Remember how in my steel-cut oatmeal post I said that chewy is one of my preferred textures? Well, these cute little nuggets are the ultimate in chewyliciousness. And in a bright, summery salad, they’re my new favorite thing.
Our neighborhood farmer’s market has a new vendor, which is always cause for excitement. But this one looked a little…dull. Just a single small folding table under a tent, with one lonely woman standing behind it. No crowds of stern-faced Polish women elbowing each other out of the way. Arrayed in front of her were little baggies with different colored contents; as I got closer I recognized them: beans. Dried beans. Now, here in NY the idea of selling a pantry item like dried beans—as opposed to fresh produce, bread, meat, etc—at the farmer’s market is a relatively new concept. Beans are sort of pedestrian, aren’t they? It’s hard to imagine that there’d be anything special about them, to justify spending four times as much as I would in the supermarket. I know, I know, there are all kinds of heirloom varieties, things I won’t find in the supermarket, but this stand was selling kidney beans, black beans, and chick peas. I was ready to pass.
And then I looked a little closer and spied a bag that wasn’t beans, a bag of little brown pellets. Wheatberries! The ultimate whole grain: it’s the same wheat that’s used for flour, but the only thing that’s been removed is the tough outer hull. Packed with fiber, they’re about the chewiest grain I can think of. Clearly their texture is right up my alley, but I’d never actually cooked them before. Of course I bought a bag.
The cooking process is simple enough. It’s exactly like cooking pasta, only longer: Big pot of boiling, salted water. Wheatberries in. 45 minutes later, drain. Ta da! I didn’t have a particular recipe in mind when I started, so while the berries cooked I rummaged. The result was a light, refreshing, and filling salad that I intend to eat for lunch every day this summer. As long as the farmer’s market still has them, that is.
And maybe next time, I’ll buy some dried beans, too.
Wheatberry Salad with Chickpeas and Dried Cherries
2 cups wheatberries, rinsed under cold running water
¼ cup sliced almonds
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ of an English (aka seedless) cucumber, diced
1 bell pepper—red, yellow, orange, or any combination, diced
¼ cup finely chopped chives
¼ cup dried cherries (unsweetened)
3 tablespoons high-quality extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fruity vinegar (I used Orange Muscat from Trader Joe’s)
salt & pepper
Bring salted water to a boil in your largest pot—this will be cooking for a long time and you don’t want the water level to get too low—and add the wheatberries. Lower the heat until it’s boiling gently, and cook 45 minutes. Taste before draining: it should be quite al dente, but not at all hard.
While the berries are cooking, prepare the other ingredients. Toast the almonds (I use my toaster oven: 250 for 3 minutes, but you can also do it in a dry skillet over medium heat; just keep them moving until they’re lightly browned). Put everything except the oil & vinegar in a large bowl.
When the wheatberries are done, rinse with cold water to bring to salad temperature and add to the bowl. Add the oil & vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
This salad holds surprisingly well. I made it on a Monday, and I finally finished it on Thursday. The vegetables were softer, yes, but not at all unpleasant.