I know what you are thinking: “Wheat berry salad? She’s fallen off the deep end into another health food kick.” Before you write me off as a total nut let me explain. It all started with a trip to Whole Foods where I got a little crazy in the bulk bin aisle (actually I just get a little crazy whenever I’m in a Whole Foods). Feeling tired of heavy winter fare and ready to broaden my grain horizons I spotted a bin of wheat berries and decided to bring some home… along with Israeli couscous, three colors of lentils, bulgur wheat, and barley. But those grains will have to wait for another day!
Having no clue what to do with wheat berries, or even what they tasted like I browsed the Internet for help. I learned that wheat berries are the entire wheat kernel (minus the hull) and that they are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and iron. Tips from 101 Cookbooks and The Amateur Gourmet provided me with a basic understanding of the grain, and from there I decided to play around. Mixing a little bit of this and a little bit of that a salad quickly began to take shape. The cooked wheat berries provided a soft yet chewy base with the fragrance of warm bread and a delightfully nutty flavor. Feta cheese added a creamy tang while Kalamata olives gave the dish a briny note that made my mouth water. By the time I was finished tossing in ingredients a marvelous Greek wheat berry salad was born.
This recipe has gotten under my skin. I feel good making it, I feel good eating it, and I feel good afterwards. In a kitchen that sees very little repetition, I have made this salad three times in the last month- it is that addictive! This would be delightful for a potluck, or to just have in the fridge when it is too hot to cook and all you want is a hearty salad. For presentation purposes the salad looks more appealing if you sprinkle the feta and tomatoes on top after everything else is mixed. You can even stretch it out a bit by serving it on top of fresh spinach. However when it is just the two of us I mix everything together in a big bowl and enjoy every bite!
Greek Wheat Berry Salad (Printable Recipe)
Serves 4-6 as a Main Course, 10-12 as a Side Salad
2 cups wheat berries
6 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 lemon, zested
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped + brine from jar (used below)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 roasted red bell peppers, chopped into bite size pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup basil leaves, julienned
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar (if you like a lot of tang add a bit more)
2-3 Tablespoons “brine” from Kalamata olive jar (can be increased to taste)
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
Juice of the zested lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Rinse wheat berries under cool water and then drain. Place wheat berries, six cups of water, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt into a medium pot. Place the pot over high heat, and bring the water to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to maintain a low simmer, and cover the pot with a lid. Cook the wheat berries, stirring occasionally, for 60-90 minutes or until they are tender (but not mushy). Once the wheat berries are cooked, drain off any remaining water, and transfer the wheat berries to a large (8-10 cup capacity) bowl.
While the wheat berries are cooking, place a small saucepan over low heat and add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, red onion, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Slowly cook the onion, stirring occasionally until it is softened and a light brown color. This will take about 40-60 minutes. Once the onion is caramelized, remove the saucepan from the heat and set the onions aside to cool.
Add the lemon zest, Kalamata olives, garlic, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, feta, and pine nuts into the large bowl with the wheat berries. Gently mix the ingredients together with a spoon to combine.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, “brine” from the Kalamata olive jar, yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Once the dressing is well mixed, pour it over the salad and stir until all ingredients are well coated. Taste the salad and add more salt and pepper if necessary. (Much like rice, the wheat berries will require a decent amount of salt for the flavor to shine through.) Serve the salad as is or plate on top of fresh spinach and garnish with additional feta cheese, tomatoes, and basil.
Salad can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored covered in the fridge. Bring to room temperature and mix well before serving.
When I am completely immersed in the natural world, it is then that I feel truly alive.
With summer now in full swing, I’ve found my urge to spend hours puttering around the kitchen has been replaced with a desire to frolic in the warm air and soak up as much sunshine as possible. I’m sure I am not alone in these sentiments, so today’s recipe is going to be short and sweet.
I have attempted to make sweet potato fries once before but was disappointed with mushy limp fries that couldn’t stand up to a bowl of ketchup. This time around I hunted through the Chowhound forums until I discovered the secret to crispy oven baked fries: convection. That’s right, if you have a convection oven then crispy sweet potato fries can be yours without the greasy mess of deep fat frying.
Quick release foil makes clean up VERY easy!
Dusting the fries with five spice seasoning created an exotic note which complimented our Asian-style barbecued ribs beautifully. The risks of being a food blogger became apparent when I set the bowl of fries down on the table and then stepped into another room to snap a few pictures of the Swiss Chard and Fennel Gratin. When I returned a short five minutes later, only a few lonely fries were left at the bottom of the bowl! As Mr. B is fond of saying, with fries this good, “you’d better get in there!”
Postscript: I followed this method with regular potatoes and it worked like a charm! Perfect crispy oven baked potato fries. Convection is definitely the answer!
Five Spice Sweet Potato Fries (Printable Recipe)
4 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into long wedges
Five Spice Powder
Reynolds Quick Release Foil
Pre-heat a convection oven to 425 degrees (normal heat – not convection at this point) with a rack in the middle.
Line two rimmed cookie sheets with foil. Spread the sweet potatoes on the cookie sheets in one layer. Lightly spray oil over the sweet potatoes and toss gently with your hands to coat all sides. Sprinkle a light coating of salt, pepper, garlic powder and five spice powder evenly across the sweet potatoes. Again gently toss the potatoes with your hands to coat all sides.
Place cookie sheets side-by-side in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Using a spatula, gently loosen the wedges from the foil and flip them over. Return pans to oven and bake for another 15 minutes.
Next, turn the oven to “convection” and bake for a final 5-10 minutes watching the fries closely, until they turn golden and crispy. Remove pans from oven, transfer the fries to a serving bowl and serve immediately.
Now one of our dinner guests had a fatal allergy to sulfites, which are found in almost all packaged shredded coconut (they keep it from turning brown). This meant that if I wanted to serve a coconut ice cream I would have to shred the coconut myself. So of course instead of going the sane route and sticking to the mango sorbet, I decided that I would track down a coconut and figure out how to get into it’s shell. Because really, it’s only when things get crazy that you start having any fun!
Finally the flesh was separated and I used a microplane grater to shred a cup of coconut. Despite a high moisture content the fresh coconut toasted beautifully. I’m always guilty of a short attention span when toasting things and typically go through two or three burnt trays of coconut before I pay attention long enough to toast it. After all this work there was no way I was going to burn the coconut! I fixed my eyes on the tray the entire time until it was perfectly toasted.
Once that was accomplished I finally could start making the ice cream. David’s recipe called for a straightforward vanilla bean custard. The toasted coconut steeps in the custard and then is strained out. The mango sorbet was also quite simple, requiring only a quick purée of mango, sugar, lime, and rum before freezing.
2-3 large ripe mangoes (2 lbs.)
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
1-3 Tablespoons dark rum, to taste
Pinch of salt
Peel the mangoes, and carefully separate the flesh from the pit. Cut mango flesh into large chunks and place them into a blender along with the sugar, water, lime juice, rum, and salt. Pick up the pits and use both hands to squeeze any remaining juice off of them into the blender. Place the lid on the blender and purée mixture until smooth. Taste the purée and add in more lime juice or rum if desired. (Do not exceed 3 tablespoons of rum, or the sorbet will have difficulty freezing.) Chill the mixture for at least 4 hours or even overnight. Then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer mango sorbet into a sealed container and store in the freezer.
Toasted Coconut Ice Cream
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (dried or fresh)
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Ample pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon rum
(If you are cracking a fresh coconut, please refer to the instructions below.)
Pre-heat an oven to 350 degrees. Place shredded coconut in a thin layer on a foil lined baking sheet. Place sheet in the oven and bake for 5-8 minutes, watching carefully and stirring the coconut a few times to promote even browning. Remove the coconut from the oven as soon as it looks nicely browned (it will turn from brown to burned very quickly!) Set aside to cool.
Place a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and warm up milk, 1 cup of cream, sugar, salt, and the toasted coconut. Using the tip of a small sharp knife, scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the pan. Then toss the rest of the bean into the mixture. Once the liquid is heated through (but not simmering) turn off the heat and place a lid on top of the pot. Set aside and let steep for 1 hour.
After the hour has passed, place the pan back over medium-low heat and warm it up again. Place a fine mesh strainer over a second medium saucepan, and pour the warmed mixture into the second pan. Use a spatula to press down on the solids still in the strainer, attempting to press any remaining liquid out of them. Then rinse off the vanilla bean and save it for another use and throw out the coconut. Clean off the strainer as you will use it again shortly.
Take the remaining 1 cup of cream and pour it into a large bowl. In a different medium bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks until they are smooth. Check the coconut mixture to make sure it has cooled slightly and then carefully pour it in a slow stream into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Once the two are combined, use the spatula to scrape the mixture back into the medium saucepan.
Place saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly, scraping the bottom frequently to prevent sticking. Once the custard has thickened and you can see it clearly coating the back of your spatula, remove the saucepan from heat. Immediately pour the custard through the clean strainer into the large bowl which contains the cream. Stir the two together until well combined. Mix in the rum, and then place the medium bowl in a large bowl partially filled with ice and water. Stir the custard occasionally until it has cooled to room temperature. Press a layer of plastic wrap across the surface of the custard (this will prevent a skin from forming) and chill the mixture for 4-24 hours. Once the mixture is very chilled, freeze it in your ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Marbling Ice Cream
To marble the two ice creams, you will need a large (2 quart) container, an ice cream scoop, and a spatula. Let both ice creams soften to a scoopable consistency. Using the ice cream scoop, place several scoops of one flavor in a single layer in the bottom of your container. Follow this with a second layer made up of scoops of the other flavor. Firmly rap the container on the counter to try and eliminate any air pockets in the ice cream. Use the spatula to smooth the top of the layers. Repeat this process until you have used up all of your ice cream. Cover the container and place it into the freezer for a minimum of 3-4 hours to firm up before serving.
Cracking a Coconut
Nail (Clean it off first!)
Locate the “eyes” of the coconut and pound the nail deep into each eye. (Don’t go too deep or as I found out it will get stuck and you’ll have to call for back-up!) Place the coconut (eyes down) over a bowl to drain the juice.
Wrap the coconut in the small towel and carefully “whack” it once or twice with the hammer until it cracks. Quickly unwrap the coconut and pour any juice remaining into the bowl.
If desired, cover the coconut pieces with the towel and “whack” them again until they are a manageable size.
Clean any hairs off the white flesh, and place pieces on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. Using a small pairing knife, and exercising EXTREME caution, pry the white flesh off of the brown outer shell. You will most likely still have an inner brown “skin” on the bottom of the flesh pieces. Use the knife or a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. The pieces of coconut can be wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
However Mr. B happened to take an unplanned business trip to the “big city” and offered to stop by Whole Foods. He asked me for a list, and when I wrote down ‘skate wings’ I think his eyebrows just about shot off his head. Fortunately for him Whole Foods was out of skate wings (or so he claimed) and we ended up with a fillet of cod instead. (Side Note: When it comes to procuring skate wings for this challenge I am in AWE of climbinghiak who caught his own skate while fishing in Alaska.)
Then I took a bite of the beans- WOW. There are no words to describe how awesome the beans tasted. They were unequivocally the best green beans I have ever eaten. Yes you simply slice them very thinly and poach them in butter, but somehow that transforms the flavor into an out of this world green bean experience. As I spooned some more beans onto my plate Mr. B watched me closely and then protested, “Leave some for me!” Apparently he thought that they were the best beans he’d ever encountered too. We didn’t quite count out the rounds of beans to make sure they were equally shared, but it almost got to that point!
A quick note on the wine:
Green Beans in Beurre Monte (Printable Recipe)
Place 15g water in a small pot and bring it to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, only a few cubes at a time. The butter should slowly melt and form an emulsion with the water. Place the pot back over low heat, and keep the liquid warm, but under 195 degrees. (This prevents the emulsion from breaking.)
Trim the ends off of the green beans and then slice them into very thin rounds (about 2 mm).
Add 100g of water to the buerre monte (you should have equal amounts of buerre monte and water) and bring it to a boil. Add the green bean slices into the pot and boil over high heat. Cook the beans, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost evaporated and then pan is starting to look dry. (About 4 minutes.) Remove pot from heat and season beans with salt to taste.
1 pint strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (I used Plugra European style butter)
Place the strawberries in a food processor or blender, and purée until smooth. Place a fine mesh sieve over a small saucepan, and using the back of a spatula, press batches of the purée through the sieve into the pan. Once all of the purée is in the pan, add in the honey and lemon juice. Place pan over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir constantly for 3 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of a warm custard. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and add in a pinch of salt, to taste.
Using the bowl of a stand mixture, combine softened butter and cooled purée mixture. Beat mixture with the paddle attachment on a low speed until the butter begins to incorporate into the strawberry mix. At this point turn up the speed and vigorously beat the mixture until it is well combined, and appears smooth and creamy. This will take about 3-5 minutes. Once the mixture is creamy, transfer it to a small airtight container and let it stand, covered, for an hour at room temperature. (This will help bring the flavors together.) Store container in the fridge, allowing the butter to warm up slightly before spreading.
Making Bread Crumbs
Making the Gratin
The gratin came together easily- a savory combination of fresh swiss chard, sautéed fennel, and spring onions. Wrapped together in a warm cream sauce, and topped with freshly toasted bread crumbs along with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese this gratin was better than any creamed spinach that has crossed my lips. As we were clearing the table after dinner, I spied my father-in-law eating the remaining gratin straight out of the dish with the serving spoon. I felt a brief twinge of jealousy until I remembered the rows of chard still standing in the garden. While we don’t eat many things repeatedly at our house, this is one recipe that I will be making again and again!
2 bunches of chard (18 ounces)
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
4 teaspoons melted butter
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced onion (spring onions are wonderful)
1 fennel bulb, diced (fronds removed)
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup whole milk
A few strokes of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle.
Rinse the chard well, and remove stems. Set aside half of the stems and place the rest in a freezer bag for use in another recipe. Slice the stems into small thin pieces. Place a large pot filled with salted water over high heat and bring it to a boil. Add the sliced stems and cook them for 2 minutes. Next add the chard leaves and boil until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the leaves and stems and allow them to cool.
While chard is cooling, spread out the breadcrumbs on a foil-lined baking sheet. Pour 4 teaspoons of melted butter on top of the bread crumbs, and toss until they are well coated. Place baking sheet in the oven and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the bread crumbs are lightly toasted. Remove sheet from oven, and leave the oven turned on.
Once the chard is cool, gently squeeze out any excess water from the leaves. Transfer leaves to a cutting board and coarsely chop.
Place a large saucepan over medium heat, and melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in the pan. Add diced onion and fennel to the pan. Cook stirring frequently until onion and fennel become translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir the chard into the pan along with salt to taste. Cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on top of the mixture, and stir well to prevent lumps. Add cream, milk, and nutmeg to the pan and continue to cook stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. You want to have a small amount of liquid on the bottom of the pan, not enough to coat the whole bottom, but enough to keep the chard from lumping together in a thick mass. If necessary add more milk. Taste the mixture and add more salt if desired.
Butter a 9×9 baking dish. Transfer chard mixture into the dish and spread it out evenly. Cut remaining butter into bits and spread it across the top of the chard. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly on top of the chard. Place dish in the oven and bake until the gratin appears golden and bubbly, about 20-30 minutes.
One of my favorite blogs about crazy country living is Going Country. Updated daily by the often quirky and always hilarious Kristin, it has introduced me to wonders such as sheep on the beach and pillows that freeze to the wall. Last January Kristin challenged her readers to help her name a new cocktail which incorporated mulberry juice, vodka, and seltzer. Since the mulberry tree from which said juice was extracted is located on a steep slope, and since attempting to gather the mulberries while hundreds of fallen berries created a mushy mess on the ground results in sliding down the slope, this cocktail was aptly christened the “Slippery Slope“.
Now before moving to the Midwest my only reference point for a mulberry, was the children’s song about here-we-go-round-the-mulberry-bush. I envisioned something similar to a blueberry bush with small berries. Little did I know that these “bushes” are actually 30′ high trees with berries that will turn you a permanent shade of purple if you just look at them. (Which makes the second verse of the childrens song “this is the way we wash our clothes” all too appropriate!) In fact I think birds take great pleasure in eating mulberries and then leaving bird “graffiti” on any patch of clean deck or driveway, which no amount of scrubbing will remove. This year I decided that the birds shouldn’t be the only ones having fun and set out to find a mulberry tree for myself.
In the woods behind our house Mr. B and I found three mulberry trees surrounded by brush and laden with ripe black fruit. We got busy and started to pick the berries, careful not to slip on the squishy goo below our feet. I popped a few berries into my mouth and discovered that they are quite juicy, with a sweet almost herbal flavor. They are also full of seeds. *Spit*. Once we had picked a bag full of berries we emerged from the brush and I glanced down at myself. I was covered with purple stains that ran from my lips to my fingers to the bottoms of my feet. What a mess!
Back at home we rinsed the berries, and then gently simmered them with a little sugar to extract the juice. After carefully straining out all seeds and stems (thank heavens for a black sink) I poured the juice into jars while Mr. B located the vodka. Mixed together with a bit of seltzer and orange liqueur this drink achieved summer perfection. It was refreshing, fruity, and fizzy. The double entendre of the Slippery Slope finally became clear when I found myself staring at the bottom of my glass and wishing for another!
1 1/2 ounces of Vodka
1/2 ounce Orange liqueur (such as Patron Citronge or Cointreau)
1 1/2 ounces of Mulberry Juice*
Seltzer (Club Soda)
Slice of Lemon for Garnish
Fill a high ball or double old fashioned cocktail glass 2/3rds to the top with ice cubes. Pour in vodka, orange liqueur, and mulberry juice. Stir to combine. Top off with seltzer. Stir again, and garnish with lemon slice.
Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups of juice
5 cups fresh mulberries
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
In a medium sized heavy pot, combine mulberries and sugar. Place over medium-low heat and cook at a gentle simmer until the liquid has reached the top of the berries, about 20 minutes. Sir occasionally, pressing down on the berries to help extract liquid. Once liquid has reached the top of the berries, remove the pot from heat and cover. Let steep and cool for 30 minutes.
Place a fine meshed strainer over a medium bowl and (working in batches if necessary) strain berries and liquid into the bowl. Press down repeatedly on the berries with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard crushed berries and seeds. Pour strained liquid into clean jars, and seal with lids. Juice will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Note: Kristin cans her mulberry juice (see her comment below) but I have yet to overcome my fear of the water bath. This recipe is NOT a canning recipe.