Plate and Cork: Grain-based salads a tasty way to eat healthy

Roberta Sabban
Palm Beach Daily News
September 7, 2011

When it comes to modern ideas on healthy eating, plant-based diets seem to be all the rage.

Grains are the chief form of sustenance, in the form of complex carbohydrates, in most of the world. Although the United States is one of the world’s largest grain producers, only 25 percent of Americans’ daily calories come from grains. They provide 50 percent of the rest of the world’s daily calorie count.

Legumes, nuts and seeds are important storehouses of concentrated nutrients, especially protein. Contained in their small pods or shells, they have the means to reproduce themselves, along with enough nutrients to sustain the new plants until they can draw nutrients from the soil. They are an excellent alternative to meat and other fatty sources of protein in your diet.

Two of Amici’s best-selling vegetarian salads are made from either wild rice or cannellini beans, said Maurizio Ciminella of Amici Market, 155 N. County Road.

His customers are looking for healthy foods in the form of lean protein entrees and salads.

From Arborio and basmati to jasmine, rice is one of the most popular grains for a variety of salads. Technically, wild rice is not a grain but a grass seed, native to North America. It was once basic to the diet of the Chippewa and Dakota tribes. Today, it is cultivated in paddies in Minnesota. It has a rich, nutty flavor that, when combined with nuts and berries or vegetables, makes a delicious main dish.

Other tasty grains are amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, spelt, oats, quinoa, and rye.

Legumes, which include beans and peas, are the best plant source of protein. They are well-stocked with energy-producing complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. They are cholesterol-free, almost fat-free and high in fiber. They come in an infinite variety of colors, shapes and tastes.

You can use grains and legumes as a base for a variety of creative salads. When combined with meat, fish, chicken, fresh vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and herbs, and tossed with an oil and vinegar dressing, they make an easy and nutritious one-dish meal.

Canned beans are a convenient, ready-to-eat alternative to dried beans. Be sure to rinse and drain them thoroughly before using them to eliminate some of the sodium in the canning liquid.

If you are making a rice salad, it is best to make it from scratch.

Some people like their rice slightly undercooked so that it has a slightly crunchy or al dente texture in a salad.

 

Wild Rice Salad

For the salad:

  • * 1 pound wild rice
  • ¼ pound walnuts or pecans
  • ¼ pound sunflower seeds
  • 1 large red pepper, finely diced
  • 1 large yellow pepper, finely diced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • ¼ pound golden raisins
  • ¼ pound dark raisins
  • ¼ pound dried cranberries

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon white or black pepper

Cook rice according to package instructions. Drain, layer it in a flat pan and let it cool completely. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the nuts and sunflower seeds.

Place the rice it in a large bowl. Add the nuts, sunflower seeds, peppers, cucumber, raisins and cranberries.

In another bowl combine all the ingredients for the dressing.

Pour the dressing over the rice, mix thoroughly and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place the rice salad on a platter and garnish with reserved nuts and seeds.

Makes 8 servings.


Cannellini or Kidney Bean Salad

You may use either cannellini or kidney beans, or a combination of the two for this salad.
For the salad:

  • 3 cups cooked cannellini or kidney beans or two 15-ounce cans of organic beans
  • 1 celery heart, cut in half-inch pieces, leaves reserved for garnish
  • 3 scallions, white and green part, in half-inch pieces


For the dressing:

  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup champagne or white wine vinegar


Mix the beans, celery and scallions together. Place the pepper in another bowl. Add salt, olive oil and vinegar. Mix well and combine with the beans. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Garnish with reserved celery leaves just before serving.

Makes 4 servings.
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Roberta Sabban teaches cooking classes and writes about food and wine.

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