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Get the full health benefits of whole grains, plus 5 tasty recipes

Super Summer Whole Grain Salad <br />Photography by Jeff Coulson/TC Media Author: Credits: Super Summer Whole Grain Salad <br />Photography by Jeff Coulson/TC Media

Our Best Collections

Get the full health benefits of whole grains, plus 5 tasty recipes

Eating whole grains is trendy, and not just because unrefined ingredients are good for you. With their unique tastes and textures, whole grains are more interesting, complex and flavourful than their more refined counterparts, and will add personality to any picnic, backyard barbecue or brown-bag lunch salad.

Luckily for us, they're also hardy, so they hold up wonderfully in the fridge, making them the ideal add-in to a make-ahead salad.

What are whole grains?

Whole grains are just that: grains that have been minimally processed so all the nutritious parts of the seed remain intact. Only the inedible hull is removed; the whole grain (a.k.a. the kernel, berry or groat) remains.

Gluten-free whole grains

Gluten is a type of protein found in cereal grains such as wheat, oats, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale.

A number of foods classified as whole grains are actually seeds that are not related to cereal grains. These foods offer similar benefits and behave like cereal grains in cooking—but they contain no gluten, so are tasty alternatives for those who can't consume gluten grains. Examples are amaranth, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, corn, millet, pure uncontaminated oats and quinoa. (If you have celiac disease, be sure to check every food label carefully for a gluten-free stamp, since some foods are cross-contaminated with wheat during production.)

Nutrients at a glance
Dietary fibre: All whole grains are sources of insoluble fibre; oats, barley and amaranth are also sources of soluble fibre.
Vitamins: Many grains are sources of B vitamins such as thiamine, niacin, pyridoxine and folate.
Minerals: Most grains are sources of magnesium and phosphorus; many are sources of other minerals, such as zinc, manganese, iron and selenium.
Protein: Most whole grains are good sources of amino acids, the building blocks of protein; combining them with legumes creates complete proteins.

How to cook whole grains

Whole grains all cook at different rates, but generally you can cook them in two ways.
  • The pasta method: Boil, uncovered, in lightly salted water until tender, then drain.
  • The rice method: Gently simmer measured amounts of grain, water and salt together in a covered saucepan until grains are tender and water is absorbed.
Check package directions, or the method of your recipe, to find specific instructions for cooking each type of grain.

How to make a whole grain salad

Whole grain salads are delicious with just about any type of dressing or add-in.

Toss your choice of cooked grain with grilled, blanched or raw vegetables; fresh herbs; cubed or crumbled cheese; fresh or dried fruit; toasted nuts; or roasted or grilled meat, fish or seafood; plus your favourite dressing. Make use of whatever you have in the fridge to use up any leftovers.

Just remember that the dressing will absorb into the grains over time, so stir it in the day you plan to serve the salad, and taste for seasoning before serving.

Easy whole grain salad recipes

Super Summer Whole Grain Salad

You can cook the five-grain blend, chop the vegetables, toast the pumpkin seeds and make your dressing all in advance. Then simply toss them together at the last minute for a deliciously fresh addition to any picnic or potluck.

Super Summer Whole Grain Salad <br> Photography by Jeff Coulson
Photography by Jeff Coulson

Brown Rice and Grilled Vegetable Salad
We use quick-cooking 20-minute brown rice in this salad to make it weeknight-friendly, but if you have regular brown rice on hand, you can easily swap it in, following the package directions. Both kinds go perfectly with the zippy herb sauce and salty, tangy feta.

Brown Rice and Grilled Vegetable Salad <br> Photography by Jeff Coulson
Photography by Jeff Coulson

Quinoa Tabbouleh
This tasty twist on tabbouleh keeps for up to three days in the fridge. The Test Kitchen recommends thoroughly rinsing quinoa before cooking, even if the package instructions don't specify it. This removes the bitter saponins from the outside of the seed, which can result in a bitter end product.

Honey-Lime Oat and Black Bean Salad
Whole, hulled oats (also called oat groats) have a lovely chewability that pairs beautifully with the sweet and tangy dressing. You can find oat groats in most health food stores—look in the grain or bulk section.

Wheat Berry, Corn and Red Pepper Salad
Wheat berries take quite a while to simmer to tenderness, but they're worth it! They have a texture that holds up perfectly in a make-ahead salad and they don't absorb dressing as readily as some other, less hardy grains. If you're looking for a change of pace, whole spelt makes a great alternative.

Looking for more recipes? Check out our easy pasta salad recipes.
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Get the full health benefits of whole grains, plus 5 tasty recipes

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