Wheat Berry Salad


There are two kinds of cravings: the bad kind and the good kind. Most of us are familiar with the bad kind: it sends us to Dunkin’ Donuts at 2 AM, keen on devouring a stale toasted coconut doughnut beneath the fluorescent glare. It’s the craving that forces hamburgers when you should be thinking salad, it’s the craving that tells you to add cream to that tomato sauce to make it oh-that-much-more decadent. And lots of cheese. And to make brownies for dessert which you serve with vanilla ice cream.

So, yes, we all know that craving. But every now and then a different kind of craving comes along; it’s a rare craving, the kind of craving that if it happens to you, count yourself among the lucky: it’s a craving to eat something heathy. When this happens, the clouds part, the sun beats down on your face and a choir of angels bursts into song. Should you have this craving, there’s no better place to turn than to my friend Heidi’s excellent cookbook, Super Natural Cooking.

I love this book and I flip through it often whenever I get that second type of craving. Unfortunately, more frequently than I’d like to admit, the good craving morphs back into a bad craving and I put the book down and I order a pizza. But sometimes the good craving endures and I make one of Heidi’s terrific recipes, like that time I made her Otsu.

This time, the word of the day (or two words of the day) was “wheat berries.” I was intrigued by Heidi’s recipe for Wheat Berry Salad; says Heidi in the little box below the actual recipe: “Plump wheat berries shimmering with an orange-flecked citrus dressing makes this a lively winter salad.”

What are wheat berries? Heidi explains on page 34: “This might strike some of you as obvious, but when you grind up a wheat berry, you get flour. Hard red winter wheat berries end up as higher-protein bread flours, while lower-protein soft wheat berries are ground into pastry or cake flours. Because they contain the bran and the germ, all wheat berries are nutritionally intact.”

Did you get all that? Don’t worry: the bottom line is if Heidi says it’s healthy, it’s healthy!

Now the hard part: finding wheat berries. The Key Food across the street didn’t have them; neither did the fancy shmancy Union Market on Union Street. I was ready to give up but then I remembered a store on 7th Ave., here in Park Slope, called “Back To The Land.” So I moseyed over there and sure enough they had a big, beautiful bag of wheat berries for not a lot of money. Look, here it is:


In fact, as you can see, the whole bag was $2.48. And that’s a big bag that’ll feed you for a long time: it’s a great investment, especially in this economy.

What’s great about this salad and Heidi’s recipes in general is that even though the overall idea of the recipe satisfies your good craving, there are so many flavorful touches–a citrus vinaigrette, feta cheese and pine nuts–that it also satisfies your craving to be bad. Sort of like dating an upstanding professional sort that’d wow your parents by day and who, by night, becomes a sex maniac. That’s how I feel about Heidi’s recipes.

And speaking of Heidi’s recipes, here it is–her recipe for sex maniac Wheat Berry Salad.

Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus, Pine Nuts, Feta and Spinach

from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking


2 cups soft wheat berries, rinsed

6 cups water

2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt, plus more as needed

Citrus Dressing:

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 generous handfuls spinach leaves, stemmed and well rinsed

1 cup toasted pine nuts (see page 206)

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Combine the wheat berries, water and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until plump and chewy, about an hour or so. The berries should stay al dente, and the only way to be sure they’re done is to taste a few. Drain and season to taste with more salt.

To make the dressing, combine the orange zest and juice, lemon juice, and shallot. Whisk in the olive oil and season with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Toss the hot wheat berries with the spinach, pine nuts, citrus dressing, then top with the feta. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with a bit more salt if needed.

Serves 4 to 6.

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