salad

Grain Salads – Cooking Without A Recipe

I rarely actually cook from a recipe.  I think this is because I learned to cook by watching my mom make dinner while I did my homework at the kitchen counter. She would usually throw a bunch of whatever-was-in-the-fridge, plus some spices and herbs into a pan, make something saucy to go with it, and pour it all over some kind of grain with a salad on the side. I really like this style of cooking.

But some people, especially those who didn’t learn to cook growing up, rely on recipes for every meal. This works really well, and you get to learn about great spice combinations that have already been tried and tested. But sometimes you’ve got to throw together something last-minute and you don’t have all the ingredients you need for any one recipe that you know of (even if you’ve tried finding one with supercook), and that’s when knowing how to improvise comes in handy. So here is my guide for making the simplest, most nutritious improvised meal: a grain-based salad.

Grain-Based Salad

There are three important components to a grain-based salad.

Grain: you have so many to pick from. Usually I choose quinoa, but it’s not always from the most ethical sources, so consider picking other options from this list. All should be available at bulk food stores, which is usually the cheapest way to get them, and are pretty easy to cook.

  • Rice (white, brown, black, wild etc. – pick according to cooking time)
  • Couscous
  • Bulgur
  • Farro
  • Millet
  • Pasta

Veggies: You should have about the same volume of veggies as grain in your salad. Pick any veggie you want, and cut it up into small pieces (usually about 1-3 cm chunks). Include as many as you like. Some good options include:

  • Bell pepper
  • Tomato (drained of its juice)
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Kale or other leafy green (torn into small pieces)
  • Carrot (I prefer to grate carrots before adding them to a salad)
  • Jicama
  • Radish
  • Snap peas
  • Frozen peas, corn, or mixed veggies (just stick them in boiling water for a minute and drain)
  • FRUITS if you’re feeling confident and adventurous
    • Apples, pears, and mandarin pieces can be successfully incorporated into a savory salad

Protein: Many grains have some protein in them, but you’ll probably need more than what’s in there. Add any of the following.

  • Feta cheese
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans
  • Edamame (shelled)
  • Tofu (cubed and marinated)
  • Nuts or seeds (sunflower seeds are my personal favourite)
  • Egg (scrambled and mixed in, or fried and plopped on top)

Two more additions can bring your salad to the next level:

Flavourful additions: Small amounts of these can make the flavour of your dish pop

  • Green onions
  • Red onions
  • Shallot
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh dill
  • Fresh parsley
  • Fresh basil (if you have none, throw some pesto in the dressing)

Dressing: Not all salads will need a dressing, but it can make the texture better and the flavours hang together. Mix an acid like vinegar (apple cider, balsamic, etc.) or lemon juice, with an oil (olive is best, sesame can be used in small quantities for flavour), and optionally add some flavouring like honey, jam, garlic, spices, or herbs. There are plenty of homemade dressing tutorials online. You can also do very well without adding the oil. I finish off most of my grain-based salads with just a squeeze of lemon juice.

Let me know if this was helpful and if you’d like me to continue this series with other kinds of improvisable dishes! Folks who already cook like this, what are your favourite things to put in a grain-based salad?

– Arlie

Kale Caesar Salad

Light Kale Caesar Salad

I feel like all of my great inventions happen the same way: someone tells me about a Great Thing that exists. I get really excited about it. I experience the Great Thing and it’s nothing like I imagined. I make my own version. See the Green Tea Ice Cream Cocktail, that time I made a Doctor Who fanvideo, and this Kale Caesar Salad.

One of my biggest food pet peeves is when caesar salad is smothered in dressing. Gross. So here’s a light caesar salad with all the flavour you could want, and everyone’s favourite leafy superfood, kale.

Ingredients

  • 1 small clove garlic, minced (use a garlic press if you have one)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon mustard (dijon, for best effect)
  • 2 cups washed, de-stemmed kale, ripped into reasonable pieces
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated parmesan cheese
  • optional: croutons, I’d suggest homemade ones for cost-effectiveness
  • optional: 1 egg

Instructions

  1. Combine the garlic, olive oil, and mustard in a small container and set aside.
  2. In a bowl, add the lemon juice to the kale and massage. If you’re not familiar with the practice of massaging kale, welcome to a whole new world. It makes this tough green tender and delicious within a minute or so of squishing between your hands. It’s done when all the kale is a rich, dark green.
  3. Drizzle the olive oil mixture over the massaged kale, and toss. If you don’t want a ridiculously garlicy salad, just drain the olive oil onto the greens – the garlic will have imparted its flavour to the oil while they sat aside.
  4. Sprinkle parmesan over the greens and toss again.
  5. Add crutons if desired. To make this salad into a meal, I love to fry and egg and plop it on top for some protein. If you know how to poach eggs, that’s an even healthier option.

Serves 2 (side) or 1 (meal)

– Arlie