Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summery Whole-Grain Salad

It was totally Strega Nona. You know, how Big Anthony abuses the magic pasta pot, and the town fills with spaghetti, and then the solution (because Strega Nona studied Dante's Inferno?) is for him to eat it all? That's what it was like. It turns out that if you start with 6 cups of cooked spelt, you are going to be making a whole lot of salad. And then, when you're not looking, that salad is going to grow. So that by the time you bring it to a potluck, it's going to be heaped up over the rim of the bowl. And then after the potluck, during which everyone is going to eat tons and tons of it and exclaim over its goodness, I swear, the bowl is going to be nearly full still. And then by morning the bowl with actually be completely full again. It is a magical mystery grain. Plus, it just sounds so bad. Spelt. Spelt. "I brought spelt salad," I said, to my friend Meredith. And then I added, "It's better than it sounds." "It would have to be," she said. "What's with spelt anyway? Spelt. It sounds like spent. Crossed with smelt." Exactly.

How was your holiday? People asked me when I dropped the kids off at school this morning, and I wanted to say, "Spelt-rific!" (I'm sure I've mentioned to you the 4-H sign we once saw in a barn at a county fair: "Goats! They're goat-rific!") We ate so much spelt salad that it was coming out of our ears, and this was after bringing it to a second potluck! Seriously.  I mean, it was a great holiday, it was. We swam in a friend's pool. We swam at a swimming hole. We watched almost all of this series with the kids (check for it at your local library). I cleaned the kitchen. We played Puerto Rico and Rummikub and Dutch Blitz. I read this, which blew my mind. We tried to figure out how the mosquitoes are getting into the house. We drank beer. We drank blueberry-coconut smoothies. We drank hard cider. We sweltered. We cooled off. We saw fireflies. Really, it was perfect. But boy, kind of grainy.

Luckily, though, the salad really was fantastic: chewy and earthy, bright and crunchy, tangy and fresh, with ecstatic hits of lemon, sweet bites of cherry, and salty bursts of feta. It is seriously well-balanced and delicious, and thank God. Because I'm about to eat the last bowl of it for lunch.

Summery Whole-Grain Salad
Serves 350
Total time: 45 minutes

Oddly, I don't use olive oil in the dressing here, because I like to let the flavor of the lemon really sing out, unencumbered by another strong taste. But feel free to swap anything around, or swap in anything you like better than something else. And feel free to double the recipe if you're hoping to eat this for the rest of your life.

*3 cups cooked whole grains (such as spelt, farro, wheat berries, brown rice, or barley)
8 ounces frozen baby peas, boiled 1 minute, drained, and cooled under cold water
1 English cuke, halved, seeded, and diced
½ of a small red onion, chopped and rinsed under cold water
The juice (1/4 cup) and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon each sugar and kosher salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dried tart cherries, soaked in warm water for 5-20 minutes, then coarsely chopped
6 ounces crumbled feta
½ of a 7-ounce bag of arugula, coarsely chopped (or parsley, mint, dill, or a combination, finely chopped)

Put the cooked grain in a large bowl, then stir in the peas, cuke, and onion. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper, then stir most of the dressing into the grain. Now add the lemon zest, cherries, feta, and arugula, and stir again. Allow the salad to sit for a little, then stir again and taste, adding the end of the dressing and/or more salt and/or another squeeze of lemon to balance out the flavor. Serve at room temperature or cold.

*To make 3 cups of cooked spelt, I boiled 1 ½ cups of spelt in plenty of salted water until just tender (around 25 minutes), and then I drained it well and put it back in the pot with a dish towel under the lid to let it steam and dry out for another 10 minutes.

It looks so innocent here, like maybe it's not even going to be enough! You don't understand at first what you're dealing with. Kind of like, Oh, Amityville seems like a nice place to live.

Ingredients from Trader Joe's.

The lemon situation.

At first I thought this bowl was going to be big enough. Kind of like how at first, in Poltergiest, they thought that a burial ground was a good place to build a housing development.

I had to switch to the biggest bowl in the world to mix it.

But it looks delicious, doesn't it? It really was. Er, is.

Birdy loves, loves, loves the spelt salad. But What's that on her face? you're wondering. Whenever I cut her hair, she puts some cut hair on a piece of tape and makes herself a little mustache. It cracks me up, even though it's a little Hitler-ific, if you know what I'm saying.


  1. I'm laughing so hard at Birdy's mustache that I kind of forgot what I was going to say. Oh! Now I remember! I'm making empanadas today for our supper! I feel like a total jerk having to go back to the old site to find it, though. Today is our first *official* day of summer, so per your recommendation, I waited until today to tackle them. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Mmmm. Can't wait.

  2. Angela12:47 PM

    Love the moustache - even if it IS a little disturbing!!

    Spelt is very popular in Germany (where it also sounds better, because it is called "Dinkel"). It is really good added to soup like barley, and tastes great ground into flour and baked into bread. Especially if you can get the "green" kind, which has a stronger flavour. Actually it is a close relative of wheat.

  3. I have to clean my keyboard now, because I spit cauliflower on it when I read "Serves: 350"
    I'm already attracting co-worker glances and I haven't even gotten to the moustache. Oh, happy day.

  4. grain salad! yay! the bestest for summer.

    Catherine Newman, I have a request. Can you give me some advice about making spring rolls? This is my clever brainstorm for a weekly summer staple, and I've made them before and know them to be not hard, but I'm at sea in the wide number of intarweb advisings for fixings. What, really, is the best way to do tofu for this? How can I make it crispy and flavorful? I had a friend who did the tofu part the last time we made them, and I am failing to reproduce her results.

    Basically the only given I have is, mint, because obviously. but if you have thoughts I would love to hear them.

  5. The Frontier House is awesome, I have a disc at home right now from Netflix. Have you seen The 1900 House? It's pretty good too.
    Your recipe reminds me of a family recipe in our family for grape salad. A note at the bottom says that if you double it you'll have to serve it in a punch bowl!
    Also, I see a request and it reminded me that I have one too. I'm addicted to these Wasabi Almonds right now. I never knew I liked Wasabi, but I do. I need a wasabi or horseradish recipe sometime if you know of one!

  6. A cold grain salad sounds perfect right now since I'm looking at the 100 degrees forecast for tomorrow. I know my son will at least try it since there are dried cherries in it.

    I'd like to second the request for spring rolls if you have any tricks! I'm pregnant and have been craving them, but I can't find any in town that aren't full of seafood.

    Birdy's mustache is hilarious in a "is it ok to laugh about Hitler related comments?" kind of way. I'm a little sad I never thought of it, actually!

  7. dale in denver3:29 PM

    This looks way yummy!

    If you provide a spring roll recipe, don't forget the spicy peanut dip!

    Birdy is so beautiful - even with her Hitler mustache.

  8. Teafortwo3:43 PM

    Spelt. We had spelt bread this week from the sale rack of our favorite vacation spot co-op in Asheville (doesn't everyone have a vacation spot co-op?) We ate almost all of it and saved the rest for the turtles at the swimming pool. It makes for a very crumbly sandwich. Spelt salad sounds so virtuous. Got any ideas about white radishes? I've grown too many.

  9. Am I the only one who thinks 'abusing the pasta pot' sounds kind of dirty?

  10. This is a perfect dish for a hot summer night. It was so hot here today and I am not at all ready! It feels like summer just snuck up on us.

    The mustache is hilarious! Totally something my girls would do if I cut their hair.

  11. Hi Catherine,

    After reading your post (salad sounds delicious; maybe I'll cut it down to 1/35 and try it), I was reading my favorite science blogger (Ed Yong), and he also posted a link to the conjoined story. So then I thought I should share this link:


    This link is a list of links that Ed Yong put together as items of note (I only looked at a few but they are great). Ed also posts regularly about science of ALL kinds - from evolutionary to neuro to social to molecular and on. Great stuff.

  12. Catherine - you are my hero, once again. I made this last night, and it was perfect. My kids loved it almost as much as I did. This will be a staple throughout the summer, I am sure. Most of our staple dinners come from you (tonight is the dinner beans recipe that I make so often I can't believe my kids still eat it). But yeah, this makes a ton. I thought about doubling it and taking some to our ill neighbor. I'm glad I didn't. I had plenty to take to her, and for my family, and some left for lunch today.

    Oh - and we received our first issue of Chop Chop, and my very young kids are enjoying cooking their way through their very own cooking magazine. It is funny how much influence you've had on my family's eating habits. We all thank you!

  13. I don't think I've ever laughed as much when reading a recipe! not sure if I have 350 friends, neighbors, relatives to feed....but i will try the recipe. sounds great

  14. Anonymous12:17 PM

    Love Birdy's mustache! It reminds me that a few years ago whenever I would take my daughter to get her hair cut, I would catch her whispering to the lady to "please don't sweep up my hair and throw it away - I need it to make wigs for my Polly Pockets" - the looks I would get suddenly made cutting her hair at home seem like a more reasonable option.

  15. I cannot wait to try this! I could live on grain salads. I'd like to try the spelt, but I don't have any on hand. How about using quinoa?

  16. Jennifer5:38 PM

    Spelt salad sounds fantastic! This recipe came just in time for a potluck this weekend. Thanks!
    I loved Frontier House when it was on PBS. I hadn't thought to look it up to watch with kids. Good idea.

  17. Anonymous7:17 PM

    I am looking forward to trying this. Everything I try from your blog is wonderful (except the yeast waffles; not sure what I did wrong there.) I hope you are all safe from the tornadoes I am reading about in Massachusetts today!

  18. We just got 1940s House...we're going to a 1940 weekend in the UK this summer. Guess I could use Birdy's mustache for that event too, no?

  19. I am looking forward to trying this out. I am in love with a barley salad, and I am glad to try another grain out in a salad. I love Birdy's 'stache, it's very, um, retro. It's strange that as I read your sweet blog on family and cooking that I am watching the movie 28 days. I guess it's even weirder that my thoughts are consumed with grain salad.
    What's ovenish anyways, capcha?

  20. jensammons4:15 PM

    Okay, I KNEW you were reading and marveling at the conjoined twins story! I totally thought of you when I read it because I remembered something you wrote about you and B&B being fascinated by conjoined twins. The article was amazing and blew my mind too.

    AND I made a very similar salad this week with barley that just about filled the entire kitchen. Thanks for another fabulous picnic recipe!

  21. Jennifer6:04 PM

    No spelt at my local grocery store, so I used short grain brown rice. Also, I forgot to put dried cherries on my list (doh!) so I chopped up a red pepper instead. Delicious!!! I will hunt down spelt somewhere else and make this again. and again. and again.

  22. I remember the first time I google-translated "farro" to see what it was in English: Spelt! I just can't use that word mainly because no one knows what I am saying. All my English-speaking friends just say "farro" though I'm thinking of starting to use "dinkel". What's not to love about a dinkel salad?Now that my husband is on a no-wheat diet (tough here in Italy) we are very thankful for farro, barley and kamut.

  23. Just wanted today I've made this three or four times and it's just fantastic. I usually use edamame instead of peas, and cranberries instead of cherries. Thanks for another great recipe!

  24. i have already made this salad once this summer. it was a huge hit on our camping trip to the sacandaga river in the adirondacks!
    i'm making another batch right now!