Tropical Any-Grain Salad

Tropical Any-Grain Salad

I’m getting back into teaching. It’s been a while year since I last offered Parents Need to Eat Too, the class. Heck, my cookbook hadn’t even come out yet! This time around, I’m taking a slightly different approach: Rather than teaching a handful of women who don’t know each other in my own kitchen or a nearby baby store, I spent a recent morning teaching a customized cooking lesson to a pair of moms whose kids go to Harry’s school.* Before the class, I asked them about their most pressing kitchen issues. The first woman wrote:

My main issue is meal planning/time management/and having some healthy/tasty ideas in a pinch. I love to cook but am working and juggling and often feel overwhelmed with the thought of getting a meal on the table.

No surprise, the second mom said she faced pretty much the same problem. Oh, and she’d love to learn some new ways with grains. I decided to teach them the basics of making a whole-grain salad, which offers a squijillion variations. (See: Pam Anderson’s Cook without a Book: Meatless Meals [a book I love], or my Summery Swiss Chard, Corn, Peach, and Quinoa Salad, my Warm Delicata Squash and Israeli Couscous Salad, my Wheatberry Salad with Chickpeas and Dried Cherries, and my Tuna, Farro, and White Bean Salad.) We’d use a cooked whole grain as a base, and fill it out with beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and cheeses. The combination of ingredients, and the dressing, could take us anywhere around the world.

In the end, my students and I visited the Mediterranean with Israeli couscous, fennel, cucumbers, artichokes, chickpeas, almonds, dates, and feta tossed in a garlicky vinaigrette, and then zoomed off to a white-sand tropical beach with the recipe I’m about to show you. It combines papaya—fresh chunks in the salad, and seeds whirred in the dressing for a peppery bite—coconut chips, black beans, avocado, and goat cheese in a creamy, summery, yet filling bowlful of yum.

Don’t feel constrained by the specific vegetables used in this one. As long as you mix a grain with the ingredients I mention above and toss in a lime-y, papaya seed dressing, you’ll feel like you’re swaying in a hammock strung between palm trees, watching the tide flow in.

Where do your salads take you?

* If you’re in the NYC metropolitan area and would like me to teach you and your friends, email me via the contact button at the top right of this page and we’ll tawk.

Tropical Grain Salad
Serves 4

1 cup uncooked whole grain of your choice (quinoa, wheatberries, brown rice, etc)

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons papaya seeds
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup mild vinegar (think rice or white balsamic)
Juice of 1 lime, divided
1 tablespoon honey
Salt & pepper

For the salad:
Kernels from 1 ear fresh corn, or 1/2 cup frozen kernels, defrosted
1 large carrot, chopped
1 sweet bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped small
1 avocado, diced, tossed with 1 teaspoon of the lime juice
1 cup ripe papaya, diced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 handful cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup coconut chips
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese or queso fresco

  1. Cook the grain according to package directions. [Note: If your corn isn’t super-fresh, when the water for the grain comes to a boil slip in the ear and cook for 3 minutes. Pluck it out with tongs and transfer to a bowl filled with cold water. Proceed with cooking the grain.] When the grain is ready rinse with cold water, drain, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  2. While the grain cooks, make the dressing: Put all ingredients into a mini-processor or blender, reserving about a teaspoon of the lime juice, and whir until combined. (I was given a Ninja Pulse to test-drive, and so far it’s beyond awesome for jobs like this.) Taste and adjust seasoning.
  3. Put all remaining ingredients except the cheese into the bowl, add the dressing, and toss to combine. Add the cheese and toss again, gently, then serve.

MAKE BABY FOOD: For the earliest eaters, both avocado and ripe papaya are easily mashed with a fork—reserve some of both, or either. Once your baby is on to finger foods, corn kernels, black beans, and crumbly cheese are all good options, and Harry always enjoyed sucking on a lemon or lime wedge. If you’d like to add carrots to that mix, shred them rather than chopping to avoid a choking hazard. If your baby is under a year old and you’d like to try serving the whole salad, swap maple syrup or agave for the honey in the dressing—honey’s off-limits due to concerns about infant botulism.