It’s summer and it’s hot!  Cooking light, fresh, fun, and easy dishes is what’s on my mind.  Grain salads are one of my absolute summer-time favorites.  They can be made ahead of time, hold up wonderfully, are the perfect addition to any barbeque or picnic, are almost always naturally gluten-free, and have endless variations.

grain_salad-fullI was recently inspired after reading an article in one of my favorite magazines, “Cooking Light,” where they referred to grains as “a blank canvas, because they go well with just about any ingredient”. With grains the flavor is up to you…it’s all about the add-ins.  Personally I like to use whatever I have in my vegetable garden, ice box and pantry.  In the summer I serve grain salads cold with fresh herbs and vegetable and in the winter warm with pumpkin, kale, and other hearty add-ins.  I tend to make one grain salad at the beginning of the week, which typically lasts up to five days refrigerated.  It’s one of my family’s favorite gluten-free dishes that just happens to be healthy too.

What I loved about this article so much was it broke it down into six simple steps for countless flavor combinations and salad variations.

Step 1: Cook your grain: quinoa, basmati rice, brown rice, white rice, bulgur, and farro are just some of your options.  Cook according to package directions and place in bowl.

Step 2: Choose your vegetables and fruits: onions, squash, pepper, cucumber, radish, tomatoes, apples, mango, grapefruit, etc.  The key is to choose no more than 4 things.

Step 3: Choose extra add-ins: any sort of bean, nut, dried fruit, cheese, etc is fine.  Only add up to 3.

Step 4: Add herbs: I like to use whatever I have in my herb garden: parsley, cilantro, mint, basil, tarragon, etc.  Again choose only 3 herbs.

Step 5: Choose vinaigrette base: cider vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, etc.  Choose no more than 2.

Step 6: Vinaigrette flavor boosters: mustard, olives, soy sauce, honey, ginger, lemon zest, tahini, walnut oil, jalapeño, etc.  Choose up to 2 to add to vinaigrette base.

Mix all dry ingredients together first, create the vinaigrette, then combine and mix to finish salad.  Allowing the salad to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving is another way to really help bring the flavors out.  Use your creativity, use what you have, and enjoy this refreshing summer-time favorite!