You would really like to eat more whole grains, but it is way too hot right now to think about even boiling water. And cooking grains is cumbersome to boot, right? Am I reading your mind?
Cooking in summer should feel like a breeze — it shouldn't zap your energy. Thankfully, people the world over have long ago figured out how to balance hot days with fresh and easy grain salads. Look no further than the Mediterranean, where no-fuss summer cooking is celebrated. Many Mediterranean meals include trendy grains, such as freekeh, bulgur, and couscous; and here's how to make summery meals with these grains even easier.
From my Greek mom, I have learned two tricks that have transformed my own whole-grain cooking. I use them year-round, but I find them especially rewarding during the hot summer months, when the thermometer reaches tropical heights: Keep it super simple and think ahead. The recipes below showcase both of these tricks. The dishes either come together seamlessly in under 30 minutes, or they have make-ahead tips to help get them onto your table fast.
Keep It Super Simple
First off, always have some quick-cooking grains on hand, such as bulgur, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, polenta, or whole-wheat couscous. These nutritious whole grains can be on the table just as fast as white rice, in about 15 minutes or so, and many of them are gluten-free. Add a few refreshing ingredients to these grains and you have a splendid meal.
Next up, cook a large pot of slower-cooking grains on the weekend and keep the cooked grains stashed in your fridge. These include whole-wheat berries, spelt, Kamut, hulled (whole-grain) barley, or rye. Preparing whole grains ahead can simplify and speed up meal preparation — on lazy, hot days and during busy work weeks. One cup of raw grains typically yields about three cups cooked. Cooked grains last in the fridge for up to seven days, or freeze them portion-sized to have on hand for later.
In my new cookbook, Simply Ancient Grains, I provide a "Pick Your Grains" table with weekly menu inspirations to showcase the versatility of grains and their many uses for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. With cooked grains at the ready, you will be surprised by your own creativity. Use some of the cooked grains as a base for a nourishing salad, add them to a vegetable soup for substance, or stir together a handful of grains with yogurt and top the bowl with berries.
And don't hesitate to swap grains. For instance, if you have extra cooked farro, use it to make the barley salad below. On another day, try the salad as suggested with barley, then notice the differences in flavor and texture. Next time, try a new grain altogether, such as einkorn or rye. Get ready for a revelation.
Your Week of Wholesome Whole-Grain Meals
Salads to Make Ahead
- Farro Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Caramelized Onion, and Pine Nuts: Prepare all the components and refrigerate separately; toss the salad and let it come to room temperature before serving.
- Lemon Quinoa with Currants, Dill and Zucchini: This salad can be prepared several hours ahead of serving.
- Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lime Dressing: Cook the barley ahead of time and assemble the whole salad up to eight hours before serving; keep refrigerated and then let it warm on the counter one hour before serving.
Quick Weeknight Salads
- Fusilli with Tahini-Yogurt Sauce and Nigella Seeds
- Minted Summer Couscous with Watermelon and Feta: The whole salad can also be made up to four hours ahead.
Your Shopping List
To buy at the store
- Lemon (4 medium)
- Limes (2 to 3 medium)
- Garlic (4 cloves)
- Hot red chiles (2 to 3 small)
- Celery (3 medium stalks)
- Green onions (1 bunch)
- Zucchini (2 small)
- Eggplant (1 1/2 pounds)
- Red onion (1 medium)
- Tangy apple, such as Macintosh or Granny Smith (1 whole)
- Seedless watermelon (1 small, or 1 1/2 cups chopped)
- Tarragon (1 small bunch)
- Flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)
- Dill (1 small bunch)
- Mint (1 small bunch)
- Plain Greek yogurt (1 cup)
- Low-fat sour cream (1 cup)
- Mild feta cheese (1/2 cup crumbled)
- Whole grain fusilli (12 ounces)
- Pearl barley (3/4 cup)
- Quinoa (1 cup)
- Semi-pearled farro (1 cup)
- Whole-wheat couscous (1 cup)
- Tahini (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
- Greek or Turkish dried figs (4 to 6)
- Dried currants (1/2 cup)
- Pine nuts (1/4 cup)
- Dried chile pepper (1, optional)
- Aleppo pepper (3/4 teaspoon)
In your pantry (check to make sure you have enough)
- Extra-virgin olive oil (7 tablespoons)
- White balsamic (2 tablespoons)
- Honey (2 to 4 teaspoons)
- Whole peppercorns (3)
- Whole cumin seeds (1 teaspoon)
- Nigella seeds (1 teaspoon)
- Sesame seeds (6 tablespoons)
- Fine sea salt (2 teaspoon)
- Ground black pepper (1 1/4 teaspoon)
- Dried mint (3/4 teaspoon)
- Bay leaf (1)