Going With the Grain
By Deborah Salomon
When the green leaves of -summer fade and, inevitably, begin to bore, salad heads turn to grains.
That's right, grains: rice, quinoa, couscous, barley, corn and wheat - the wheat being pasta, especially grain-shaped orzo. Grains have more heft than vegetables alone. They are chewy, filling and satisfying.
And they are healthy, especially when replacing or complementing meat.
The finished product should be a mound of grains flecked with herbs and veggies lightly dressed with oil on a bed of greens. Crisp iceberg or a romaine leaf forms a natural container.
Method trumps recipes. Set out -several refrigerator containers with tight-fitting lids. Buy the grains, preferably in bulk, at a natural foods store. Include a wild and brown rice mixture. Quinoa, the chic Peruvian super-nutritious grain, is costly but has a nutty flavor and slight crunch. Tiny pearled barley grains are pleasantly chewy. Couscous (look for whole wheat) provides a fluffy contrast. Orzo tastes like pasta.
Bulgur, the Middle Eastern wheat grain, is robust and virtuous.
Fresh corn, cooked and stripped from the cob, becomes a salad mixed with diced cucumber, tomatoes, red onion and minced parsley.
Cook grains separately according to package directions but using slightly less water (or broth). Mushy grains don't make good salad, but a remedy exists: Place a clean cotton terrycloth washcloth over pot while grains are still hot and cover with lid until cool. The -fabric will absorb some moisture.
Cooking the grains may be tedious, but the assortment will keep a week in the refrigerator.
Now, combine them as desired.
Grains beg color and flavors. Possibilities include finely shredded carrot, radishes and zucchini; chopped scallions, olives, celery, parsley and peppers; fresh herbs, sun-dried -tomatoes and blanched snow peas.
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper are musts. Pressed garlic helps.
Don't even think about dressing a grain salad with anything thick. Save bottled balsamic or Greek vinaigrette for an emergency. Otherwise, toss in a fine olive oil, fresh lemon juice or vinegar (white balsamic, white wine or flavored) and fluff with a fork.
Meat isn't banned from grain salads but use it sparingly: slices of grilled chicken breast or pork tenderloin, a few shrimp, chunks of tuna, tiny cubes of spicy salami.
Grain mixtures needn't be confined to the salad bowl. Spoon them into pita pockets; fill tomatoes or colored bell peppers. Grains can even be heated for a side dish, wrapped in a -tortilla or added to poultry stuffing.
Experiment with these combinations:
n Orzo, pearl barley and wild rice with chopped peppers and parsley.
n Jasmine rice, couscous and red quinoa with shredded carrot, bean sprouts, celery leaves.
n Orzo and couscous with chopped tomato, fresh basil, oil-cured black olives.
n Brown rice and bulgur with roasted red peppers, small cubes of roasted eggplant and zucchini.
n Couscous with chopped pistachios and small dice of cantaloupe, fresh orange sections and raisins.
n Brown and wild rice with stir-fried, chilled broccoli slaw.
Whole grains are the buzz food for good reason. Instead of stopping at bread and cereal, once in a while - seek out the source.
Contact Deborah Salomon at -firstname.lastname@example.org.
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