This Mediterranean Ancient Grain Salad is fresh, flavorful, and full of fiber. Made with farro, quinoa, chickpeas, and lots of veggies, you can have this healthy grain salad ready in just 30 minutes. Pack it for lunch or bring it to your next summer potluck.
A healthy, packable lunch you can meal prep in 30 minutes and enjoy all week long? Yes, please!
This Mediterranean-style ancient grain salad is the perfect make-ahead lunch that can be used as both a vegetarian main dish and a side dish. It’s fresh and flavorful, thanks to the homemade red wine vinaigrette and the colorful array of vegetables.
I like to use a mix of ancient grains to make this salad. Farro adds a nice chewy texture and nutty flavor while quinoa lends a fluffy texture and earthy flavor. To round it out and add a little extra plant-based protein, I like to add some chickpeas.
So, if you’re looking to change up your work lunch game, give this ancient grain salad recipe a try.
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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
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.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Healthy- The ancient grains, chickpeas, and 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!
- Quick & Easy- 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.
- Flavorful- It’s light, refreshing, and totally healthy without lacking any flavor. The homemade dressing, olives, and feta cheese really make this dish shine.
Here are some notes on key ingredients. For a full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Farro- A chewy, nutty-flavored ancient grain that originated in the fertile crescent of Egypt, farro is mainly grown in Italy today. This recipe makes use of pearled farro due to it’s shorter cooking time. However, you can use any type of farro by adjusting the cooking time accordingly. I use Nature’s Earthly Choice Pearled Farro.
- Quinoa- Another ancient grain that many are familiar with due to its rise in popularity from 2011-2014. This pseudo-grain is actually a seed, which makes it gluten-free. Quinoa has a shorter cook time than farro, which is accounted for in the recipe. Again, I love Nature’s Earthly Choice Quinoa.
- Chickpeas- Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a legume popular in Middle Eastern cooking. For this recipe, I’ve used both drained and rinsed canned chickpeas as well as chickpeas that I’ve cooked myself.
- Feta- Salty, tangy, and rich, feta cheese adds a creamy and flavorful element.
- Fresh Vegetables- For this Mediterranean-style ancient grains salad, I like to use cucumber, red onion, cherry tomatoes, olives, and parsley.
- Red Wine Vinaigrette- A quick and easy homemade vinaigrette makes this grain salad taste super fresh and delicious. The dressing is made using red wine vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and black pepper.
Farro is a chewy, nutty-flavored ancient grain that originated in the fertile crescent of Egypt. However, today, it is mainly grown in Italy.
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to make this Mediterranean ancient grain salad.
Step 1: Cook the quinoa and farro. Rinse the quinoa and farro (separately) under cool running water. Fill a small saucepan with 2 cups of water. Add the farro to the pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cover and cook the farro for approximately 10 minutes before adding the quinoa to the same pot. Cover again and simmer the grains for an additional 15-20 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Monitor the pot to make sure it doesn’t go dry before both grains are fully cooked. Timing may vary depending on the brand and type of grains you use. Always follow the package instructions.
Step 2: Dice the vegetables. While the grains are cooking, dice up your cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, parsley, and olives and add them to a large bowl along with the chickpeas and feta cheese.
Step 3: Make the red wine vinaigrette. In a small mixing bowl, add the olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, garlic, Italian seasoning, kosher salt, and pepper, and whisk thoroughly to combine.
Step 4: Assemble the grain salad. Once the farro and quinoa have finished cooking and have cooled for a few minutes, add them to the mixing bowl with the chopped vegetables, chickpeas, and feta cheese. Pour the vinaigrette over the cooked grains and vegetables and stir well to combine. Enjoy the salad warm or refrigerate to serve chilled.
Tips and Tricks
- Multitask- I like to start cooking the grains first so that I can chop the vegetables and make the vinaigrette while they cook. Then, you can quickly mix everything together when the grains are done.
- Follow Package Instructions- The directions I give for cooking the farro and quinoa are based on the package instructions for the grains I have on hand. Cook times can vary based on how the grains are processed. I always recommend following package instructions for the best results.
- Change Up the Vegetables- One of my favorite things about this ancient grain salad is how customizable it is. 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!
- Make Ahead- All parts of this recipe, including the whole dish, can be prepared up to a few days ahead of time. In fact, I think the dish tastes better after chilling in the refrigerator for a day or so.
Substitutions and Variations
Here are a few ways you can customize this ancient grain salad to fit your diet and taste preferences.
- Quinoa- Try rice, couscous, bulgur wheat, or riced cauliflower in place of the quinoa.
- Farro- Barley, wild rice, freekeh, spelt berries, or wheat berries all make suitable farro substitutes.
- Chickpeas- Cannellini beans, kidney beans, or even cooked brown lentils can be swapped for chickpeas.
- Feta Cheese- Use fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, or diced halloumi in place of the feta cheese. For dairy-free ancient grain salad, use vegan feta cheese or replace the feta with extra olives to keep the same salty flavor.
- Vegetables- You really can get creative and use whichever vegetables you prefer. Fresh arugula, grilled zucchini, roasted red peppers, and asparagus would all be fantastic in this dish.
- Red Wine Vinaigrette- Not a fan of red wine vinegar? Make a balsamic dressing or a lemon vinaigrette.
- Gluten-Free- To make this dish gluten-free, you need to replace the farro with another gluten-free grain. Try using additional quinoa, wild rice, or millet. And always double-check any ingredient labels to be sure the ingredients you’re using are truly gluten-free.
- Dairy-Free/Vegan- Swap the feta cheese with dairy-free feta cheese or additional olives to make a vegan version of this ancient grain salad.
- Grilled or Roasted Vegetables- If you love a warm grain salad, adding grilled or roasted vegetables is a great way to enjoy this dish warm.
What to Serve with Ancient Grain Salad
This ancient grain salad makes both a wonderful main dish and a side dish. Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy this cold grain salad.
- On top of romaine, spinach, or arugula salad with a touch of extra dressing.
- Paired with grilled chicken, fish, steak, tofu, or portobello mushrooms.
- Alongside a Turkey Smash Burger, Honey Lemon Pepper Wings, or Tequila Lime Shrimp Tacos.
Storage and Reheating
How to Store
- Refrigerator- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Leftovers make for an especially convenient work lunch because you don’t have to worry about heating them up.
- Freezer- I do not recommend freezing this ancient grain salad. Some of the ingredients, such as cucumbers, do not freeze well.
How to Reheat
This dish is intended to be served chilled and I would not recommend reheating it, especially if you used any raw vegetables. If you don’t like it straight from the refrigerator, plate it and let it come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes before eating.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Ancient grains are full of fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins, and minerals. They’re an excellent choice because they’ll keep you feeling full and satisfied long after eating them.
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.
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.
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. This makes 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!
More Recipes You May Enjoy
Ancient Grain Salad
For the Ancient Grain Salad
- ½ cup quinoa dry, rinsed
- ½ cup pearled farro dry, rinsed
- 1 whole cucumber peeled, deseeded, and diced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes quartered and deseeded
- ¼ large red onion finely diced
- ½ cup Kalamata olives pitted and halved
- ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- ½ cup feta cheese
For the Red Wine Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil extra virgin
- ½ teaspoon dijon mustard
- ½ clove garlic grated or finely minced
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Rinse the quinoa and farro (separately) under cool running water. Fill a small saucepan with 2 cups of water. Add the farro to the pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cover and cook the farro for approximately 10 minutes before adding the quinoa to the same pot. Cover again and simmer the grains for an additional 15-20 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Monitor the pot to make sure it doesn’t go dry before both grains are fully cooked. Timing may vary depending on the brand and type of grains you use. Always follow the package instructions.
- While the grains are cooking, dice up your cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, parsley, and olives and add them to a large mixing bowl along with the chickpeas and feta cheese.
- In a small mixing bowl, add the olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper, and whisk thoroughly to combine.
- Once the farro and quinoa have finished cooking and have cooled for a few minutes, add them to the mixing bowl with the chopped vegetables, chickpeas, and feta cheese. Pour the vinaigrette over the grains and vegetables and stir well to combine. Enjoy the salad warm or refrigerate to serve chilled.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.