A ‘mix and match’ recipe for a wholegrain lunchtime salad

by admin on August 13, 2008 · 17 comments

Post image for A ‘mix and match’ recipe for a wholegrain lunchtime salad

Last week was all about those ingredients that sound like they are going to be wholegrains but turn out not to be.  This week is a little of the opposite – I have been cooking with cous cous.  Now those clever foodie types amongst you will know that cous cous isn’t really a grain at all, despite it’s teeny tiny appearance, but that it is actually little tiny pieces of pasta.  But surprisingly perhaps, you can get still get wholegrain cous cous; simply cous cous made from wholewheat flour.

The cous cous, sumac, pepper and date salad featured here is a very simple recipe.  Everybody makes a salad like this every now and then – perfect as a side dish or as a packed lunch to take to work.  Every time I make it this salad it is slightly different, however the ideas behind it are always the same.  I have five broad categories of ingredient in mind to make sure that my salad provides a good range of nutrients:

A wholegrain – choose from quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, wholegrain spelt, wholewheat cous cous and millet or whatever else you fancy.  Wholegrains are higher in vitamins and minerals than their refined equivalents and full of fibre.  People often find that wholegrains are more filling than refined carbohydrates, so a wholegrain salad is perfect for keeping you energetic and wide awake well into the afternoon.

Fresh vegetables – any chopped fresh or lightly blanched vegetables such as peppers, green beans, radish, tomato, grated carrot, courgette, spring onion, red onion, cucumber or sweetcorn.  All of these will count towards your five a day as well as providing vitamins, potassium and fibre.  I like to include something that I know will give me a decent amount of vitamin C – usually red or yellow peppers.  You can of course use leftover roasted vegetables, in which case how about complementing them with some chopped fresh fruit so that you still get plenty of Vitamin C?

Dried fruit – dates, apricots, figs, sour cherries etc will all add an appealing sweet note to your salad.  Most dried fruits are very high in fibre and usually rich in minerals (particularly iron and sometimes also calcium).

Nuts or seeds – these provide healthy fats, more fibre and a little bit of protein. Most importantly they add bags of texture and flavour.

Flavour enhancers – a little something to boost the flavour.  I used sumac, which adds a lovely tart note against the sweet dried dates (not to mention an exotic pink hue!).  But pretty much anything goes; lemon juice, black pepper, fresh or dried herbs, chilli sauce, spices, seasoning mixes. The idea is to boost the flavour of your lunch without needing to add large amounts of calories or salt.

sumac, date, pepper and mint wholegrain cous cousAll of these ingredients are nutritious and tasty in their own right but I find that having this mental “tick list” of foods to include makes sure that my lunch is always well balanced and interesting – the wider the range of ingredients you add the more colour and different textures your salad will have, as well as plenty of nutritional variety. There are other advantages to following this plan; by eating your dried fruit and wholegrains alongside a vitamin C rich vegetable, your body will be much more able to absorb the iron from the dried fruit and grains.  This type of cooking is also immensely frugal and planet friendly; with only a basic outline of the recipe defined there is ample scope for seasonal adaptation, fridge clearance and using up those odds and ends of dried fruit and grains in the cupboard.

There is a moderate amount of protein in this kind of salad from the wholegrain and the nuts; probably enough for most people if you are having a good source of protein at your main meal.  If you know that the rest of your day might be a bit lacking in protein then go for the wholegrains that are higher in protein (particularly quinoa, spelt and rice) or consider adding a helping of fish, lean meat, cheese, tofu or beans.

A short aside
Kathryn Elliott over at Limes and Lycopene is running a fantastic series of posts daily through August called 31 Days to a better diet.  Do check it out if you haven’t done so already; two of my favourites so far include this post about keeping convenient fruit and vegetables handy and this one about trying out one of those new ingredients that we all have tucked away at the back of our cupboards but have never used.  

Related recipes on Mostly Eating
How to interpret wholegrain label jargon and a summer spelt recipe
Mackerel, Pepper and Bulgur Wheat Salad
Instant gratification – tuna, bean and watercress salad
Warm beetroot, sumac and sweet potato salad
An earthy fig, chicken and mushroom salad

Recipe for Cous cous, sumac, mint and date salad

Serves four
Mint tends to go black when it touches moisture. If you want this salad to look its best but can't eat it straight away save the mint to add at the last minute.

200g dried wholewheat cous cous
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper , diced
3 spring onions, finely chopped
6 dried dates, chopped
2 tbsp dried cherries
Small handful chopped pecans , roughly chopped
Fresh mint
2 tsp sumac
black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
optional: a pinch of chilli

Cook the couscous according to the packet instructions.

Add the olive oil and seasoning ingredients (pepper, sumac and optional chilli) and stir well.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well to distribute evenly.


Wendy August 14, 2008 at 20:36

Oh, I love this post. I often make a bulgar salad for my lunches at school and just chuck in whatever’s handy. Like the idea of having this checklist. Plus you’ve encouraged me to branch out from bulgar. :)

Cassie August 14, 2008 at 23:14

Your couscous sounds really good, Sophie, and I love this guide you’ve written up! I’m making a grain salad tonight with some odds and ends and putting it over a bed of spinach. I hadn’t thought to include dried dates, which I’ve got a lot of right now. Thanks for the inspiration. :)

shauna August 15, 2008 at 00:55

fantastic stuff :) finally a use for that sumac i bought!

Ric August 15, 2008 at 01:39

I had to do a double take when I first saw this post. We just had a couscous salad for lunch yesterday which included similar ingredients to your couscous salad — including red peppers, dried fruit, fresh herbs and olive oil. Trudy even wrote a blog post about it: http://www.mediterrasiancooking.com/moroccan-chickpea-couscous-salad.
Your version sounds really yummy, and I love the idea of the sumac and mint combination. Next time we make up a couscous salad we’ll have to try that out.

Johanna August 15, 2008 at 03:59

I keep thinking about making salad with quinoa but bulgar tempts me because it is so quick – btw I have never heard couscous described as a pasta but that makes sense of a recipe I read recently for a small pasta like orzo or couscous

Helen August 15, 2008 at 09:55

Hi Sophie,
I am a huge fan of your blog and am switching all my subscriptions over to google reader so you will receive an e-mail saying I have unsubscribed by e-mail – I just want you to know I have just subscribed in a different way – I wouldn’t want you to think I am not a fan. I’m sure it would be heartbreaking for you , anyway ;)

catering equipment August 15, 2008 at 10:47

Great idea, looks delicious. Need more recipes for lunches!

cookinpanda August 15, 2008 at 15:18

Great post. Making these sorts of salads is so easy so long as the cabinets and refrigerator are stocked really well. And it’s quite fun being creative, too!

Elaine August 15, 2008 at 21:29

I love this post not only for myself but also because I can share it with a salad-loving client I saw today. Using the structure of 5 categories will help her (and me) so much with grocery shopping and meal-planning. Thank you.
Delicious photo, too.

kathryn August 16, 2008 at 03:48

I like the formula – a mental checklist to make sure you have everything. This is a great approach to salad making. As we move into spring, I might talk to some of my clients about this idea . . . if you don’t mind!?
Those quick use vegetables you’ve mentioned are so handy aren’t they? Easy to add and no / minimal cooking required.

Michelle August 17, 2008 at 04:37

looks good. I never use my sumac enough and this is inspiring me.

Sophie August 18, 2008 at 22:12

Hi Wendy, I love bulgur too (so quick!) but it is good to branch out occasionally. The wholegrain cous cous is at least still in that same category of grains that you can cook up really quickly with hot water from the kettle.
Glad you like it Cassie – dates are really good in this kind of dish!
Shauna and Michelle – like you two I’ve had a packet of sumac in the cupboard which has been taking ages to empty, hence this salad. Also check out the beetroot, sweet potato and sumac salad linked to in the post which is really tasty.
Hi Ric – I just had a look at your recipe – you’re right, very similar indeed!
Johanna – that does make sense re your recipe. And I imagine the same salad formula would work really well with a proper small pasta like orzo (I wonder if you can get wholegrain orzo – that would be perfect)
Thanks again for letting me know about the subscription Helen. Happily my email list software keeps me in the dark about these things so I never have to worry about what I might have said or done to cause somebody to unsubscribe. But it was very thoughtful of you to let me know!
Welcome catering equipment, glad you enjoyed the post. I’m always on the lookout for more easy lunch ideas too.
Cookinpanda – you do need to have a little range of foods stock in for this sort of salad, you’re right. The thing I love about this formula is that we nearly always have enough ingredients in to make it in some form or other.
Kathryn and Elaine – glad you both like the idea; of course share away with your clients (hope they enjoy the suggestion!). Hopefully the list approach will encourage people to eat a slightly wider range of foods than they might normally eat for lunch. By having a formula there is a good range of nutrients pretty much guaranteed, but also enough flexibility to cater for individual likes, dislikes and budgets.

Paula August 19, 2008 at 03:22

Hi sophie,
Just discovered your blog and am loving all the healthy eating advice/tips! great photos too!

Matin August 29, 2008 at 23:22

Looks yummy, who says healthy cant be pretty?:-)

Gwen April 21, 2010 at 02:22

That sounds wonderful! I’m so glad I found your blog! Have you ever tried quinoa? I love cous cous and have been cooking with it forever, until I discovered quinoa a while back. It is a complete protein, very tasty, and simple to make. Considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet! Use it just as you described for cous cous. Yum!

Monica April 9, 2012 at 06:28

Stumbled upon this while looking for salad ideas that include dates. Sounds gorgeous! And I’m thinking some roast winter veg wouldn’t go amiss in this, either.

sophie April 9, 2012 at 07:58

Oh yes, this would be tasty, roast winter veg with dates. And maybe some walnuts too – good with the sweetness of the dates

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