Cook once, eat all week: 8 Grains, 24 grain salads for easy weekday meals

Aug 25, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Tender baby greens get limp and soggy after a day or two, but when grains are the star of your salads, they actually get better with time. And anytime you can forget about your food for a couple of days, pull it out of the fridge and find out that it's only gotten better? That's always a good thing.

Set aside a little time to make a big batch of hearty grains at the beginning of the week, and you'll be set for lunches and sides for days. It's a total time-saver for busy workdays. Here's how to cook each grain, plus recipes to use them in.

1. Quinoa

This light and fluffy grain packs a ton of protein, making it the perfect base for a nutritious salad.

How to cook it:

Rinse the raw quinoa thoroughly in a fine mesh strainer to remove the natural coating, saponin, which can taste quite bitter. Then add 2 parts of water and 1 part quinoa to a pot, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the quinoa, then return it to the pan, and let it sit, covered, for 15 minutes.

Try it in:

Sesame-lime quinoa salad

sesame lime quinoa salad

Image: Dinner at the Zoo

This zippy quinoa salad is a healthier way to enjoy the flavors of your favorite takeout.

Roasted ratatouille quinoa

roasted ratatouille quinoa

Image: The Café Sucarine

Get the most out of summer produce while it lasts by enjoying this roasted ratatouille quinoa salad.

Sweet potato quinoa salad with cherries, goat cheese and candied walnuts

Sweet potato quinoa salad

Image: Ambitious Kitchen

This salad, with sweet potato, fluffy quinoa, tangy goat cheese and juicy cherries, is both hearty and light.

More: 16 Quinoa recipes to incorporate into your diet

2. Farro

This hearty, chewy grain will keep you full for hours. It's nutritious, nutty and will keep in the fridge for days.

How to cook it:

Rinse the raw farro in a fine mesh strainer. Add 1 part farro to 3 parts liquid. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender. Strain away any remaining liquid. The grain will still be chewy but shouldn't be crunchy.

Try it in:

Kale, white bean and farro salad

Kale white bean and farro salad

Image: Smells Like Home

This farro salad is packed with fiber, protein and whole-grain goodness.

Vegan Greek farro salad

Vegan Greek farro salad

Image: Ripelife

This Greek farro salad, chock-full of goodies like artichoke hearts, is perfect for vegans and omnivores alike.

Farro salad with roasted garlic vinaigrette

Farro salad with roasted garlic vinaigrette

Image: Blissful Basil

The roasted garlic vinaigrette in this farro salad is so tasty you'll be putting it on everything.

3. Spelt

Spelt is a hearty, nutty grain that needs to be soaked overnight. Once it's cooked, it's a great way to make a substantial salad.

How to cook it:

Rinse the spelt, then soak it in cold water for at least 4 hours or even overnight. Bring 1 part spelt and 3 parts liquid to a boil, then cover, and simmer for 50 to 60 minutes or until chewy but tender. Drain away the excess water, and enjoy.

Try it in:

Spelt salad with navy beans, cherry tomatoes and cucumber

Spelt salad with navy beans

Image: Olivia's Cuisine

This refreshing spelt salad with navy beans, cherry tomatoes and cucumber is as tasty as it is healthy.

Spelt salad with spinach, avocado, bell pepper and carrot

http://www.oliviascuisine.com/spelt-salad-with-navy-beans-cherry-tomatoes-and-cucumber/

Image: Green Evi

This hearty spelt salad is full of chewy and crunchy goodness.

Apricot-mint spelt salad

apricot mint spelt salad

Image: The Smoothie Lover

This apricot and mint spelt salad is perfect as a warm-weather lunch or a side dish to a grilled protein.

4. Couscous

Couscous cooks up like a grain, though it's actually a type of pasta. It still makes for a mean salad, though, and you can use a whole-wheat version for added nutritional oomph.

How to cook it:

Bring 1-1/2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the couscous, cover, and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Try it in:

Couscous salad

couscous salad

Image: Feed Your Temptations

This couscous salad with cucumber, lime, pomegranate and peanuts will liven up any lunchtime.

Baby bok choy couscous with mangoes and strawberries

Baby bok choy couscous

Image: The Wimpy Vegetarian

Sweet mango and strawberry are a perfect counterpoint to baby bok choy in this couscous salad.

Moroccan couscous salad

Moroccan Couscous Salad

Image: Sis Boom Blog

This Moroccan couscous salad brings classic flavors to the forefront.

5. Barley

Choose hulled barley, not pearled, for the most nutritious dish. Hulled barley is a nutty, chewy grain that will taste great all week.

How to cook it:

Rinse and drain the raw barley. Add 1 part barley to 3 parts liquid in a pot, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 45 to 55 minutes, adding more liquid if the barley absorbs it all before it is tender yet chewy. If there is still water left once it's tender, strain it away.

Try it in:

Grilled corn and barley salad with blueberries and goat cheese

grilled corn and barley salad

Image: Sweet Peas and Saffron

Barley with grilled corn and blueberries makes a perfect salad for picnics and cookouts.

Summer barley salad

Summer barley salad

Image: The Life Harvest

Summer barley salad with beans and veggies makes for a hearty midday meal.

Warm barley salad with roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts

Warm barley salad with roasted butternut squash

Image: Gringalicious

You don't have to stop eating salads in the fall, as this cozy barley, butternut and Brussels sprouts salad shows.

More: 8 Ways to make whole grains taste great

6. Wheat berries

Chewy, nutty and sweet, wheat berries are an intriguing addition to any salad. Avoid pearled wheat berries, which are less nutritious.

How to cook it:

Rinse and drain the wheat berries. Add 1 part wheat berries to 3 parts liquid in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes and as many as 55, depending on the variety of wheat berry you're working with. You'll know they're done when they're chewy yet tender.

Try it in:

Italian wheat berry salad

Italian wheat berry salad

Image: Not Your Standard

Wheat berries and veggies make this Italian-inspired salad irresistible.

Roasted squash, chickpea and wheat berry salad

Roasted squash chickpea and wheat berry salad

Image: Seven Grams Blog

Sweet squash and peppery arugula keep this flavorful wheat berry salad exciting.

Orange, arugula, fennel and wheat berry salad

orange arugula fennel wheat berry salad

Image: Petit World Citizen

Orange and fennel are always a fine pair, but they're extra special in this wheat berry salad with arugula.

7. Millet

Millet is a light and fluffy grain with a slightly sweet flavor. It's a quick-cooking whole grain that will add a nice heft to your salads.

How to cook it:

Rinse and drain the millet. Add 1 part millet to 2 parts liquid in a pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the grains are tender. If there's extra water, strain it away. After cooking, remove the pan from the heat, and let it steam, covered, for 10 minutes.

Try it in:

Millet salad with creamy dill dressing

Millet salad with creamy dill dressing

Image: Happy Hearted Kitchen

Fluffy millet is light enough that this creamy dill dressing won't leave you feeling weighed down.

Massaged kale, avocado and millet salad

Massaged kale avocado and millet salad

Image: Tales of a Kitchen

This millet salad is chock-full of nutritional all-stars like avocado, kale and sunflower seeds.

Warm sesame-soy millet salad

Warm sesame soy millet salad

Image: Curried Cantaloupe

This sesame-soy millet salad is way better than takeout but just as satisfying.

8. Rice

Everyone loves rice as a side, in casseroles or even as the main event (pineapple fried rice, anyone?). Unsurprisingly, it's stellar in salads too.

How to cook it:

There are dozens of varieties of rice, so you should always check the packaging for cooking instructions. For basic white rice, rinse and drain your rice before cooking. For every 1 cup of rice, use 1-3/4 cups of liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil, and add the rice, then lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let the rice steam for 5 minutes.

Try it in:

Grape and brown basmati rice salad with almonds and mint

Grape and brown basmati rice salad

Image: Farm Kitten Cooks

This brown basmati rice salad perfectly balances chewy grains and crunchy morsels like grapes, almonds and celery.

Grilled salmon rice salad

Grilled Salmon Rice Salad

Image: Magnolia Days

Make your rice salad a full meal with the addition of succulent grilled salmon.

Wild rice salad with cherries, mint and feta

Wild rice salad with cherries, mint and feta

Image: Kiwi & Bean

This intriguing salad pairs wild rice with cherries, mint and feta for a dish that's a sight for sore eyes.

More: In a pickle: What to do with leftover rice

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