This Mediterranean-style ancient grain salad is an easy, healthy, and flavorful dish that comes together in about 30-minutes.
Eaten straight from the refrigerator, this is a meal you’ll feel good about taking to work for lunch or to your next summer cookout.
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Why You Will Love This Ancient Grain Salad:
- This ancient grain salad is super easy to make and comes together in about 30 minutes. While the grains cook, you can prepare the vegetables and dressing so that it’s all ready to throw together as soon as the grains are done.
- It’s light, refreshing, and totally healthy without lacking any flavor. The homemade dressing, the olives, and the feta cheese really make this dish shine. They add lots of flavor along with a boost of healthy fats.
- The ancient grains, the chickpeas, and the vegetables provide a healthy dose of fiber and plant-based protein. If you’ve been looking for ways to increase the amount of fiber in your diet or if you need a new dish for Meatless Monday, this ancient grain salad is an excellent choice!
Ingredients to Make This Ancient Grain Salad
This ancient grain salad is bursting with heart-healthy ingredients like farro, quinoa, chickpeas, and vegetables. It’s a dish you can feel good about bringing to work for lunch or serving at your next summer cookout.
Farro is a chewy, nutty-flavored ancient grain that originated in the fertile crescent of Egypt. However, today, it is mainly grown in Italy.
This whole grain is derived from wheat, which means it is not suitable for those following a gluten-free diet.
Interestingly, there are three types of farro: farro piccolo (einkorn), farro medio (emmer), and farro grande (spelt). While often simply labeled as “farro” at the grocery store, usually what you’re buying is farro medio or emmer.
And to make matters even more confusing, the farro found at the grocery store can be sold one of three ways: whole, semi-pearled, or pearled.
The pearled farro cooks the quickest, but has the least amount of fiber because the husk and bran have been removed. The whole farro retains the most nutrients and fiber, but can take over 40 minutes to cook.
This ancient grain salad makes use of the pearled farro due to it’s shorter cooking time. However, you can make any of them work by adjusting the cooking time accordingly.
My favorite brand is Nature’s Earthly Choice Organic Italian Pearled Farro.
Quinoa is another ancient grain that many are familiar with due to its rise in popularity from 2011-2014. This pseudo-grain, which is actually a seed, originates in the Andean region of South America.
If not rinsed properly before cooking, quinoa may taste bitter due to a compound called saponin. The plant naturally produces this compound as a way to stop birds from eating the quinoa seeds.
As previously mentioned, quinoa is actually a seed that is prepared and eaten like a grain. Quinoa seeds are gluten-free and rich in plant-based protein, fiber, and B vitamins. In fact, quinoa is one of the few sources of nutritionally complete plant-based proteins, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs.
Again, my favorite brand is Nature’s Earthly Choice Premium Quinoa.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a legume popular in Middle Eastern cooking. Commonly seen in dishes like hummus and falafel, these beans have been steadily rising in popularity in the United States since late 2009.
Like most beans, chickpeas can be purchased at the grocery store both dried or canned. This recipe utilizes Goya low-sodium canned chickpeas for the convenience, but feel free to cook up your own batch if you’re feeling ambitious.
Chickpeas are another great source of plant-based protein and fiber, with each half-cup serving containing 7 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. And when paired with the farro in this recipe, the combination of a whole grain and a legume make a nutritionally complete protein source.
Garden Fresh Vegetables
One of the best parts about this ancient grain salad is that it can be made using just about any vegetable you like or have on hand. It makes for a super easy way to use up all those vegetables that your garden is bursting with every summer.
Loads of fresh cucumber? Toss them in! Overloaded with tomatoes? Sure thing! Zucchini? Summer Squash? Asparagus? You name it, this salad can be made with it.
While some vegetables you may want to cook a little before adding them, this recipe uses all vegetables that are fantastic in their raw form to make it as simple as possible.
The main vegetables I used in this recipe are: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, olives, and parsley.
How To Make This Ancient Grain Salad
This recipe is great because it comes together in about 30 minutes and can be scaled quite easily into a large batch if needed for a crowd.
1. Cook the Grains
Following the instructions on each package, cook the farro and quinoa.
To make clean up easier, I mix the two grains together and use the same pot. Pearled farro and quinoa take about the same amount of time to cook (20 minutes) and have the same 2:1 water-to-grain ratio.
Don’t forget to rinse your grains before cooking!
2. Chop the Vegetables + Drain the Chickpeas
While the grains are cooking, take this time to chop all of your vegetables, drain and rinse the chickpeas, and add them all to a large mixing bowl.
The amount and types of vegetables are really a matter of preference. I love cucumber and olives so I tend to add more of those and go a little lighter with the tomatoes. Experiment and see what you like!
3. Make the Vinaigrette
After you chop all of your vegetables, it’s time to make a quick vinaigrette.
In a small mixing bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Voilà!
How easy was that?
4. Mix Everything Together and Chill
When the grains are done cooking and have cooled for a few minutes, add them to the large mixing bowl with your chopped vegetables and chickpeas.
Pour your vinaigrette over the top and mix everything together well. Finally, add in the feta cheese and give it one final mix.
Cover tightly with beeswax wrap or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
What To Serve With This Ancient Grain Salad?
This ancient grain salad makes both a wonderful main dish or a side dish. It makes for an especially convenient work lunch because you don’t have to worry about heating it up.
Some of my favorite ways to enjoy this salad are:
- On top of romaine lettuce or arugula for an even more satisfying lunch (don’t forget to add a little extra dressing here)
- Paired with marinated grilled chicken or steak and some grilled asparagus.
- As a side dish with my Vegetarian Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms for a delicious vegetarian dinner.
What are Ancient Grains?
While there is no official definition, ancient grains are usually considered to be whole grains and seeds (pseudo-grains) that have remained genetically unchanged for hundreds or thousands of years.
Some examples of ancient grains include:
- farro (emmer), spelt, and einkorn
- wild rice
- black barley
- blue corn
Are Ancient Grains Better For You Than Modern Grains?
It’s hard to say whether or not ancient grains are better for you than modern grains since they both have their pros and cons.
Ancient grains are an excellent choice for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint because many ancient grains grow well with lower levels of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation. However, they can be on the pricier side so those eating on a budget may want to stay away.
On the other hand, modern grains such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and popcorn are much easier on the wallet and still have loads of health benefits.
Are Ancient Grains Gluten Free?
Since some ancient grains are derived from wheat, we cannot say that all ancient grains are gluten-free.
However, there are a variety of ancient grains that are gluten-free, such as: quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet, buckwheat, sorghum, blue corn, and wild rice.
Can This Ancient Grain Salad Be Made Gluten-Free?
Yes, it certainly can be!
All of the ingredients with the exception of the farro are naturally gluten-free. So, simply replace the farro with more quinoa or another one of the gluten-free grains listed above and you’re good to go.
Can This Ancient Grain Salad Be Made Ahead?
I would argue that this ancient grain salad should be made ahead. By making this salad a day or two before you need it, you allow the dressing to penetrate the grains and vegetables, making it extra flavorful when it’s time to eat.
In fact, this salad is an excellent choice if you’re into meal prepping your work lunches. Make a big batch on Sunday, portion out into individual containers, and you’re golden for the week!
Should I Eat This Ancient Grain Salad Hot or Cold?
This recipe is definitely intended to be eaten chilled.
However, if you choose to use some different vegetables, such as roasted summer squash or grilled asparagus, you can certainly eat this dish warm as well.
Ancient Grain Salad (Mediterranean-Style)
- ½ cup quinoa dry, rinsed
- ½ cup pearled farro dry, rinsed
- 1 whole cucumber peeled and diced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes quartered
- ¼ large red onion diced
- ½ cup Kalamata olives pitted and halved
- ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
- 1- 15 ounce can low sodium chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 4 ounces feta cheese
For the Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil extra virgin
- ½ teaspoon dijon mustard
- ½ clove garlic grated
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a small saucepan, cook the quinoa and farro according to package instructions. Since both pearled farro and quinoa take about the same amount of time to cook (about 20 minutes), I cook them together. Usually the water-to-grain ratio is 2:1 for both farro and quinoa. Monitor the pot to make sure it doesn't go dry before both grains are cooked through.
- While the grains are cooking, dice up your cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, parsley, and olives and add them to a large mixing bowl. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add those to the mixing bowl as well.
- Make the Vinaigrette: In a small mixing bowl or glass measuring up, add the olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper and whisk thoroughly to combine. Set aside.
- Once the grains have finished cooking and have cooled for a few minutes, add them to the large mixing bowl with your chopped vegetables and chickpeas. Mix to combine. Pour over the vinaigrette and mix well until everything is coated. Finally, fold in the feta cheese. Refrigerate for at least an hour or until chilled. Enjoy!