There’s this sudden fascination with grains lately. Such curiosity started last year when amaranth greens were included in a weekly farm share. A quick online search yielded information about amaranth grains. It’s commonly found in the bulk section of organic or natural food stores. Since then, I’ve discovered other types of grains.
Thanks to globalization, plenty of grains have been introduced to our market recently, such as amaranth, barley, quinoa, kamut, kasha, rye berries, and so forth. A few weeks ago, Melissa Danielle, a foodie friend, requested a recipe using wheatberries. Quite honestly, the name of the grain is easily recognized, but its visual appearance is daunting. Situations like this casually remind us how disconnected we are from food and it’s actual source. It’s commonly flattened into flakes for breakfast cereals or granola, similar to corn and oat flakes. It’s also baked in bread for additional flavor and nutrients, hence the name “Whole-Grain Bread”.
Wheatberries are easy to include in many recipes, for they’re easy substitutions for rice. Mix them with baby greens, make a pilaf, or stuff them in vegetables, such as bell peppers and winter squashes. Similar to wild rice stuffing, wheatberries could easily be stuffed in cornish hens, too. Quite honestly, it’s a bland taste with a slight nutty flavor and a chewier texture than rice, but don’t dismiss it easily. Such ingredients are bland, because they play a supportive role in recipes with strong flavors, such as a Wheatberry Salad with Mint, Roast Asparagus, and Blood Oranges.
Citrus season has ended, but a few blood oranges are lingering on the food shelves. Asparagus is in season and quite cheap right now. Mint has become a new favorite herb to use in savory dishes instead as a garnish over desserts. Together, these flavors are strong enough to make a delicious side dish. When wheatberries are tossed into this flavorful salad, the dish is a bit more substantial. “Brown Bag” this salad with a few shrimp or slices of chicken breast for a heartier midday meal. Also, enjoy this salad as an energy boost a couple hours before working out.
With Melissa’s request, she unknowingly encouraged a curiosity to exploring the bulk section at the food store. One cup or 8 to 10 ounces of most grains is around $1.00, thus experimenting with new recipes won’t hurt a budget when attempts are distasteful. In the future, I’m either recycling or purchasing glass containers to store food from the bulk section as my curiosity about grains, especially wheatberries, continues to grow.
Wheatberry Salad with Mint, Roast Asparagus, and Blood Oranges
1 spring onion; roughly chopped
1 cup wheatberries*
Sea Salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
1 bay leaf
A dash of celery seeds
1 lb. asparagus
1 blood orange** (or any orange)
3 to 4 scallions; roughly chop the white part; thinly slice the green part
1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh mint; roughly chopped; place extra aside for garnish.
Sea salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
Blood Orange Vinaigrette Ingredients
The juice and zest of one blood orange
The juice of one lemon
1 tsp. honey or pomegranate molasses
1/4-cup olive oil
2 to 3 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
A quick dash or small pinch of celery seed
1 small garlic; minced
A small pinch of crushed red pepper; to taste
1. Soak wheatberries overnight or for at least eight hours. Using a fine-mesh strainer, drain the wheatberries. In a medium sized pot, heat 2 to 3 tbsp. olive oil. Add onions and sauté until transparent. Add the wheatberries, salt, fresh black pepper, celery seeds, and bay leaf. Toast until lightly fragrant, about one to two minutes. Add about 4 cups water and the juice of one lemon (after juicing the lemon, add the lemon halves to the pot, too) to the wheatberries and spices. Cover and bring to a boil before reducing the temperature to a low heat to simmer for 50 to 60 minutes (if soft wheatberries are used, the time is less). When the wheatberries are soft and chewy with a very slight bite of a texture, drain berries in a colander. Rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Discard bay leaf and lemon halves. Place wheatberries aside.
2. Meanwhile, as the wheatberries are cooking, preheat oven to 350°F. If the asparagus is thick, cut/snap off and discard the bottom 1 inch part. Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Toss with olive oil, the juice of the second lemon, sea salt, and fresh black pepper. Place on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until desired tenderness/crispiness. Remove from the oven and let cool. Place aside.
3. Prepping the Blood Orange**: Using a knife, remove strips of orange peel and the pith. Start off by cutting both ends of the orange, and try not to slice into the orange segments. When the pith and peels are removed and discarded, cut oranges into slices and then into 1/2-inch chunks. Place aside.
4. Prepping the Blood Orange Vinaigrette: Whisk all ingredients in a bowl. Place aside.
5. In the same large bowl, gently toss cooked wheatberries, roast asparagus, orange chunks, scallions, mint, and Blood Orange Vinaigrette together. Garnish each serving with fresh mint.
6. Enjoy and serve at room temperature.
» Add toasted almond slices.
*Used Hard Red Winter Wheatberry variety purchased from a natural/organic store in the bulk section.
**Save the extra orange zest and toss in a cake, muffin, or baking recipe for a slight citrus taste or whisk it in a vinaigrette of olive oil, vinegar, lemon or orange juice, a touch of honey, sea salt, and fresh black pepper for another salad.