Grain salads can be your best friend in summer. You usually have something fresh on hand or something to get rid of, it’s all about the produce, and it’s so f*cking hot you want something cooling and excellent that doesn’t require being chained to the stove. In summer you’d be hard-pressed to find a blog or site that doesn’t include a “new spin” on this old favorite. When I found a bag of hard red spring wheat berries in the cabinet I thought I’d give it a try. Since I am not a fan of being slave to recipes (or my stove in summer, apparently), I spent a little time researching what goes well with these grain salad things people love so much.
The classic grain salad is served cold, and usually includes Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flavors and summer vegetables. I fell in love with the nutty, hearty wheat berry, which definitely holds its own more than bulgar, quinoa, or farro. Of course, these grains are excellent too. Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels with the husks removed, while bulgar is a quick-cooking form of whole wheat that has been parboiled, dried, and ground into little bits. If you’re sick of durum wheat, then quinoa, farro, wild rice, buckwheat groats, or barley are also good to play with.
Below I give you a ratio that will work well for most of the hearty grains and allow you to mix and match depending on what you have on hand. When I think about pairing ingredients for this dish, I start with the ingredient I really want to use. Then, depending on its texture and flavor I try to balance it with something else. If I have some insane beets to roast, maybe I want some citrus to counter the starch, and some toasted walnuts or pecans to add some body, a little arugula for spice, some grapefruit for that sweet/sour acid, and a little fresh goat cheese to give something really creamy to the bite of the beets. If I really wanted to go with some really excellent, ripe tomatoes, maybe some avocado, cilantro, red onion for bite, lime juice, and cumin. Or how about some sauteed zucchini and squash, wilted chard, lemon juice, shallots, basil, and cayenne.
The salad we made was totally satisfying and when I kept the ingredients and the flavorings separate, it kept for days. Experiment and enjoy.
CHOOSE your INGREDIENTS (a couple of portions):
1/2 cup nuts or olives: e.g. toasted pecans, toasted walnuts, kalamata, black olives, or green olives
1 cup summer vegetable(s): e.g. diced cucumber, tomato, or sweet peppers; blanched peas; sauteed zucchini, summer squash, or eggplant, or roasted beets, diced avocado
1/2 cup sweet fruit: e.g. segmented oranges, segmented grapefruit, golden raisins, dried or fresh figs, dried currants, or dried cranberries
1 cup summer greens: e.g. arugula, watercress; wilted chard or spinach
CHOOSE your FLAVOR PAIRINGS (one of each):
2 tablespoons Mediterranean herb: e.g. parsley, mint, oregano, marjoram, basil, dill, or cilantro
1 teaspoon citrus juice: e.g. lime, lemon, orange, or grapefruit
2 tablespoons vinegar: e.g. cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
ADD a little UMPH, if you like:
3 oz fresh cheese: e.g. cubed feta, mozzarella, or crumbled goat cheese
1 allium: e.g. 1 diced shallot, 1 minced clove garlic, or 1/2 red onion diced
Spice: e.g. 1 teaspoon dry roasted cumin or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon something sweet: e.g. maple syrup or honey
COOK some WHEAT BERRIES (in advance if you like):
1 cup hard red spring wheat berries
3 1/2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
Put the berries, water, and salt in a medium heavy-bottomed pan and turn on to boil. Cook 1 hour or until berries are bursting and chewy. Remove from heat. Cool until ready to use.
ASSEMBLE the STUFF
MAGIC will HAPPEN (kind of like this)
Ours blossomed into a wheat berry salad with watercress, arugula, cucumber, kalamata olives, red onion, mint, and crumbled feta.