Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wheat Berry Salad with Kale Dressing

I grew this Red Russian kale. Really! And so when I wanted to eat it, I went searching for a recipe that would be interesting and flavorful, and maybe even something new that I could post here. Initially, I headed toward a barley and kale gratin recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

I also grew these peas, and picked them the same day as I harvested the kale.

I intended to add these peas to the barley gratin, but then it got too hot to make a gratin in the oven, so I decided to make a salad. I can’t remember exactly why I made the switch from barley to wheat berries, but I think it was simply a matter of not having any barley cooked, but having just the right amount of cooked wheat berries in the freezer.

Anyway, I ended up using an idea from the original gratin recipe of sautéing and pureeing the kale and stirring it into the grains to envelop them with plenty of flavor and the color green. I cooked the kale in olive oil and a little garlic, cooled it, then processed it with some vinegar and a pinch of nutmeg. This became the dressing of my salad, which not only flavored the wheat berries and fresh peas, but also served to hold together these little round ingredients.

The kale “dressing” is much like a pesto, but the flavors are mellower than most raw-leaf sauces. Cooking the kale first softens its flavor somewhat, so it’s not so bitter. It also softens its texture, making it easier to process, and, frankly, a little easier to eat. The kale flavor is still quite present and earthy enough to compliment the sweet, fresh peas. This all goes well with the nice dose of grated Parmesan cheese I added to give a further flavor kick to the salad.

This salad is delicious, probably even more so because I picked the ingredients making up nearly half its volume just before tossing them together. It lasted several days in the refrigerator, with the leftovers making a fabulous brown-bag lunch. It was also a fun idea to see through from the garden to the gratin to the more seasonally appropriate but still hardy salad. And it looks like I should be able to grow enough kale to try that barley gratin some other day.

Wheat Berry Salad with Fresh Peas and Kale Dressing
Partially inspired by a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

8 ounces fresh kale (I used Red Russian, but other varieties would work, too)
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons water
pinch nutmeg (preferably freshly-grated)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cooked wheat berries
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (thawed)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (I coarsely grated the cheese in a food processor)

1. Remove the tough stems from the kale. I like to hold the kale by the long stem and run my hand down the stem to strip off the leaves. Coarsely chop the leaves and discard the stems.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the kale, garlic, salt and water. Cook, stirring often, until the kale is tender and well-wilted (it will still maintain some structure, rather than wilting completely like spinach), about 8-10 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vinegar and nutmeg. Cool.

4. Transfer the cooled kale mixture to a food processor. Process until a coarse paste is formed, stopping to scrape the sides of the processor bowl as needed.

5. In a medium-size bowl, combine the wheat berries, peas and Parmesan. Add the kale mixture and stir everything together to combine well. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt or vinegar if desired.

Makes about 6 servings. Keep leftovers refrigerated for a few days.

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