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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Make ahead Wheat Berry Salad

This salad is one of my top 10 favorite recipes.  The whole wheat kernel base is layered with artichokes, bitter greens, peppers and olives and finished with the classically Greek lemon-olive oil-feta flavor party.  Once you've got the wheat berries prepared, it goes together quickly and only gets better over the course of a couple days in the fridge...read: it *likes* to be made ahead and the leftovers are delicious!  It can stand to be out of the fridge for awhile (and tastes better served at room temp anyway) so it's suitable for picnics or dinner at your kids' Little League games. 

It's also a recipe that I never quite make the same way twice...it depends on what I have on hand and how willing I am to have 1/2 a can of something hanging around after I finish the recipe.  It's not so much a recipe anymore as guidelines :D  Originally, it was a recipe from the Washington Post food section.  They recommended serving this as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken, but I serve it most often as a vegetarian main dish.

Wheat berries
Wheat berries are the whole kernel of wheat, what comes off the plant before it gets flattened into cereal or ground into flour.  When cooked, the  individual kernels are chewy and toothsome.  They pop between your teeth like caviar or grapes.  They have a nutty, grainy flavor and make a much more flavorful salad base than rice (the usual grain-and-vegetable salad suspect) in my opinion.

Top Row: Red bell pepper, black olives, radicchio
Middle Row: Feta, chickpeas, lemon
Bottom Row: Radicchio, cherry tomatoes, artichokes
Cooking the wheat berries is a lot like cooking dry beans.  Some folks say they can be cooked without soaking first, but I prefer the results from soaking then cooking.  You can do either the overnight soak, then cook them, or do a "quick soak"...just like for beans!  Here is how I put together this salad last night for dinner tonight...I put the wheat berries in a saucepan covered with 1" of water and brought it to a boil.  I boiled for 2 minutes, then turned off the heat and covered the pan.  I let them stand for 1 hour (this is the "quick soak" method) while we put the kids to bed.  Then I drained them, rinsed them, covered them again with water, brought to a boil, reduced the heat, covered and simmered for 50 minutes while I zoned out and watched TV.  Drain.  Ta-dah!  Cooked wheat berries!  I measured and chopped the remaining ingredients this morning, but I could have done that while the wheat berries were cooking for 100% Dinner Done Yesterday ;)

This recipe lends itself to tweaking...use regular black olives or the fancy marinated olive bar ones, use fresh red bell pepper or roasted red pepper, use radicchio or arugula or a handful of salad from a bag of spring mix, whatever you have on hand!

Wheat Berry Salad
Makes 4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings

1 cup uncooked wheat berries
1-2 cups cooked chickpeas (15 oz. can = about 2 cups)
6 oz crumbled feta (about 2/3-1 cup)
1/2-1 cup coarsely chopped or sliced black olives (about 1/2 of a 15 oz. can whole olives or 2 small cans sliced olives)
1/2-1 cup chopped artichokes (8 oz. can = about 1 cup)
2 cups bitter greens such as radicchio or arugula, coarsely chopped (1 4" head radicchio = about 2 cups)
1/2 cup red bell pepper, fresh or roasted, chopped
15 cherry tomatoes, halved or 1 small tomato, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp)
2 tbsp olive oil
black pepper to taste

Soak wheat berries overnight in water or do a quick soak (cover with water in a saucepan, boil 2 minutes, then cover and remove from heat to stand 1 hour).  Drain and rinse. 

Cover again with water and simmer, covered, about 50 minutes.  Drain.

Combine all ingredients in a large container.  Fridge up to 3 days. Pin It

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