Last week, I wanted to make a wintery grain salad. I love my grain salads, especially in the colder months when I still want a bowl of veggies, but something a little heartier than your average lettuce bowl. I’ve made my fair share of wheat berry, spelt berry, barley, and even rice salads. All delicious. My last warm salad creation used pot barley, so I knew this time I wanted something different.
Wheat berries! I hadn’t had them in a while. Perfect! And I always have them in my cupboard…
Went to the cupboard…. no wheat berries. I really didn’t want to use rice, for I still had a large container in my fridge from a recent meal prep. And using barley twice in a row just felt boring. So what other grain did I have kicking around….?
And that’s how it happened.
I’ve been a long time lover of steel cut oats – much preferring them over their rolled cousins for my warm breakfast bowls. Steel cut oats are simply whole oat groats that have been chopped into pieces. “Groats” are the hulled kernel of a cereal or pseudo cereal grain which includes the germ, bran and endosperm portions. This is the most unprocessed and intact form of the grain – having only the most inedible outer hull removed – and thus retains the most fibre.
Maybe you’ve heard of a few others.
Buckwheat groats? Kasha.
Durum wheat groats? Bulgar.
Due to having these additional protective layers, groats do take longer to cook then more processed grains. However, they create the most wonderful chewy, dense texture when cooked. At least, if you are a thick and chewy porridge girl like me (none of this watery stuff), the wait is sooooo worth it.
But, even through all my years of steel cut love, I never in my dreams thought to use them in a salad. Oats are just breakfast food. That’s how we know them. So that’s where they stay.
But why not!? Oats are just another grain – like barley or rice or millet or wheat berries. And I know those all rock in savory salads.
So I went for it. I cooked up some of my beloved steel cut oats, pretending they were just like any other grain, plopped them in with a selection of my favorite salad ingredients, tossed everything in a simple vinaigrette and…
DANG. This turned out AMAZING. Like I said, I lovvvve chewy, and so using steel cut oats made for a salad with the most exciting array of textures I have ever had. Cooking them up in broth rather than water and mixing them with savory herbs somehow made each chewy kernel pop in a brand new way.
This salad is so unique. Its chewy, crunchy, sweet, salty and savory…all in one. Every bite is an explosion of textures and tastes. I literally found myself saying, “Mmmmm!” and “What!?” and “Oh man!” with every spoonful.
So if you are getting tired of using the same grains over and over for your lunch or dinners, or maybe you just find yourself out of your usual stock like me, go make this salad!! Bring some breakfast love to the dinner table. You won’t regret it.
If using certified gluten free oats, it is completely gluten free and can be vegan if you omit the cheese (but I must say this took it to a whole other level)
Most of all, its delicious. Make it for yourself to have for lunches all week long, or make it for a gathering and impress all your friends with your unique and resourceful kitchen skills.
Salad on my friends!
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup steel cut oats
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups vegetable broth
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 medium carrots, finely chopped or grated
2 cups green kale, torn
1 15 oz can red kidney, beans, drained and rinsed*
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)**
1 Tbsp fresh thyme (use dried if you must)
1/2 cup cashews or hazelnuts, chopped (optional)
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp black pepper
few pinches of salt, to taste
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add steel cut oats and cook, stirring often, until toasted (about 3 minutes). Add chopped onion and cook 3 minutes more, until softened. Add broth, bring to boil, reduce heat and let simmer (covered) for 35 minutes. You want the oats to be tender but still chewy. Drain liquid and set aside to cool.
While your oats are cooking, steam (or roast, if you prefer) cubed sweet potato until tender.
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast nuts – if using – shaking the pan occasionally (about 3 minutes)
In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Adjust to taste.
In a large bowl, combine oats, sweet potato, carrots, kale, beans, cranberries, feta and thyme.
Toss dressing over oat mixture and stir well to combine.
*These are what I used, but I would suspect chickpeas or even black beans would also be nice
** I would suspect goat cheese would also be wonderful. Let me know if you give it a try!