All Hail the Mighty Grain Salad!

Serves 4 as a side | Fresh, delicious meals are just a few ideas away with this fun versatile recipe!

grain salad in a wooden bowl

In this week’s Ask Joshna roundup, I got a question from a student about what fresh food must-haves can be used to make quick meals. But instead of offering a list of fresh things to keep on hand, I’d like to flip this around a bit and talk about easy things you can do with whatever you’ve got to make wholesome, affordable, delicious meals for yourselves.

Enter the mighty grain salad!! I have made countless vats of these kinds of salads, and they’re a perfect way to use things up that you have kicking around, or feel like making.  The key is to keep tasting and adding elements to balance the flavour and texture.  Take the time to chop your vegetables into a small dice…you’ll be rewarded with a very beautiful and complex mouthful.

Good grain salads have a number of different elements, and with some thoughtful assembly, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. You need some fresh stuff, some crunchy stuff and some sweet stuff to make a killer mouthful, and this roadmap recipe lets you experiment and find a version of this that you love.

Instead of giving you a specific recipe, I’m sharing the idea of the recipe, with a bit more room for adaptation, depending on what you like and what you’ve got available to you. These grain salads can hang out in the fridge, so a large batch can serve as a few meals. They can be meals all on their own topped with some roasted meats and vegetables or side dishes with a salad or cup of soup. Add some pickled vegetables or a little bit of salsa and you’ve got a great burrito or lettuce wrap too! You’re only limited by your imagination here, friends!


2 cups cooked grains (bulgar, couscous, quinoa, barley, wheatberries etc.)

2 cups finely diced vegetables (peppers, cucumber, celery, carrot, scallions etc.)

1 small handful fresh herbs, finely chopped (parsley, chives, coriander, dill etc.)

1 can beans (kidney, chick peas, white beans, black beans etc.)

1 handful toasted nuts or seeds (pumpkin seeds, pecans, almonds, etc.)

1 handful dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, apricots etc.)

1 small handful crumbled feta or goat cheese

2-3 tbsp oil (olive, canola, grapeseed, sunflower)

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1-2 tbsp acid (vinegar, citrus)

2 tsp total of any desired spices (curry powder, ground cumin, paprika etc.)


  1. Cook grains the appropriate way and set aside to cool (see grain cooking guide in blog)
  2. Add oil, acid, and any desired spices to cooked, cooled grains and season generously with salt and pepper.  Toss well to combine.  You will want to overseason this mixture, so that when you add the other ingredients, everything will catch some of that flavour.
  3. Add vegetables, herbs, beans, nuts or seeds, dried fruit and cheese and toss well to combine.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary to produce a balanced and delicious mouthful.
vegetable and grain salad in a bowl
Joshna is a chef, author & activist who cares a lot about people's relationship with food. She works to rebuild food systems in public institutions putting hospitality and sustainability as a top priority.