Build-Your-Own Veggie and Grain Salad

By Ann Fulton

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It’s January.  The weather is cold (at least it is here!) and the holiday festivities are behind us. Eating well can be a challenge when the mercury plummets, colds and flus rear their ugly heads, and warm sunshine and flip flops seem a long way off. Of course, all of this makes heavy comfort foods taste especially amazing.  And sometimes, it’s just plain hard to keep up the energy to cook dinner Every. Single. Night!

Enter leftovers…and meals that can be assembled rather than cooked.  I happen to like many leftovers in the very same form they started–simply reheat and eat–but not everyone feels the same way.  To keep the troops happy, I do plan a couple of weeknight dinners so that the leftovers can be stirred into an altogether new recipe.  Like putting leftover grilled chicken (or slow-roasted chicken) into a speedy, healthy Thai dinner salad with a super flavorful, 4-ingredient dressing.

The following hearty but healthy bowls are the ideal reason to cook a little extra grain (rice, quinoa, even noodles) and roast a few extra veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, etc.) one night and then work with what you have on hand later in the week. This flexible meal also happens to be the perfect way to clean out the odd and ends in your refrigerator.  The framework style of the recipe makes it easy to tailor to specific tastes, and it ensures variety over time…but if you find a combination that you really love, by all means stick with it!

Build-Your-Own Veggie and Grain Salad

Favorite Balsamic Vinaigrette is a versatile, flavorful dressing that can be made with ingredients you likely have on hand.  It’s a perfect option for these easy grain and veggie bowls.


Build-Your-Own Veggie and Grain Salad
Use this recipe as a handy framework to pull together quick meals using what you have on hand.  Stir in a cup or two of leftover chicken or pork--even garbanzo beans--to create a heartier meal. For those who enjoy a mixture of sweet and savory, a sprinkle of dried fruit (chopped apricots, cranberries, or cherries) and/or fresh fruit (apple, pear, or pomegranate seeds) provide complementary flavors.  A few pieces of crisp bacon crumbled overtop could make a salad lover out of anyone!

Yield: 3-4 servings
  • Approximately 3 cups cooked grain (from one cup dry quinoa, rice, millet, brown rice couscous, etc.)
  • 3 cups roasted vegetables (onions, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, butternut squash, carrots, beets, brussels sprouts, etc.)
  • 1-2 cups roughly chopped hearty greens (arugula, Tuscan or baby kale, spinach are good choices) or 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta, goat or blue cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecan or walnuts) and/or seeds (sunflower or pumpkin)
  • 1/3 cup balsamic, apple cider or vinaigrette of choice (plus more to taste)
  1. For one large batch: Mix everything together, and drizzle with vinaigrette of choice.
  2. For smaller amounts: For every 1 cup of leftover grain and 1 cup of roasted vegetables, add 2 to 3 tablespoons each of cheese and nuts/seeds.  Drizzle with 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons of your favorite dressing. Of course, you may certainly adjust the proportions to taste or based on the amount of specific ingredients you have on hand.
  3. To build other delicious grain-based salads when roasted vegetables aren’t readily available, consider the following options: Add a combination of chopped apple or pear, diced raw carrots and celery, dried cranberries, chopped nuts and/or seeds, and crumbled cheese.  Chopped cooked chicken, rinsed and drained garbanzo beans, or even leftover pork tenderloin are all complementary options that bump up the protein, too.
  4. You can also think in terms of ethnic cuisine.  For example, if in the mood for Mexican, add back beans, chopped red pepper, and corn.  Avocado is best added just before serving.  Red onion or sliced green onions add extra flavor to almost any grain-based salad.
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The Fountain Avenue Kitchen

For another reader favorite meal that can be quickly assembled, you may enjoy Chicken & Broccoli Slaw with Speedy Thai Peanut Sauce.




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  1. Blanca M Shek

    Thank you for teaching people, I’ve been doing this since I can remember. I am from Costa Rica and my husband is From Hong Kong, so we have a great variety of ethnicity foods, from Hispanic to Asian. You can also start with meat/veggie and your favorite cheese along with a good grain. Then the following day, cut up the meat leftovers and make cabbage pockets. Then the 3rd day chop everything that is left and add more fresh veggies, tomatoes lots of garlic and onion and make Picadillo.