Today was my first day back in the kitchen after a two-week accidental cooking hiatus. It wasn’t that I was purposely trying not to cook, just that I haven’t really been home. And I have to say, picking up my chef’s knife felt great.
One of the dishes I made was a long time coming. The inspiration of making a spinach and pesto salad stemmed from one I’d had at Protein Bar a few weeks back (Protein Bar is a fairly new fast food chain in Chicago and a brilliant concept at that). That dish came with quinoa, but I wanted to change it up a bit to incorporate a different whole grain I haven’t used before – wheat berries.
I started by cooking the wheat berries (which I got for about 65 cents from the bulk foods section at Whole Foods), then moved on to the pesto, which was a bit different from a traditional basil pesto. While it does include basil, I also added spinach and arugula to give it a light and super fresh taste, which went wonderfully with the slightly earthy taste of the wheat berries. When the wheat berries were done, I mixed in the pesto, a handful of baby spinach, quartered cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts to round out the dish. You can also easily bulk this up into a main dish by adding chicken, which is exactly what I’m going to do for lunch tomorrow.
So, about those wheat berries: 1) They come in different varieties, but for this recipe look for hard red winter wheat berries if available; 2) A general ratio for cooking wheat berries is 1:3 (1 cup wheat berries to 3 cups water), but if there’s water leftover at the end simply drain the wheat berries through a strainer; 3) The cooked texture should be chewy but not too firm; 4) Wheat berries are a whole grain – you can read about why they’re good for you here.
Here’s the recipe. Give wheat berries a try and tell me what you think.
Spinach & Pesto Wheatberry Salad
Makes four side dish servings
3 cups water
1 cup hard red winter wheat berries, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup arugula
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup baby spinach
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
Cooked chicken breast (optional)
To cook the wheat berries, combine water, wheat berries, and salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer covered until wheat berries are chewy, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Make the pesto by combining the spinach, arugula, basil and pine nuts in a food processor. Slowly add the olive oil and lemon juice and pulse until well-combined; use a spatula to scrape down the sides every few pulses. Add the Parmesan cheese to taste.
Combine the warm wheat berries with 1/4 cup of the pesto or to taste (you’ll probably have a little leftover, which can easily be frozen). Stir in the cherry tomatoes, spinach, pine nuts and chicken if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.