To some people, grain salad probably sounds like a food oxymoron - or at least a dish that can't make up its mind.
Is it grain or is it green?
The answer is it's both.
Popular in the '60s, especially among vegetarians, grain salads are making a comeback. They're cropping up in kitchens around the United States, as home cooks and restaurant chefs honor grains' versatility, nutritional value, and hearty flavor in salad form.
Graced with a light dressing, cool grain salads are perfect for summer's slow segue into autumn.
Uninitiated eaters should not shy away, lest they think that grain salads are merely a mix of Shredded Wheat and lettuce that has survived a round in the food processor - producing something of a cross between herbal food and gerbil food.
Grains offer an earthy or nutty flavor as well as a nubby texture to salads. Most people's first experience with grain salad is with tabbouleh, the popular Middle Eastern dish made with bulgur wheat and served with pita bread. It's a hearty grain-and-green combo, often accented by parsley or mint, scallions, garlic, and tomatoes.
After MOKA California Cafe in Boston started serving its version of tabbouleh - a cracked wheat salad - with every sandwich, customers asked for containers to go. ''Awareness of grains is growing,'' says owner Sherry Kozlowski, who notes that natural- food stores now offer ''bins and bins'' of different grains. That visibility causes people to be more receptive to new and different ways of eating grains, she says.
Markets are carrying not only the likes of rice, corn, and barley, but also millet, wheat berries, couscous, kasha (roasted buckwheat), and quinoa (keen-wah). These grains have been around for centuries.
''We're rediscovering them,'' assures Bonnie Tandy Leblang, co-author (with Joanne Lamb Hayes) of the cookbook ''Grains,'' which includes salad recipes ranging from Black Bean, Red Pepper, Corn, and Quinoa Salad to Citrus Couscous Salad.
''Basically, you use grain like a painter's palette. Adding vegetables and other ingredients to it makes it wonderfully refreshing,'' Ms. Leblang says.
The following dishes are meant to be served cool or at room temperature. You can adapt recipes to make the salads more grainy than green or vice versa.
Served at room temperature, tabbouleh provides the freshness of a salad and the heartiness of rice, which makes it a popular dish in hot Middle Eastern countries.
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 of one lemon)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 small bunch mint, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in eighths
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the bulgur and the boiling water in a medium-sized mixing bowl and let sit for about 15 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed.
Add the remaining ingredients, and stir gently to combine.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to let the flavors blend. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- From Annie Somerville, as printed in 'Chic Simple Cooking,' by Kim Johnson Gross and Jeff Stone; with Sally Sampson and Todd Lyon (Knopf, 289 pp., $30)
CITRUS COUSCOUS SALAD
Light and incredibly refreshing ...
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth, boiling
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup couscous
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped scallions (about 2)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 oranges, peeled and cut into segments
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
In a medium bowl pour broth and orange juice over couscous; stir to combine. Cover and set aside, stirring occasionally, until all the broth has been absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Meanwhile whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, scallions, cilantro, soy sauce, zest, ginger, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add to the couscous, mixing well. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve or chill until 30 minutes before serving. Mix in oranges and pine nuts just before serving. Serves 4 to 6.
- From 'Grains: Seventy-Six Healthy Recipes for Barley, Corn, Rye, Wheat, and Other Grains,' by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Bonnie Tandy Leblang (Harmony Books, 138 pp., $15)
SUMMERY WILD-RICE-AND-CUCUMBER SALAD
Cucumber, dill, and radish are all fresh, summery flavors, and when you combine them with a light and creamy yogurt dressing, they're guaranteed to make you feel as ''cool as a cucumber'' on a hot day.
1-1/2 cups chopped peeled or unpeeled cucumber
1 cup cooked and cooled wild rice
1/2 cup sliced radish
1/4 cup sliced scallion, both white and green parts
1/3 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, wild rice, radish, and scallion. In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, mayonnaise, dill, lemon rind, salt, and pepper. Pour over wild-rice mixture and toss gently until completely combined.
- From 'The Complete Whole Grain Cookbook,' by Carol Gelles (Donald I. Fine Inc., 514 pp., 1989)