Thursday, August 21, 2008

Satisfying Super Salad #5 : Mediterranean Wheatberry Salad with Lentils and Chickpeas

Mediterranean Wheatberry Lentil Salad

When I was kid, I couldn't wait for June to arrive because that was the month when you could start picnicking. May was often too cool, and by August, it would be sweltering. The cool thing about living in Southern California is that you can picnic anytime. That's why I surprised my parents last January with a day trip to Palm Springs to buy some Medjool dates and to go on a picnic.

I couldn't pack just any picnic. After all, I remember vividly our family picnics that my mom used to prepare-- no bagged chips or hot dogs. Her picnics were typical Italian-American feasts, only placed inside Tupperware, set in coolers, and hauled to wherever we were going. Maybe there wasn't lasagna at a July picnic, but you can bet there was summer tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, crispy baked chicken cutlets, and hard, crusty bread to dunk in some silky extra virgin olive oil.

For our picnic I decided to go simple and Mediterranean. We started off with some wine, cheese, and bread from a local Italian deli. We then enjoyed a marinated olive, fennel, and orange appetizer I had made, and finished with a savory Mediterranean Wheatberry Salad with Lentils and Chickpeas.

Since we had already eaten quite a bit by the time we got to the wheatberry salad, I thought nobody would want it. I was wrong. After a few comments like, "Mmmm this is so good" and "Are you gonna finish that?" I wished I had made more. (It's the curse of being female and Italian. You NEVER feel as though you've made enough food.)

Since that day, both my mom and I have made this salad numerous times. In fact, Mom called this morning and said she had just made a double batch of it for a picnic she is going to on Saturday.

That's why it's the fifth installation of my Satisfying Super Salads series. Today's super ingredient is wheatberries, a wonderfully chewy, nutty flavored whole grain that is both protein and calcium rich.

dry wheatberries

Tossed with lentils and chickpeas (two fiber and protein powerhouses), this is one seriously healthy salad. With briny kalamata olives, savory sun-dried tomatoes and fragrant fresh herbs, the result is a pleasing medley of bold Mediterranean flavors and textures that will keep you satiated long after you've finished eating.

Enjoy it as a vegetarian main dish, or add sauteed pork, chicken, or shrimp. It's also a great side dish with grilled fish, and even works as a stuffing in peppers and zucchini.

I usually triple or quadruple the recipe because this makes the most delicious left-over lunch. In general, I am NOT a fan of left-overs, but this is one of those dishes that actually tastes better after it sits a day or two. Plus then you won't have to worry about anybody fighting over the last serving.

Mediterranean Wheatberry Lentil Salad
(Don't pass on the fresh Italian oregano pictured above; it's infinitely better than god-awful dried oregano in a bottle. Try it to see what I mean.)

Mediterranean Wheatberry Salad with Lentils and Chickpeas
Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

1/2 cup dry wheatberries**
1/2 cup brown lentils
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
12 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 small red bell peppers, thinly sliced
12 olives (Kalamata or Cerignola), sliced
2 tablespoons feta cheese
2 tablespoons pistachios, walnuts, or pine nuts

Zesty Lemon and Herb Dressing:
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt, to taste
1/4 cup mixed, finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, mint, oregano, and parsley

Soak wheatberries in cold water for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours overnight. (The longer the soaking time, the shorter the cooking time will be.) In a small pot add 1/2 cup wheatberries to 2 cups water. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then simmer partially covered for 40-45 minutes, or until tender. Check the water level periodically. If it evaporates up and the wheatberries aren't cooked, simply add a little more.

In a small pot, add 1/2 cup lentils to 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes, then simmer, partially covered for 30-35 minutes, or until tender. Check the water level periodically. If it evaporates and the lentils aren't cooked, simply add a little more.

To make the dressing, whisk all ingredients (except fresh herbs) in a small bowl and set aside. Add the herbs just a few minutes prior to assembling the salad so they don't absorb too much of the dressing.

Place cooked wheatberries and lentils in a large bowl and add remaining salad ingredients. Toss until well combined. Add the dressing and fresh herbs and toss well. Garnish will additional feta cheese and/or fresh herbs, if desired. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

A shortcut for cooking wheatberries is the microwave. Since microwaves differ, you'd have to experiment with your settings. I find the following works well: Place 1/2 cup wheatberries and 2 cups water in a corning ware dish. Cover and microwave on half power for 15 minutes. Then microwave on high power for 20-25 minutes, or until the wheatberries have absorbed the water and are cooked through. They should be firm, but not hard. Also check the water level occasionally to make sure it hasn't evaporated. Sometimes you need to a bit more water before the end of the cooking time.

**Wheatberries are usually located in the bulk section of specialty and organic markets. Sometimes they are labeled "hard" or "soft." Hard wheatberries need to be soaked in water overnight before cooking, whereas soft ones don't.

You might also like:

Super Satisfying Salads 1-4:
Asian Noodle Salad with Tofu and Mango
Chipotle BBQ Bean and Corn Salad
Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Farro with Grilled Vegetables

Warm Bulgur Salad with Beets, Fennel, and Oranges

More wheatberry dishes you might like:

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