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.