spread the cooked quinoa on a sheet pan to cool.
In a serving bowl, toss the quinoa with the oil and lemon juice, separating clumps of quinoa with your fingers. Toss with the scallions, mint, garlic, tomatoes, cucumber, salt and pepper, and chill. Makes four to six servings.
CORN CHILI SALAD
6 ears cooked corn
1 pound cooked kidney beans
1 roasted red pepper, homemade or commercially prepared
1/2 pound smoked turkey breast, diced
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/3 cup corn or peanut oil
2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
With a small, sharp knife, remove the kernels by holding each ear of corn on end and running the knife down the ear. Place the kernels in a large mixing bowl, and separate any clumps of kernels so that all the kernels are separate. Add the beans, scallion, roast pepper and smoked turkey to the corn, and toss well.
In another bowl, mix the mayonnaise well with the chili powder and cumin. Slowly whisk in the oil and hot pepper sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Mix this dressing well with the corn mixture. Cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, toss in the avocado and cilantro. Makes six servings.
BULGUR TORTELLINI SALAD
1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat
3 cups boiling water
1 pound tortellini
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
In a large bowl, combine the bulgur and the boiling water. Allow to soak for 30 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed and the bulgur is tender. If any water remains in the bowl, pour it off before adding the remaining ingredients.
While the bulgur is soaking, boil the tortellini in a large pot of salted water until tender. Drain well. Toss the tortellini with the soaked bulgur.
In a separate bowl, mix the yogurt with the garlic, basil and Parmesan. Toss with the bulgur and tortellini, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until time to serve. Makes six to eight servings.