Variety is the spice of life. Or so they say. But if so, it’s funny how often we stick to the tried & true, the comfortable familiarity of our regular routine. There are over 4,000 varieties of potato, 40,000 of rice, 30,000 varieties of wheat alone. How many varieties have you had lately?
I’ve never cooked wheat berries at home. I’ve had them, of course; at restaurants, at potlucks, at the Whole Foods salad bar. But not often, surely. And it seems kind of crazy to me that I’ve passed by that bin in the bulk section of my little whole foods market. Every month, when I’m filling up on four different varieties of rice, on bulghur wheat, quinoa, couscous, lentils and legumes, nuts and seeds, I skip right by the bin marked “wheat berries” with nary a glance. Why? Why, indeed. Nutty, textural, more toothsome and less sticky than rice, and seemingly easier to cook without turning into a glutinous mess, why aren’t wheat berries our go-to grain? I don’t think it has much to do with wheatophobia, as that’s a relatively recent dietary fad. I suspect it has more to do with the shelf life of wheat berries vs. rice. Or maybe it’s the all-powerful Rice Lobby. Who knows? I blame Uncle Ben.
Here’s what I do know: in a world where contradictory dietary advice is thrown at us by the barrelful; where scare-mongering and crap psuedoscience lead the way over reasoned debate or legitimate scientific exploration; where we are seemingly obsessed with which particular foods we should be eating, and which we should not; where reasonable people are ready to believe in charlatans with good hair and a convincing manner; there is one piece of dietary advice that is indisputable: variety.
If you eat a lot of different types of things, you can’t ever eat too much of the “wrong” things and you’ll get at least some of the “right” things. So even if your diet includes black jellybeans and tequila shooters and the occasional box of Cheez-Its, if it also includes heirloom beans and hand-harvested wild rice and every type of leafy green under the sun, how bad can it be? I think I’m going to revise Michael Pollan’s famous dictum: Eat food. A little bit of everything. Don’t worry too much.
- 1 cup raw wheat berries
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed
- 1 quart pea shoots, coarsely chopped if stems are tough
- 1 small bunch mint, leaves slivered (about ½ cup loosely packed)
- 1 small green chile, minced
- 3 oz feta, diced or crumbled
Lemon Sumac Dressing
- juice of 2 medium lemons
- 1 tsp sumac
- ½ tsp salt
- freshly ground pepper
- olive oil
- Cook wheat berries. In a medium saucepan, add wheat berries, 1 teaspoon salt, and about a quart of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a bare simmer. Cook, covered, until wheat berries are plumped and tender but chewy, about 25 – 30 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
- Make dressing. To a pint jar add the lemon juice, sumac, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Add an equal amount of olive oil as the lemon juice, then a splash or two more. Cover and shake vigorously. Taste and adjust seasonings or oil:lemon juice proportions.
- Assemble salad. In a large bowl, add cooked wheat berries, onion, chickpeas, pea shoots, mint, chile and feta. Toss to mix. Shake the salad dressing well, then drizzle about half the dressing over the salad. Toss and taste. Add more dressing as desired. Serve at room temperature or cold from the fridge.
Serves 4 as a main, 6 to 8 as a side.
- For even more lemony punch, include the lemon zest in the dressing. I used Meyer lemons here, which gave the salad a nice floral note.
- For a vegan version, omit feta and consider minced preserved lemon for a salty kick.
Refrigerated for up to 3 days.