Grains are the answer

In a recent bid to save cash, but mainly to eat something nice for lunch, I’ve taken to bringing food into work. I’ve become quite militant about it actually. Before this genius (pretty obvious) solution materialised, I’d mostly find myself in the nearest Pret or supermarket, buying more packaging than food and finding that neither were making me particularly happy.

Salads of grains, I’ve found, are a good place to start. Grains are at their best when dressed ahead and left to marinate so cooking them on a Sunday or Monday night, means they last happily for the remainder of the week. I douse them liberally while they’re still hot with good olive oil, vinegar and sea salt, then leave them to sit there and cool, sucking in all that delicious flavour.


Light but filling, grain salads are one of those meals, like soup, pasta or risotto, that relish the seasons. In summer, chunks of soft, roasted aubergine or charred sweet peppers with feta and chopped pistachios, or a tabbouleh-style mound of chopped ripe tomato, diced cucumber, spring onion and plenty of fresh mint and parsley. In winter, harissa-dressed cauliflower and pomegranate seeds, wedges of caramelised squash and spiced chickpeas or a pile of vinegary beets and their sautéed leaves. These are the kind of meals that take kindly to whatever you have in your cupboards. A pile of yesterday’s grains only needs a few more ingredients to create a good meal, and will do the trick better than any Boots sandwich could.


A great vegetarian cook I’ve been following for a little while is Anna Jones. She’s got a couple of cookbooks out that are really creative with vegetables, with little mind maps that show you ways to build simple salads or stir-fries or tray-bakes. I’ve taken that idea to create some of my favourite grain-based lunches. Cook a grain (or two if you can be bothered) – quinoa, pearl barley, rice, farro, millet or bulgar wheat are all good places to start. Drain, then dress while still hot with good olive oil, vinegar and sea salt. Choose one or two combinations from each of the below columns, buying seasonally where possible for the tastiest and cheapest produce, then toss together and pack up for the next day. It’ll last most of the week, and you’ll have a lot less plastic packages to answer for.

cumin roasted squash
pickled beets
steamed greens
harissa roasted cauliflower
charred or jarred red peppers
roasted aubergine
diced cucumber
cherry tomatoes

fresh chilli
red onion, spring onion

chopped pistachios
toasted hazelnuts
toasted pine nuts
mixed seeds
roasted chickpeas
“popped” black beans
homemade croutons

raisins, apricots, dates
sliced apple, pear
crumbly goat’s cheese
feta cheese
chopped olives
pomegranate seeds
rocket, watercress, cress

roast squash grains