Bulgur, quinoa star in summer salads

Summer and salads have an obvious relationship: When the mercury flirts with 100 degrees you're likely to lean toward lighter, cooler, leafy meals.

What's probably less obvious is that grain-based salads fill the craving for a light meal while packing in fiber and protein missing from many greens-based salads. In many cases, these can be main-dish salads, or pair them your favorite grilled meat or chilled soup.

I'm including some recipes here, but take them as suggestions rather than doctrine; swap in the vegetables ripening in your garden or collected from the farmers market.

Since many of these get better flavor with time, consider cooking the grains and doing the vegetable prep tonight after dinner. Refrigerate the salad and tomorrow's dinner will be ready when you walk in the door.

Here are some grains to consider:

Barley: Barley is a versatile cereal grain with a robust, nutty flavor and pasta-like texture. It resembles wheat berries, although it is slightly lighter in color.

A cup of cooked barley has 6 grams fiber and 4 grams protein. That fiber has been shown to help reduce cholesterol, improve intestinal health and help prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high in people with diabetes.

People often associate barley with soup, but it works well in summer salads too.

Bulgur: Bulgur is what you get when wheat kernels are boiled, dried and cracked. This grain is sometimes referred to as “Middle Eastern pasta” for its versatility as a base for all sorts of dishes. A cup of cooked bulgur has 8 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein and zero fat.

Tabbouleh, a minty blend of bulgur, tomatoes, onions and parsley, has been showing up on grocery salad bars with increasing frequency and is a tasty introduction to the grain.

Because bulgur has been precooked and dried, it cooks for only 10 minutes — about the same time as dry pasta. This makes bulgur a nutritious fast food for quick salads and side dishes.

Farro: Also called emmer wheat, farro was one of the earliest cultivated grains and was grown widely in northern Africa and Europe. But farro — the Italian name for this relative of modern wheat — can be fussy to grow and lost favor.

Farro has a robustly nutty flavor and a satisfyingly chewy texture. It works well with numerous ingredients and cuisines.

Best yet, if you know how to boil pasta, you know how to cook farro. Boil 1 cup of farro in 3 to 4 cups of water (salted or not) for 15 minutes, then drain. Farro is high in starch and it holds its texture even when overcooked.

In Italy, where most farro is grown, the grain often is added to soups and salads. At Bapi in Arlington Heights, chef Christiano Bassani pairs farro with roasted vegetables for a bold summer salad.

In the United States, most farro — which is high in protein and low in gluten — is pearled, which means it has been hulled. This helps it cook faster. Avoid farro that is not pearled, as this must be first soaked, then cooked for longer.

Quinoa: Available in white, red and black varieties, this tiny grain, pronounced KEEN-wah, is the principal grain grown and consumed in the Andes Mountain region and it's been like that for centuries.

Gram-for-uncooked-gram, 100 grams of quinoa delivers 374 calories and 5.8 grams of fat. That may not sound like a good thing, but it is. Quinoa contains more than six times the amount of monounsaturated fat compared to wheat.

There's something special about quinoa's protein makeup, too. Quinoa's essential amino acid makeup is almost perfectly balanced with more than three times the lysine as white flour, almost twice as much as whole-wheat flour and almost two and a half times that of brown rice. For vegetarians, especially, that's ideal.

Cooked quinoa delivers a light, fluffy texture, similar to cooked white rice, with a mild, slightly nutty flavor, like cooked brown rice. You'll know it's cooked when you see the orbs begin to open.

Wheat berries: No these aren't berries, but wheat seeds. And since they're unprocessed, they retain nutrients and fiber that refined wheat products do not have. A ¼-cup serving of wheat berries contains 139 calories, 5 grams fiber, 4.5 grams protein and 1 gram of fat. While not a high-protein food, wheat berries work well with beans to create a protein-rich meal.

Wheat berries need some prep before they're ready to mingle with other salad ingredients. Pour 3 cups water into a pot for every 1 cup of wheat berries you want to cook. First bring the water to a boil, then salt it, then stir in the wheat berries. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Drain.

Cooked wheat berries should be chewy, not crunchy, and will resemble cooked brown rice.

Ÿ Associated Press contributed to this report.

Spicy Southwestern Tabbouleh

Barley and Spinach Salad

Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Wheat Berry Salad with Goat Cheese

Quinoa with Jicama, Red Pepper and Lime

Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comBulgur
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comQuinoa
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comWheat Berries
Barley provides fiber and texture to a salad of spinach, shallots, tofu and tomatoes. Enjoy this warm or cold.
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comBulgur
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comFarro
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comFarro
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comQuinoa
  Quinoa with Jicima and Red Peppers Bob Chwedyk/
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comBarley kernels
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.comBarley kernels
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