Doughnuts and scones and muffins--oh my!! After looking over the last few days of my blog posts, I realized that they have been heavy on the, well, heavy stuff. I usually try to keep the order well-balanced, but apparently I have been in a baking kind of mood lately. So now it's time to give your sweet tooth a rest with some healthy whole grains and fresh vegetables.
This wheat berry salad is one of my favorite "go-to" salads when I want to have something easy, filling, and healthy in the refrigerator that I can graze on over several days. Sometimes I'll eat it as a meal in itself, served over mixed greens, or I'll have it as a side dish for dinner. The recipe is a slight variation of Ina Garten's Wheat Berry Salad, found in her third cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Family Style. I love her recipes because they are prepared with fresh ingredients, they are simple and not too fussy, and they always present beautifully. This is a great salad for entertaining or to bring to a potluck, as it is a nice change from your standard rice or couscous recipe, and the vinaigrette-coated vegetables look like little jewels sitting in the wheat berries.
Wheat berries are the mother grain from which flour, bread, and pasta are derived. When cooked, they have a nut-like flavor, a chewy texture, and can serve as a healthy whole grain substitute for rice, pasta, or couscous. Look for wheat berries in the organic, bulk, or health foods section of your grocery store. Here are a few extra tips for this whole-grain wheat berry salad:
- Feel free to adjust the amounts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to suit your personal taste. I decreased the amount of olive oil from the original recipe and added a bit of vinegar because I like the more acidic flavor.
- Instead of using thyme, add 2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley at the very end.
- Experiment with different vegetable combinations in this versatile recipe. Substitute chopped shallots for the red onion, try using different colors of peppers, add some chopped celery, or dice some fresh sweet beets.
- The wheat berries are done cooking when they have softened, but are still chewy or "al dente". If they absorb all of the water before this point, just add a bit more. Be sure to use the hard wheat berries as they will not become mushy when cooked.
Healthy Wheat Berry Salad
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 red onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3 scallions, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, diced
Place the wheat berries, 3 cups of water, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until the wheat berries are soft.
Saute the red onion in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and thyme and stir to mix. Remove from the heat.
In a large bowl, combine the wheat berries, onion mixture, scallions, red bell pepper, and carrots. Season well with salt and pepper and stir to mix. Allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes prior to serving so that the wheat berries can absorb the sauce. Serve cold or at room temperature.