Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Three Grains are Better

I unearthed a recipe from a magazine for a salad with white beans, artichoke hearts and spelt, an Old World grain. The recipe looked great, but I was fresh out of spelt. Okay, so I’ve never owned a single kernel of it in my life. What I did have was a bag of cooked wheat berries in the freezer (leftover from when I made this salad.) But as long as I was putting a dent in what was in the freezer, I figured two grains might be better. I’d see what was in the cupboard as well. It turns out that the cupboard needs more attention than I thought, so if two grains were better, a three-grain salad must be on its way to greatness. I went with slightly exotic, but not unattainable: wheat berries, wild rice, and quinoa.

I’m probably not as scientific as I should be about cooking grains. I’ve got rice down pretty well, but, so I don’t have to memorize or look up ratios and recipes, I tend to just throw most other grains in a pot of water and boil them until they are tender. That’s how I cooked the wild rice and quinoa for this salad. It took about 20 minutes to cook the quinoa and about 40 minutes to cook the wild rice. The wheat berries, which I had cooked a while back, I first soaked for several hours (much like I would dried beans). This cuts the cooking time down from a couple hours to about 45 minutes. Cooking times of grains may vary depending on your source of raw materials. I usually cook much more than I need for a recipe and freeze the rest for quicker meals when things get busy.

I brought this salad to a potluck lunch at Harry’s workplace, and it received good reviews. I really like it too, and I think this might now be a regular resident in our refrigerator. The coats of the wheat berries pop as you chew them to reveal their starchy interiors, while the wild rice (which isn’t even a rice but a grass native to this part of the world) is chewy and earthy. The tiny quinoa grains fill in the gaps between the other grains, creamy beans and sort of leafy artichokes. The lemon vinaigrette is super-simple (just lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper) but cuts through the stodgy beans and grains to liven and brighten them up.

While these three grains seem to compliment each other well, you could probably use other grains such as brown rice, barley, or even corn. You could change up the type of beans, add different vegetables or tinker with the dressing. Before long, you’d have a completely different recipe. I better stop now before I give away all my secrets to recipe development and you won’t have a reason to read The Messy Apron any more!

Three Grain Salad with White Beans and Artichokes
Modified from Cooking Light Magazine

I used canned artichoke hearts. The brand I used listed only artichoke hearts, water, salt and citric acid (to prevent browning) in the ingredient list. You could use frozen artichokes, and I have included the approximate equivalent to the weight of the drained canned variety.

1 cup cooked wheat berries
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked wild rice
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 ½ cups (about 1 15-ounce can) white beans, such as navy, Great Northern or cannellini, drained and rinsed (I used some I had cooked myself and froze)
1 14-ounce can (or about 8 ounces frozen) artichoke hearts, drained (or thawed) and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt (plus more to taste, if desired)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large bowl combine the wheat berries, quinoa, wild rice, parsley, onion, beans and artichoke hearts.

2. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Whisk until well-combined. Pour over the wheat berry mixture and stir to mix the ingredients together and coat them well with the dressing. Taste the salad for salt and add more if desired. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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