Grain or pulse salads

3 June 2013

Salads with pulses or grains are filling and easy to make, and they don’t wilt in the fridge like many of their leaf-based counterparts. Following a specific recipe is unnecessary, since all such salads follow a few basic principles.

Start by picking a suitable grain and pulse for your base. I find couscous and bulghur the quickest and easiest grains to work with. Pulses such as tinned beans, chickpeas, and lentils are also easy, and make excellent bases or their own or in conjunction with a grain. Quinoa has a pleasant texture if prepared properly but takes a bit longer to cook, as does rice. You can also use small pasta such as orzo.

As with any salad, dressing and seasoning are essential. Olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper are good staples, but you may wish to experiment with other oils, vinegars, and spices. Depending on what other ingredients I’m using, I might add add toasted and crushed cumin or coriander seeds, smoked paprika, allspice, or cinnamon.

Naturally, you need to add some vegetables. My personal favourites are roast pumpkin and kumara, and grilled beetroot, sweetcorn, and asparagus. I also frequently use raw vegetables such as avocado, tomato, rocket, watercress, and baby spinach. Sauteed alliums – such as garlic, onions, shallots, and leeks – can also be used to create a rich, sulfurous base.

Other ingredients that you might use for improving your salad’s flavour and texture include herbs, nuts, cheese, dried fruit, and meat and poultry. Stick to fresh soft herbs such as mint, parsley, coriander, and basil. Nuts add excellent crunch; I am partial to walnuts and pistachios, but all members of the nut family work well. Toasted pumpkin seeds are also delicious. Soft cheeses such as feta, yoghurt cheese, and ricotta provide a delightfully fatty contrast to fresh vegetables. You might also wish to use dried fruits for creating further contrast, but use them sparingly. Hard-boiled eggs and cold meats such as prosciutto or salami add extra protein, and make your salad more filling.

Finally, have a dig around in the back of your fridge. Do you have any olives? Sundried tomatoes? Chargrilled peppers? Artichokes? Into the salad they go! (Assuming they haven’t expired…)

Below are some of my recent creations.

  • Bulghur salad with avocado, tomato, and hard-boiled egg
    Bulghur and hard-boiled eggs, with tomato, avocado, feta, mint, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil.

    Bulghur salad with roast beetroot and walnuts
    Bulghur, roast beetroot and walnuts, with yoghurt cheese, sauteed onion and garlic, mint, parsley, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

    Chickpea salad with asparagus and watercress
    Chickpeas, roast asparagus and watercress, with feta, mint, lemon juice and olive oil.