the definitive guide to salad – part 3 grains, nuts & seeds

natural almonds freekeh

If you think salad is all about leaves and dressing, prepare for your world to change for the better.

I’m a big fan of brown short grain rice. Something about it’s subtle nuttiness and healthy connotations.

In general I don’t cook rice frequently but with my latest supermarket discovery that may change. I’ve been experimenting with par cooked rice pouches that just need to be microwaved for 90 seconds for perfect steamed rice. Significantly more expensive than cooking your own – definitely one for the time poor.

Since becoming a minimalist, I’ve sold my microwave and pretty much don’t miss it except for when I want to defrost. You can heat the rice in the bag in a pot of simmering water but I haven’t tried that just yet. What I have discovered is that you can soak it in boiling water for 30 seconds and it’s all ready to dress and turn into a rice salad.

Am sure it’s not as nutritious as cooking your own, but so much simpler and just as tasty.

If I had to choose between rice and barley I’d pick barley more often than not. I just LOVE it’s chewy unique texture. For salad use it anywhere you’d normally use rice. Also brilliant in soups and hearty slow cooked dishes.

I used to cook couscous all the time and couscous salads were always on high rotation during Summer. It’s been way too long. Super simple to cook and flavour – just pour over boiling water or stock and a little oil or butter then stand for 5 minutes or so before fluffing with a fork and dressing.

freekeh / bulgur
I’ve grouped these together as they are both types of cracked wheat and can pretty much be used interchangeably. Freekeh differs in that the wheat is picked green which apparently means superior health benefits. For more on freekeh see super freekeh. Both require soaking or simmering. Bulgur is the traditional grain for Lebanese tabbouleh.

par cooked brown rice shelled pistachios

Not technically a grain, but seems to fit in best here. I don’t think I’ve ever made a pasta salad. Must be something to do with scarring from those terrible supermarket deli salads smothered in mayo. But please don’t let my prejudice infect you. I do remember seeing Jamie Oliver make a picnic pasta salad that was fresh tomato based and looked delicious. Would love to hear if anyone has a pasta salad recipe they recommend.

I love nuts. They’re wonderful for adding some flavour and crunch and beefing up your salad to make it more substantial.

There are pretty much three decisions when it comes to nuts and salad. Which nut to use? Roasted or raw? Chopped or whole? Pinenuts are a big favourite, but I’m also very fond of pistachios and almonds. Roasting enhances the flavour.

I rarely think to put seeds in my salads but they can be lovely. The Japanese are big on sesame seeds. Pretty much everything I’ve said about nuts applies here.

brown rice & almond tabouleh

brown rice & almond tabbouleh
serves 3-4

I’ve used short grain brown rice. By all means use whichever rice or grain you like best.

I’ve made this really substantial by adding a heap of almonds and serving with natural yoghurt. If you were serving as a side dish you could easily get by with a quarter of the nuts or ditch them all together.

Lovely with fish or lamb, it’s a brilliant little BBQ salad as it takes hardly any time to whip up if you use my rice tip (see above) and it’s happy to sit around in the fridge while you hang out with your guests. Makes a great work lunch.

I was too lazy to toast my almonds last time I made this and I actually really liked the subtle sweet nutiness. Feel free to toast if that’s your preference.

2C cooked brown rice (approx 250g / 9oz)
I bunch mint, leaves picked
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/4C lemon juice
1/4C extra virgin olive oil
1C whole almonds (approx 100g)
pita bread, to serve, optional
natural yoghurt, to serve, optional

If using precooked rice, place in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Allow to stand for about 30 seconds then drain and rinse well with cold water to cool.

Chop off and discard about half of the parsley stalks. Then finely chop the remaining bunch with the rest of the stalks and leaves. Chop mint. In a large salad bowl stir herbs and onion through drained rice.

Combine lemon juice and oil and season well. Dress salad and toss though nuts.

brown rice & almond tabouleh


The stonesoup definitive guide to salad.
Part 1 – Leaves
Part 2 – Dressings
Part 3 – Grains, Nuts & Seeds
Part 4 – Bread
Part 5 – Legumes (tune in next Tuesday)

sake restaurant & bar review eat|shop|drink
5 ingredients. 5 minutes. 5 meals. Simple Noodles at Zen Family Habits


  • I bought some barley in a burst of enthusiasm not too long ago, but have no idea how to cook it. Do you boil it like rice? for how long?

    I love grainy salads but haven’t tried making my own yet. Will have to try the barley once I get it figured out.

  • Barley? I found it very difficult to get back into it after my university days where it was all we ate because it cost 20c a packet and was much much cheaper than rice!!

  • My favourite new way to have seeds in a salad is to toast a handful of pepitas and almonds in a non-stick pan, add a tablespoon of maple syrup and stir until is caramelises. Great with a rocket and sharp hard goat cheese salad dressed with a tangy lemon dressing.

  • I haven’t made a pasta salad in awhile but I never used mayo. I add whatever vegetables (tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower cucumbers etc) I want to the pasta, (normally used the tri color pasta) and dressed it with a robust Italian dressing.

  • I agree with you on pasta salads! Horrible experiences of flaccid pasta with too much cheap mayo and a little grated carrot have scarred me, but Orzo is the way of the delicious pasta salad. Cook it til al-dente, drain, refresh and drain again well. Then mix with finely diced vegetables, nuts, spices – delicious with coriander, cumin, garlic, chilli, red onion, tomato, cucumber blah blah blah.
    Are you going to do legumes on their own? Great series btw, most of these idea aren’t new to me but it is -very- inspirational to have them all in one place. Good work!

  • stringy
    I do that all the time. buy something new and then have to figure out how to cook it. you could try this salad with barley. you boil it and it takes about as long as brown rice. it’s also lovely added to soups and stews. thickens things up and gives a lovely hearty texture.

    wow. didn’t realise barley was cheaper than rice. can see why you’re struggling with it

    love the idea of sweet caramelised nuts and seeds in salad.

    great idea to use a normal dressing for pasta salad instead of mayo

    you know I’ve never ever cooked orzo. not sure why but I will take your suggestion and use it for my first pasta salad.

    glad you’re enjoying the series. I’m having heaps of fun with it. will definitely have a legume chapter.

  • I like to use Israeli couscous (round semolina pasta balls) in salads – it looks much more attractive than regular pasta shapes. At Epicurious there’s a recipe that I use as a warm salad (Israeli couscous with roasted butternut, preserved lemon) that includes toasted pine nuts, parsley. Another great read, thanks!

  • My friend makes a wicked pasta salad out of cooked tortellini with chopped parsley and mint, olive oil, halved cherry tomatoes and spinach leaves all tossed together. I like to add some truffle oil to give it some oomph and also some pinenuts.

    Did you hear that Ebulli is closing its doors in 2012 and 2013?

  • jennifer
    I think I have some pearl couscous in the cupboard but wasn’t sure what to do with it. Thanks for the suggestion – love the idea of roast pumpkin with preserved lemon

    tortelini in salads sounds lovely. reminds me of a salad I once had in a cafe in Lyon – perfect for when you feel like a little pasta but don’t want something too carby and heavy

    yes I did hear about elBulli – sounds like Ferran is planning a long holiday – lucky I made it last year

  • Karen Martini has a great pasta salad and I have been making it for years…it also has potatoes (forget carb free with this one!) green beans, peas and fresh pesto tossed through it. The recipe is in her first book…where the heart is (i think..) and is always a winner…a great salad for a large group, very rustic, delicious and filling!
    Also, the Jamie Oliver pasta salad you are referring to is a great salad – I am guessing its the one with the cherry tomatoes, olives etc all finely chopped with the small shell pasta? A friend of mine makes it quite often and everyone loves it – very light and fresh!
    Thanks – I love your blog – very glad to hear you have thrown in your job and work on this full time!

  • Hi Jules,

    Another yummy thing to add to salad? Roasted pepitas. I have been adding them to my salads consistently for almost a year and they just add something so delish and crunchy. Plus, roasting them just makes the kitchen smell delightful and rich.

    Thanks for another great post!

  • I do a pasta salad with little shell pasta or fafalle with roasted cherry tomatoes, red + yellow capsicum, a lot of parsley a *tiny* bit of mayo (I roast the tomatoes in oil and this acts as a dressing) with some avocado sliced over the top – a tasty and healthier spin on the more traditional mayo-heavy pasta salads.

    I’ve also used tortellini with a grain mustard vinaigrette, olives, cherry tomatoes and baby spinach – also good along a similar line is fried gnochi tossed through pesto with cherry tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, blanched chopped green beans and some danish feta stirred through (the warm gnochhi melts it and again, it works a little like a dressing) – also served on top of baby spinach.

  • Wow… Just saw your site on tastespotting and am glad I took a closer look! Beautiful photos and really interesting post. I will definitely be back for more! This sounds like a delicious salad and great ideas too!

  • thanks simone
    hope to see you back on stonesoup soon!

    thanks janet
    got a new nikon d700 just before my trip to spain. absolutely love it – the camera does most of the work. and I always use natural light -really critical for good food photography

    thanks for the pasta salad tips. they sound lovely. especially the tortellini

    there’s something about the smell of roasting that really warms the soul doesn’t it.

    I’ve made that karen martini dish but thought of it more of a pasta than a salad but I guess you’re right. and that sounds like the jamie olive one I was thinking of. thanks.

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