A Week of Wholesome Whole-Grain Meals from Maria Speck

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

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.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

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.

Think Ahead

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.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Your Week of Wholesome Whole-Grain Meals

Salads to Make Ahead

Quick Weeknight Salads

The Recipes

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)
(Image credit: Erin Kunkel)

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