I cracked the wheat berry code. You didn’t know that was a thing? Well, it was for me. I love them: they’re an increasingly easy to find whole grain, a great canvas for a variety of flavors, nutty and nutritious, with protein, dietary fiber and iron galore. I didn’t mind chewing my way slowly through a bowl– I like the taste, and I didn’t mind the texture. I thought extra chewing was what I signed up for when I cooked wheat berries. It’s slow food, right? My husband was not as enthusiastic about masticating for
hours so long. I believe his first bite was his last. I would make a big bowl for myself and have them for lunch, with fresh vegetables and herbs, or in place of rice with stir-fried vegetables. Then, like a bolt of lightning, I thought: why not soak them, like legumes, to see if they become a little more tender? Soaking was the key to cracking that wheat berry code! I tried the pressure cooker, the slow cooker, baking soda in the water like I do for chickpeas… nothing works like an overnight soak. I hope this is helpful to someone else out there who is looking to add more whole grains, or specifically wheat berries, into his/her diet. I foresee many wheat berries in my own future.
This salad is my current favorite way to eat them. All the flavors are in harmony: bright, springy asparagus; tart vinaigrette; bitter, crunchy radishes; sharp, salty aged Gouda, and that wonderful nutty chewiness– but not overly so!– of the wheat berries. Though I served it warm for dinner the first night I made it, it’s also delicious cold, and is my current favorite lunch to bring to work. The protein and vegetables are fortifying, and it holds really well in the refrigerator for a few days. When my asparagus is fresh and crisp, I cut it raw into the salad; when it’s not, I roast it with some neutral oil, salt & pepper for about 15 mins. at 400 degrees before adding it in. If roasting, try to keep the asparagus al dente; having some crunch from your vegetables is key to the balance of textures. Though not pictured, I sometimes add snap peas to the mix, and I’m looking forward to fresh green beans in a few weeks. For the cheese, think aged and crumbly. Pictured is a tremendous Two Sisters aged Gouda that tastes more like sharp white cheddar than any Gouda I’ve ever had, and has those little crystals of salt you can feel crunch between your teeth and dissolve on your tongue… It’s so good. It can be hard to find specific brands of cheese, so I also made sure to try sharp white cheddar, asiago and parmesan as options, and they each work well.
I feel as though I’ve made a major kitchen discovery, that a new window is open for whole grain salads and sides. I find that wheat berries are great in place of rice, sometimes pasta, and other grains or starches I’ve used previously. They just need a little planning, a little extra time. My husband agrees, and I think you will as well.
Wheat Berries with Crisp Vegetables & Aged Gouda (serves 4-6)
- 1 c. uncooked wheat berries
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 large cloves of garlic, whole but lightly smashed
- 1 lb. asparagus, woody ends trimmed, cut into 1″ lengths, raw or roasted
- 1 c. sliced radishes
- 1 T. Dijon mustard, smooth or grainy
- 1 T. honey
- 1 T. minced fresh tarragon, dill or basil, or a mix (optional)
- 3 T. white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1/3 – 1/2 c. olive oil, grapeseed oil or canola oil
- generous pinch of kosher salt
- generous cracks of fresh black pepper
- 2 oz. (or more) Two Sisters Aged Gouda (or any sharp, crumbly cheese)
Start by soaking the wheat berries. Put them in a large pot and cover with 4 c. fresh, cool water. Place a lid on the pot and leave in a cool area of the kitchen overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
When you are ready to cook, drain the wheat berries. Add another 4 c. fresh, cool water to the pot with the bay leaf and smashed garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, uncovered, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 45 mins. Check occasionally to make sure the level of liquid doesn’t decrease too much. Add water, 1/2 c. more at a time, if the wheat berries are exposed without liquid cover. When cooked, they will be a little more toothsome than rice, but tender. Drain and put into a large bowl; remove the garlic cloves and bay leaf. Proceed with the recipe while they’re warm, or cool to room temperature, whatever you prefer. You should have about 3 c. cooked wheat berries.
Add the asparagus, raw or roasted (or try a mix, half of each, which is wonderful), and the radishes to your bowl. Make the dressing: to a jar with a tight lid add the Dijon mustard, honey, a pinch of salt and a little black pepper. Shake or stir to combine well. Add the vinegar and herb(s) if using, and shake or stir again. Add 1/3 c. of your chose oil and shake until you have a bright yellow, slightly thickened vinaigrette. Taste now and adjust salt; add more olive oil if you like. I enjoy a very tart, vinegar-heavy dressing here to enhance the milder flavors, so I usually stop with 1/3 c. oil.
Drizzle about half of your dressing over the wheat berries and vegetables and toss to combine. Taste now, adding more vinaigrette if you like. (You might have some left over, which can be used as a dressing on most salads.) You can also serve extra vinaigrette with the salad so your guests can dress their servings to taste. Top with shaved curls of cheese, as much as you like. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 5 days.