Big and chewy, wheat berries work in salads, risotto and stews

Big and chewy wheat berries work in salads risotto and
This July 20, 2015 photo shows wheat berry risotto with prosciutto and asparagus in Concord, N.H. Wheat berries come in hard and soft varieties, with hard wheat berries containing more protein. Both varieties can be sprouted and added to salads, breads and other dishes. AP Photo/Matthew Mead

This big, chewy grain has a pleasant wheat flavour and makes a versatile base for salads, stews and pilafs.

Wheat berries come in hard and soft varieties, with hard wheat berries containing more protein. Both varieties can be sprouted and added to salads, breads and other dishes.

For the shortest cooking time and best results, cover 1 cup of hard wheat berries with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and let the grain soak overnight, says Maria Speck, author of “Simply Ancient Grains.” When you are ready to cook, turn on the heat and simmer, covered, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the kernels just begin to pop. For soft wheat berries, use 1 3/4 cups of water and reduce cooking time to 40 to 50 minutes.

Wheat berries also can be cooked in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, like pasta, then drained, but they still must be soaked overnight. Regardless of cooking method, Speck says, let the fully cooked grains stand in the covered pot for 10 minutes to absorb any remaining moisture.

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Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours

Servings: 6

  • 1 cup wheat berries
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 ounces prosciutto, torn into small pieces
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the wheat berries and water. Cover and cook until the water is absorbed, 30 to 35 minutes. The wheat berries will not be done yet.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the prosciutto and cook until crispy, about 3 minutes. Spoon out into a bowl and set aside. Add the asparagus to the pan and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until just tender and still bright green. Spoon out into another bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan, along with the onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion is tender. Add the partially cooked wheat berries and stir to thoroughly coat the grains. Cook for 2 minutes, to lightly brown the grains. Add 1 1/2 cups of the broth and stir for 15 to 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add another 1 cup of broth and continue to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

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At this point only occasional stirring is necessary. Repeat with 1 more cup of broth (you should have 1/2 cup left). Once most of the liquid has been absorbed, test to make sure the wheat berries are cooked through and tender. If not, add 1/2 cup water and continue to cook. Repeat as necessary.

Once the grains are tender, carefully transfer 1/2 cup of the grains to a blender, adding the last 1/2 cup of chicken broth. Puree until very smooth. Add the pureed mixture back to the wheat berries in the skillet and stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the asparagus and serve topped with the crisped prosciutto.

Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories; 100 calories from fat (37 per cent of total calories); 11 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 35 mg cholesterol; 650 mg sodium; 28 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 16 g protein.

(Recipe from Alison Ladman)

For more recipes and primers on how to cook various whole grains, click here. 

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