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Black lentils, garden arugula, Romano cheese, lemon zest, and crushed red pepper

The Critic Cooks: Summer Salads

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When I looked at my hit list of things I was hoping to do this summer, I realized my family and I would need to eat a lot of lunches on the run. Drawing inspiration from an article in Bon Appétit, I quickly ordered several three-tier tiffins and have been filling them every week since.

On the bottom layer I put a homemade salad. Not one of arugula or mesclun or spinach—although leafy greens can certainly play a supporting role—but a mixture in which whole grains, noodles, or pulses like beans, lentils, or corn are the star of the show. The middle layer gets a salty, crunchy snack like vegetable chips or sesame crackers. I fill the top layer with cherries, chopped melon, or some other fresh summer fruit. While the routine means remembering to pack our favorite sporks, I’ve been loving these grain salad lunches for many reasons.

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For starters, a meal of black lentils (pictured) or Israeli couscous or wild rice is much more nutritious than most on-the-go alternatives. Moreover, I can make a large batch of the dishes once or twice a week—they keep for days and the flavors meld together after refrigeration anyway. Furthermore, it’s a choice that actually tastes best after the ingredients have come to room temperature (perfect for outings to a farm, a park, or a mountaintop).

Sometimes I turn to recipes. I’ve loved Mollie Katzen’s version of peanut and sesame noodles for years. More recently I discovered Yotam Ottolenghi’s basmati and wild rice with chickpeas, currants, and herbs. More often than not, however, I let an interesting starch be the star and just flavor it with whatever leftovers, pantry staples, or garden goodies I have kicking around. I love choices like red rice or cha soba from Pacific Mercantile downtown. Choclo, which are giant kernels of corn available at Lowe’s Mercado or any number of other Hispanic markets, make an interesting substitute for salads that call for beans. I recently picked up freekeh and tarhana from Jerusalem International Market at Evans and Colorado. These shelf-stable and freezer-friendly selections keep somewhat indefinitely and are the perfect vehicle for flavorful scraps that might otherwise go unused.

On a recent trip to Big Soda Lake, I guarantee we were the only family eating wheat berries tossed with salsa verde made of green carrot tops. I also guarantee my toddlers were the only ones who kept racing back from the water for yet another forkful of lunch.

Follow Stacey Brugeman on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @denveromnivore.

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