Want Better Grain Salads? Don’t Skip This Crucial Step

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Grain salads taste great in fall or winter, for breakfast or lunch, but it’s in the summer that they really become a staple in my kitchen. They are easy to throw together, accommodate whatever produce I have on hand and taste even better if they are made ahead of time, making them the perfect dish to bring to summer potlucks or BBQs. But there is one step in making grain salads that people tend to skip — and it’s what transforms a dull bowl of whole grains into a can’t-stop-eating-it tasty salad.

The key to a great-tasting grain salad? Salting the cooking water. As with salting pasta water, adding a generous pinch of salt to the water seasons whole grains as they cook, so you end up with a bowl of grains that taste good even before you add any dressing. This means you don’t need as much dressing and, more importantly, your grain salads are never bland.

How much salt to add? Since I cook most grains like pasta, I usually just add a big pinch as the water comes to a boil, but for grains cooked by absorption, such as rice, I use 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of dry grains. Cooking in chicken or vegetable stock instead of water also works to ensure your grain salads are full of flavor.

Do you have any tips for better grain salads?