Earlier this year I made a decision to eat less meat — a lot less meat. I’m not a vegetarian by any stretch, nor do I envision becoming one any time soon, but I’ve moved from being a cook who planned nearly every meal around a cut of meat to someone who cooks meat perhaps once a week, sometimes less. My reasons for the shift are twofold: I have the same concerns about factory farming that a lot of other people have (both from an ethical standpoint and an environmental one), and I think eating less meat is healthier.
The change in diet has also encouraged me to seek out lots of different foods, from vegetables to which I’d previously paid only scant attention to grains I’ve never tried before. Fortunately, my local supermarket is continuously increasing its “health food” offerings (the use of that term is a subject for another time) so that my options are more varied than they were even a year ago.
A grain I’m happy to have met recently is the wheat berry. The wheat berry is the entire wheat kernel, minus the hull (milled wheat berries = flour!), and when cooked they have an appealingly chewy texture and a delightful nutty flavor that takes well to both sweet and savory preparations. They’re an excellent source of fiber and even contain protein, something good to think about when you’re trimming the meat from your diet.
While wheat berries take an hour or so to cook, they make up for that fact by keeping well in the fridge so you can cook them ahead of time — on the weekend, for example, when you might have more time — and then either reheat them when needed or use them as is. And what might you do with them, you ask?
Well, for starters you can eat wheat berries for breakfast much the same way you’d eat any other cooked grain. Top a bowl of wheat berries with milk or yogurt, sweeten with honey or sugar as you please. Add your favorite dried or fresh fruit, a sprinkling of nuts, perhaps a dash of cinnamon, and you’ve got a delicious start to your morning.
If you’d like to serve wheat berries as part of your lunch or dinner, you can use them in their simplest form, with a pat of butter and some salt, as a substitute for rice or potatoes. You can add them to your favorite soups and stews. You can lightly saute any of your favorite vegetables in some olive oil, add some wheat berries, and sprinkle liberally with any herbs that appeal to you. You can use them as a bed for other foods, much as you would serve certain foods over rice (this evening, I served wheat berries with sauteed spinach, garlic, and mushrooms that I sprinkled with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano).
Wheat berries are nothing if not versatile, so consider using them cold as the basis for a salad or as an addition to a salad. Add cut up vegetables (cooked or raw) and a handful of fresh herbs and dress lightly with your favorite vinaigrette, or add a handful of wheat berries to your favorite tossed green salad to give it some extra taste, texture, and nutrition.
While it can be a little intimidating to explore a new ingredient without a recipe in hand, you’ll find the wheat berry eager to please, which should encourage you to feel comfortable letting your creativity and your own tastes be your guide.