Michelle here. I recently saw this article from Bon Appetite about having a house meal, and it was a bit of a revelation. Not so much for my own cooking, but for explaining my cooking approach to others. You see, I already have a house meal, I just didn’t know it!
So what is it? The humble grain salad, of course. Ok, I can almost feel you about to close this browser window, but stick with me! The grain salad can be an elegant dinner party! It can be an impromptu brunch! It can be lunch leftovers for days! But most of all, it can be whatever you want it to be, and easily, and that’s what makes it a good house meal.
The beauty of a grain salad is its versatility. This makes it an ideal meal not only for busy folks who want to eat well, but also for CSA members who often are at a loss for what to use all those veggies for. By its versatility, it lends itself perfectly to seasonal eating. If there are no more radishes at market, julienne some kohlrabi for that crispy crunch you’re looking for!
As a farmer, I’ve always got access to this or that vegetable item. If I keep a few types of grains and some oil and vinegar around, I know that at any point in time, I can walk into my kitchen a whip up something wonderful.
I make a grain salad at least once a week, especially for crew lunch, but it never feels like the same meal twice. I’ve always got people asking me where I got the recipe for these dishes, and I’ve never got a good answer for them, but the fact is, I don’t need one, and you don’t either! Start with yummy ingredients (like those found in your Bellair Farm share) and the result will be great.
The basic idea is this: choose one or more elements from each category and BAM! grain salad.
Grains: bulgur wheat, quinoa, rice, wheat berries, couscous, barley, farro, etc
Cooked vegetables: roasted beets, carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage onion or others
Fresh vegetables: julienned or diced carrot, beet, salad turnip, radish, kohlrabi, tomato, scallion, or ANY green, ANY herb
Proteins and Fats: any cheese like feta, blue cheese or queso fresco; any type of bean, toasted or un-toasted nuts, a fried or poached egg, a dollop of plain yogurt
Extras: Any dressing, especially vinaigrettes; sauerkraut or kimchi; sun-dried tomatoes; olives; pickles of any type
And it’s that simple! No really, it is. In fact, I made a grain salad for lunch in the middle of writing this. Since it’s winter, I used hearty barley and some roasted heirloom winter squash from my personal garden. I added scallions for my fresh veg, feta, white beans, and a fried egg for my fat/protein, and topped it off with pickled red onions I made this summer. The dressing was a simple squeeze of lemon and some olive oil.
Dress it up/dress it down: For an elegant look, plate up your ingredients in an aesthetically pleasing manner. For a great picnic or camp meal, mix it all together and throw it in a tupperware.
Get fancy with it: an infused oil, specialty pickle or grain, or fresh herbs really elevate the dish. Try making your own basil oil and pickles next summer or pick up some amaranth grain at the store.
All diets welcome: Vegan? Leave out the cheese. Gluten Free? Opt for quinoa or rice. Carnivore? They will eat it if it has bacon.
Sweeten Up: Fruits like apple, pear, and even watermelon and canteloupe, can be good additions to a grain salad. I like pairing these with fresh mint or lemon balm and some toasted pecans or walnuts.
Hot or Not: I like serving this dish warm in the winter and cold in the summer. If you’re rushing it, spread out your cooked grain on a baking pan or large plate to speed the cooling in the fridge.
Flavor explosion: If your flavor is underwhelming, it’s probably not got enough salt and pepper. Also try piling on more pickles, vinegar, stinky cheese, or other flavor overload.
If you are feeling overwhelmed at the options, don’t be! You know what flavors you like. Look in your cupboard and see what you have. For inspiration, check out some of the seasonal ideas below or just google “grain salad” or “grain bowl,” which is trending right now. Next time folks show up unannounced around dinner time, you’ll know just what to do.
Winter (pictured): Cook some black rice. Meanwhile, roast turnips, carrots, and red onion with a drizzle of tamari and sesame oil. Finish with more drizzling and preferably some scallions.
Spring: Cook some quinoa. Julienne heaping quantities or salad turnips and radishes. Throw in a can of white beans, make a white wine vinaigrette and serve the whole thing over a bed of arugula.
Summer (pictured): Roast a huge pan of peppers, eggplant, and fresh tomatoes. Cook some farro and make a balsamic dressing. Combine it all and serve at room temp, topped with halved sungold tomatoes, parsley, mint, and a scoop of plain yogurt.
Fall: Roast some carrots with cayenne pepper and cumin. Add these to a bed of couscous and julienned kale. Add chopped apples and top with a fried egg, a drizzle of olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.
Good luck and godspeed you to your next glorious grain salad!