When you’re trying to eat healthy, grain salad is a great replacement for pasta or potato salads. You still get a delicious side dish, but without all the empty calories and fat. Plus, grain salad (like the one shown here) is super versatile. You can whip up a delicious dish with ingredients you likely already have on hand. Here’s how to make a healthy grain salad without a recipe.
Step 1: Determine Your Ratio
How much grain do you want compared to mix-ins (like veggies, crumbled cheese or fruit)? Delicious ratios vary widely and can be customized to your desired taste. We recommend:
- For a grain-heavy salad, use 3 parts grain to 1 part mix-ins.
- To make a half-and-half salad, use 1 part grain to 1 part mix-ins.
- If you want a very veggie salad, use 1 part grain to 2 parts mix-ins.
Step 2: Pick a Grain
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You can use barley, bulgur, farro, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, wild rice, wheat berries—or whatever else you have on hand. For added texture, consider mixing a few different grains together. Keep in mind that some grains take longer to cook than others, so be sure to take cook time into account when you’re building your salad.
Step 3: Consider Mix-ins
Here comes the fun part: adding mix-ins! Consider using fresh fruits and veggies, toasted nuts, dried fruit or a little crumbled cheese. Just make sure any mix-ins are cut into bite-size pieces so the salad is easy to eat. Here are a few more helpful tips:
- If you’re adding fresh greens (like arugula or spinach), mix them into the salad just before serving so they don’t become soggy.
- Nuts should also be added right before serving so they stay crunchy. (Here’s how to toast ’em for added flavor).
- If you’re using crumbly cheese (like feta, cotija or goat cheese), sprinkle it over the top of the salad instead of stirring it in. This will help prevent the dish from getting cloudy.
Step 4: Dress It Up
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Most grain salads are dressed with some kind of vinaigrette. You can make your own with olive oil, vinegar and seasonings, or opt for a store-bought variety. You’ll need about 1 to 3 tablespoons of dressing for every cup of salad. Since cooked grains don’t absorb as much liquid as pasta or potatoes, a little bit goes a long way—even if you refrigerate the salad overnight.
Step 5: Assemble the Salad
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To assemble the salad, cook and cool your grains. Most grain salads can be served at a variety of temperatures (warm, room temperature or chilled) so keep that in mind when determining how long your grains need to cool. Then, add in your desired mix-ins. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately, or let it chill in the fridge for up to one day.
Fun Flavor Combinations
If you’re not sure what mix-ins and grains will go well together, try one of these delicious combinations:
- Southwest: Rice + beans + tomatoes + green onions + ranch dressing
- Fall harvest: Wheat berries + dried cranberries + apples + toasted pecans + goat cheese + balsamic vinaigrette
- Winter blend: Wild rice + cooked turkey + orange + celery + red onion + citrus vinaigrette
- Easy Asian: Brown rice + edamame + slaw mix + grilled chicken + cilantro + sliced almonds + sesame ginger dressing
- Lemony spring mix: Quinoa + blanched asparagus + radishes + minced parsley + lemon vinaigrette