Weeknight Vegetarian: Want protein? Mix it up in a barley, tofu and spinach salad

Barley, Tofu and Spinach Salad With Miso Dressing. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)
Food and Dining Editor December 31, 2013

Protein is the bugaboo of the vegetarian diet. The most common question I hear, tinged with anxiety, is: “Where do you get your protein?”

The thing is, protein comes from many more plant-based sources than you might think. It’s not just from tofu, tempeh, beans and seeds, though those provide plenty. The category that home cooks seem to forget all too easily is that of whole grains.

Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column. View Archive

I know, I know: Of course, there’s quinoa, the most protein-packed of all — although it’s technically a seed, not a grain, and I, for one, am not the biggest fan. I like to stick with the bigger grains, such as farro, barley and wheat berries.

The best answer to the question, I’ve found, is a mix, especially because grains don’t offer nearly as much protein per serving as your average piece of fish or chicken. But when I let go of the idea that every meal needs to be dominated by a single protein provider and instead stack things up, I like the results so much better.

Take a barley salad, for instance. Sure, I can put broiled tofu in the bowl, but when I also drizzle on a miso dressing and sprinkle sesame seeds on top (not to mention the additions of broccolini and baby spinach), the number of protein sources multiplies right along with the flavors and textures. That way, you’re not just getting your protein; you’re loving it, too.

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