Hard wheat berry action ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

02 February 2007

Hard wheat berry action

Or: more things you have to start the day before the fact.

Wheat berries are pretty sweet if you are into grains, which I, an eater of oatmeal with plain salt, certainly am. No one seems to think of them as, uh, anything. Few people even seem to be aware that they exist, except maybe in bread. O Brownberry bread, I miss you so, here out on the west coast where you cannot ever possibly be found. Ahem. Ok, so I have to get my fix in some other way. Fortunately, that way is great.

There are apparently two different kinds of wheat berries, soft and hard. The soft ones are relatively easy and take only an hour or two of soaking before you can cook them, or so I hear, as I've never been able to find them. The hard ones, on the other hand, must be soaked at least twelve hours. So whereas with other things there is some level of fudging available, with these you have no choice. You really, really have to leave them overnight if you don't want to end up with a raw-centered mess. That said, the boiling is pretty standard for any hard bean: maybe an hour or two, or until tender. I guess that is the main idea: treat hard wheat berries like a dried bean, not like a grain, and you will be fine. The end result comes up chewy and densely textured, with a mild nutty taste that, well--it's wheat! It tastes like wheat. Wheat tastes awesome.

Official hard wheat berry cooking outline:
Soak berries in twice their depth of water overnight.
Drain, replace water, and boil until tender.
Drain and rinse immediately, or you will get a glutenous skin on the pan (hi, wheat gluten!)

So, once you have your berries cooked, what can you do with them? You can treat them essentially like rice, and just serve them salted as a side. You can leave them plain and whack a mess of hot roasted vegetables or stir-fry over them. You can stick them into a fully-cooked soup, like barley. You can make a salad like this one.

Hard wheat berry salad

cooled cooked wheat berries
red and yellow bell pepper, or any vegetable that sounds good to you
green onion or other onion sub, such as the ideal shallot
fresh basil
salt and pepper

Chop your bell pepper and green onion into pleasing chunks. Tear the basil into bits, or chiffonade it if you are feeling fancy and non-thumb-injured. Mix roughly equal proportions of wheat berries and vegetables in bowls. Grind salt and pepper (pepper!) to taste. Toss it up with a good dressing and eat it with your fork.

You can use your standard vinaigrette for a dressing, as long as it is good. I was about to do this last night, but John decided he was mad jealous of the cooking, and so made our own schmancy original vinaigrette.

good olive oil
white wine vinegar
mustard seeds
salt and pepper

Crush a couple good pinches of mustard seed in a mortar. Transfer it to a bowl or other mixing device. Olive oil and vinegar should be added in careful proportion, about 4 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar, or even less vinegar if that's your taste. Grind in some salt and pepper (again pepper! Lots of pepper is great in dressing). Mix, taste, and use.

I would not say this business is adequate for a full meal as is, but perhaps you have some feta or cubed mozzarella lying around and would like to put it to good use. This would be a good use.

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