simple menu – Warm winter grain salad
This Warm Winter Whole Grain Salad has become a staple in my diet the past month or two.
On Saturday night soak the wheat and barley grains and then spend a relaxed Sunday afternoon making the rest so I have a delicious dish for lunch every day that week. I have as yet to get bored with it, the wheat and barley so chewy and nutty. The butternut squash is sweet, especially with that hint of nutmeg, contrasting with the salty feta. The beans, rich in protein, add a creamy quality to each bite. This salad can be your main dish or an unexpected side to a winter feast.
A Straight from the Farm original
2 C. wheat berries (available at Whole Foods)
1 butternut squash
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 t. freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
6 cups water*
1 C. pearl barley
1 red onion
5 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 can (14oz) cannellini beans
4 T. orange muscat champagne vinegar (available at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods)**
2 T. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. lite feta cheese
cooked chicken/soy chicken (optional)
dried cranberries (optional)
* You may need more than 6 cups of liquid. I sometimes use a cup of vegetable stock to give it a bit more flavor.
** If you can’t find the orange muscat champagne vinegar, a high quality balsamic will work just fine on its own.
Place your wheat berries in a bowl and cover with cool water. Cover bowl and allow to sit for at least 4 hours; overnight usually works best. When you are ready to use the wheat berries, drain and rinse before proceeding with the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Peel and cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise (I usually also cut the “neck” from the “bulge” to make for more efficient chopping). Scoop out the seeds. Dice the orange flesh into rough half inch cubes and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Toss to combine and place in the hot oven. Roast until cubes are tender but not mushy, about 20-30 minutes. Set cubes aside to cool. They can be stored overnight in the fridge.
Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add a little salt like you would to pasta water. Carefully slide the drained wheat berried into the water. Return water to a boil and then reduce heat to a high simmer, leaving the pot uncovered. Cook for about 35 minutes and begin testing by chewing a grain or two. When wheat berries are tender enough to chew but not soft yet (usually 35-45 minutes of cooking), add the pearl barley (you may wish to rinse the barley first to remove any dusty debris). Continue to simmer until both the pearl barley and wheat berries are tender but not mushy, about another 15-20 minutes. If liquid is getting low, add another half cup at a time of hot water. When done, drain off any remaining liquid and transfer to a large bowl.
Peel and finely dice the red onion. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the diced onion and cook over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse and drain the cannellini beans. Add to the onions and toss to heat through. Reduce heat to low and move all the beans and onion to one side of the skillet. On the empty side of the skillet, whisk together the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and the vinegar(s). It helps to tilt the skillet a bit to collect the liquid so you can whisk it. Taste and add more vinegar if desired.
Once you have the vinegar and oil to your liking, gently toss the beans and onion with it and remove from the heat. Season generously with salt and pepper and pour over the bowl of cooked wheat berries and barely. Toss gently to combine. Now add the roasted butternut squash and toss again. Allow salad to sit for at least 30 minutes to soak up the dressing.
Salad can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to a week. It can be served at room temperature or hot (a minute in the microwave does the trick). Top each serving with a crumble of feta cheese and some cooked chicken if desired. A handful of cranberries are also a nice addition.