My Favorite Things: Wheat Berries

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Happy Thanksgiving! It’s appropriate that I post about food on a day that most of us will be spending cooking up a storm in the kitchen. 

Growing up, I was never a breakfast person. As a matter of fact, I actually hated it. I was the kind of person who was perfectly content with skipping breakfast altogether, snacking, and then starting my day with lunch. My mom would try everything she could to get something in my system before heading out to school with little success. This continued into my adult life, until I began running and practicing yoga. I turned to food for extra energy as I ventured into the world of marathons, ashtanga, and (more recently) triathlons.

My least favorite breakfast option was always cereal. As I began to learn more about nutrition, I realized there are so many more options than just a box of boring cereal, or a packet of instant oatmeal. I discovered the Bob’s Red Mill line of hot cereal products, came up with some creative concoctions and added healthy, energy packed toppings. I still keep a few varieties of Bob’s hot cereals in my pantry, but I realized that all those cereals are just grains – something I always have an abundance of in my house.

Grains are a staple in my kitchen, and I cook them more than any other food. For example, I make a huge pot of brown rice every Sunday for use throughout the week. I started using my pre-cooked grains in place of my hot cereal – usually quinoa or brown rice. I’ll take whatever cooked grain I have, reheat it in a saucepan with some almond milk, and top with organic maple syrup, berries, nuts, seeds, etc. If I’m not into a sweets that morning, I can use grains to make a savory breakfast with things like eggs and avocados. Grains are versatile, packed with energy and keep me full for most of the morning.

As the title of my post suggests, I’m on a recent wheat berry kick. Before wheat goes through any kind of processing, it’s called a wheat berry. It’s a hearty, high-fiber, whole grain that can be used much like any other grain in your pantry. They are a tough little grain so be prepared for a longer cooking time when cooking these guys…but they are worth it. Panera even recently jumped on the wheat berry bandwagon and incorporated it into their seasonal salad.

I’ve been cooking my way through Mark Bittman’s book, The Food Matters. His recipes a bit bland and boring if you make them the way he writes them, but his ideas are interesting and serve as fresh inspiration in the kitchen. The book includes a recipe for wheat berries turned into a hot cereal, which sparked my interest. I’ve taken the recipe and adjusted it to my preferences.

20131127-080542.jpgWheat Berries with Berries
Serves 4
Adapted from “The Food Matters”, by Mark Bittman

  • 1 cup of wheat berries
  • 2 cups of unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 4 cups of berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc)
  • 4 tablespoons of sliced almonds (or your choice of nut)
  • Any other toppings you like (chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut, cinnamon, etc)
Combine wheat berries in a medium to large pot with almond milk, maple syrup, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a gentle simmer.
 
Allow to cook, stirring from time to time, until wheat berries are tender. This can take anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour or more – I often find that mine take over an hour. Wheat berries will swell and be tender but firm when done (they never get mushy like overcooked rice) and mixture will still be a bit soupy. If you’re making the grains ahead of time, you can cool them down and refrigerate at this point, gently reheating when you are ready to eat them. If I reheat one serving at a time, I usually add an extra quarter cup of almond milk to the saucepan when reheating.
 
To serve, place one serving of wheat berries in a bowl. Add your berries, nuts and desired toppings and enjoy!
 
Enjoy your turkey (or tofurkey, if that’s your thing) today! Maybe wheat berries will find a place at your table as a side dish tonight.
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