Wonderful Wheat Berries

August 23, 2011

I love trying different grains, and the expanded bulk section at Whole Foods is a treasure trove of things I hadn’t seen before. During fall and winter I love to make different dishes with grains, beans or lentils – they’re warm and satisfying, and perfect for the time of year. Perhaps as a subconscious wish for cooler weather due to the 92-100 degree days we’ve had lately, I decided to do something with wheat berries this week. Hard Red Winter Wheat is the berry that I’m most familiar with. (Okay, this is based on reading the name off of the packages in the organic aisles of grocery stores, so maybe ‘familiar’ is a bit of an overstatement). At any rate, when I saw Soft Spring Wheat, I latched onto that as more unique, and grabbed some.

A bit of quick research shows that wheat is categorized using several different characteristics. One classification is based on the season it’s planted – winter or spring. Another is color – red, white, or amber. It sounds like white wheat is generally considered to be sweeter, red slightly bitter. And then there is the hard or soft designation – hard is higher in protein, and soft is higher in starch. This affects gluten content, and as a result hard and soft wheats are used for different baking applications. There are other classifications for wheat, but these are the ones that I found most interesting. (I definitely learned more than I have ever known about wheat this week).

I was amazed at the rather large amount of fiber and, much to my surprise, protein in these wheat berries. A cup of them (uncooked) has 600 calories, 4 grams of fat, 20 grams of fiber, and 28 grams of protein. In comparison, white and brown rice have fewer calories and slightly less fat, but only 5-6 grams of fiber, and 13-14 grams of protein. Bulgur and barley both beat soft spring wheat in the fiber arena with 26 and 31 grams per cup, respectively, but the wheat wins for protein with 8 to 11 grams more. Granted, grains, beans and legumes are never going to beat meat for protein, but this is still pretty impressive. And it tastes really good – somewhat like barley, but a bit different, maybe a bit more flavorful. I cooked this in about 1/2 broth and 1/2 water, which I pretty much do with all the rice or grain that I use, because it adds some great additional flavor.

Ingredients

I decided to add some spicy chicken sausage, some mushrooms, and a couple of the leeks and the bell pepper I got this weekend at the Boulder Farmer’s Market. Given my less than stellar experience this weekend with lion’s mane mushrooms, I decided to take a brief step back to good old, dependable shiitake mushrooms (ahhhh…). I paired this dish with an arugula salad, and it was quite delicious.

Soft Spring Wheat Berries with Sausage, Leeks, Pepper and Mushrooms
serves 4

1 c soft spring wheat
2 c vegetable (or chicken) broth
1+1/2 c water
2 chicken sausage links, precooked
2 leeks
1 bell pepper
4 c shiitake mushrooms
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp avocado oil
1 tsp olive oil
2 Tbsp white wine
1/2 oz pecorino romano
3-4 sprigs thyme

Cut the sausages in half lengthwise, and then slice them. Cut the root and green stems off of the leeks (be sure to get all the dirt out of the layers near the stems), then cut each one in half lengthwise, then in half lengthwise again, and slice them (thinner than the sausage). Chop the pepper. Cut the pecorino romano into very small pieces.

Combine the broth, water, soft spring wheat, and pecorino romano in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 1 hr to 1+1/4 hr, depending on how tender you want it. Stir it occasionally, and check it more frequently after about 45 minutes.

While the wheat is cooking, heat the avocado oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, cook the mushrooms just a few minutes, stopping before they become juicy. Remove them from the pan, and set them aside. Heat 1 tsp of olive oil over medium heat, and sauté the garlic and pepper for a minute, then add the leeks and continue to sauté until the pepper and leeks are tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the wine, and the leaves from the thyme (run your thumb and forefinger along the stems the ‘wrong’ way to remove the leaves). Cook for another couple of minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.

Once the wheat is cooked to your desired level of tenderness, drain it, and then return it to the saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients to the saucepan, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until heated through.

Soft Spring Wheat Berries with Sausage, Leeks, Pepper and Mushrooms

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