Thursday, February 3, 2011
Learning to Love Wheat Berries
Somehow, over the years, wheat has gotten a bad rap. It has come to be known as the food that people only eat in an emergency or when there is nothing else. So many other foods are available that wheat most often gets put completely out of our minds, except for having some in case there is nothing else to eat. Unless we change our way of thinking and start using some wheat, our kids will grow up thinking the same thing as we do and our grandkids and so on.
One of the most valuable assets of wheat is that during these tough economic times, wheat can be used in so many ways to help save money on our food budget. If we become used to using a little bit here and there it will not only improve our nutrition but also save us money and introducing it into our diets gradually will help us to become accustomed to eating it and having it in our diets.
I remember when I was just starting to learn about using wheat. I heard over and over that if wheat were all of a sudden introduced into our diets, we’d get sick if we ate too much. I learned a lot of things over the years and forgot a good portion of them, but this has always stuck with me. I have also learned much about nutrition that I wish I had known much sooner. One thing I want to do this year is to improve the nutrition of the foods we eat. And one of the ways I want to do that is to use more wheat in my cooking and baking.
Today I want to share some tips for using wheat in your foods, a little at a time, so that we can not only improve nutrition but hopefully same some money at the same time as well as becoming used to eating wheat and using it daily.
One of the best tips I have ever heard for using wheat is that if you have some, already cooked, in your fridge, you’ll find ways to use it; whereas if you have to stop and cook wheat every time you think you might want to add it to a dish, it most likely won’t get done. Wheat berries refers to two things; first the uncooked grains of wheat are often called wheat berries and second the cooked, drained wheat grains are also called wheat berries. For discussion here, wheat berries will refer to the cooked wheat grains.
Here are three different ways to cook wheat to have it on hand in your refrigerator for different uses. It will keep in the refrigerator about 6 days. You can also spread it on a tray or baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchment and flash freeze then store in sealed containers for 4-5 months in the freezer.
1 part wheat
2 parts water
Rinse wheat good. Put in crock pot with twice as much water as wheat. Cook on low all day or overnight.
1 cup uncooked whole wheat
2 cups boiling water
Preheat the thermos by filling it with very hot tap water. Place the lid on it loosely and allow it to sit while you do the rest of the work. Meanwhile bring 2-cups of water to a boil. When the water boils, dump the tap water out of the thermos. Immediately pour the boiling water into the thermos. Pour the wheat berries into the thermos along with the boiling water. Try to work quickly so the water doesn’t lose too much of its heat. Screw the lid tightly onto the thermos. Now allow the wheat to cook in the thermos for about 8 hours, or overnight. When you open the thermos you will have freshly cooked wheat, the perfect temperature for eating. You may need to drain off a little of the water if it hasn’t all been absorbed.
1 c. wheat berries
2 ½ c. water or broth
You can soak the wheat 12 hours (overnight) in 2 c. water,if you want. This is not strictly necessary, but it will cut down on cooking time. Combine water and wheat in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until all the water is absorbed and grain is soft, about 1 to 1½ hours.
Once your wheat berries are cooked you can begin using them any way you wish. Once I tried the stuffed tomatoes (below), I was hooked. Here are some other ideas.
Ideas for using wheat berries:
•Add with your cooked ground beef to extend the beef.
•Add to vegetable soup or stew.
•Throw a handful of wheat berries into you chef salad instead of croutons. I love the texture that wheat berries add.
•Stir wheat berries into your tuna salad with diced celery and green onions for a nice sandwich filling
•Combine wheat berries, diced red onion, diced sweet pickles and chopped hard cooked eggs with salad dressing or mayo and mustard for a good egg salad sandwich or salad served with greens.
•Add wheat berries to your favorite bean salad
•Stir some wheat berries into your yogurt or bowl of granola for added texture.
•Pour ½” layer of oil in a fry pan. Heat until hot enough to fry berries. Add ½ - ¾ c. wheat berries. Lightly stir to toast evenly. Berries should be crunchy but not burned. Remove and drain. Sprinkle with your favorite seasonings; Ranch dressing mix, garlic & herb seasoning. Cajun spice seasoning, Barbecue spice seasoning or sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
•Replace some of the beans in your favorite chili recipe with wheat berries.
•Add wheat berries to your favorite stir fry just before removing from heat.
•You can serve wheat berries any way you would rice. Wheat berries are a little chewier than rice but you can use them in any recipe as a substitute for rice.
Breakfast Wheat Berries
Cooking wheat overnight in the slow cooker is a great way to have an easy and healthy hot breakfast in the mornings. Throw in some salt and spices (cardamom, cinnamon or nutmeg would all be good.) Stir in a little brown sugar or honey if you wish. If you like, add dried cranberries, dates or raisins, grated apples, sliced bananas or any fresh, frozen unthawed or canned fruit. Stir into the cereal just before serving. Add sugar and milk in the bowl.
For a snack
To get your kids to try wheat berries, put a few cold cooked wheat berries in a small bowl. Top with thawed apple juice concentrate or fruit punch concentrate is good too. Eat with a spoon just as you would cold cereal.
Choose nice large ripe, flavorful tomatoes for this recipe. One for each serving. Cut the very top off of fresh tomatoes and hollow out the tomatoes, leaving a nice shell. Chop removed tomato filling and drain well. For salad filling combine cooked wheat berries, diced tomatoes (from the hollowed out tomatoes) diced celery, diced cooked chicken (optional), and sliced green onion. Make a dressing of mayo, sour cream or heavy cream, sugar and salt to taste, and a little vinegar or lemon juice. Blend together well and gently stir in chopped veggies and chicken. Fill tomatoes. Just before serving, top with your choice of finely diced green pepper, shredded cheese, chopped cashews, salted sunflower seeds or your favorite croutons. Chill till serving. Note: the wheat berries add such a nice texture to this salad. If you are a beginner to using wheat berries, give this one a try.
Leftover Sloppy Joe Casserole
You may want to make extra Sloppy Joe filling next time so you can make this casserole the next day.
Leftover Sloppy Joe filling
Rotini noodles, cooked (enough for the amount of Sloppy Joe filling you have left)
1 can whole kernel corn drained or 1 c. frozen corn
1 small can sliced olives
Combine pasta, corn, sliced olives and sloppy Joe mix. Put in casserole dish. Top with grated cheese. Bake at 350º 20-25 minutes or until heated and bubbly. For a fun alternative, serve with tortilla chips.
Wheat Berry Pasta Salad
2 c. cooked chicken breast, diced
1 c. diced Granny Smith apples
4 oz. bowtie pasta, cooked and drained
1 c. red seed less grapes, halved
1 stalk celery, diced
2 green onions, sliced thin
¼-1/3 c. cooked wheat berries
Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl
½ c. mayo
¼ c. plain yogurt
1 t. lime zest
2 T. lime juice
1 T. honey (can substitute brown sugar)
¼ t. kosher salt
Combine all dressing ingredients together and gently stir into chicken mixture. Cover and chill 3-4 hours before serving. Serve on a lettuce leaf with fresh wheat rolls or breadsticks.
Minestrone Beef Soup
1 can beef chunks or 2 c. leftover shredded roast beef or cooked ground beef
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. sliced celery
1 garlic clove, minced
5 c. water
1 can petite diced Italian flavored tomatoes
1 ½ c. chicken, beef or vegetable broth
2 carrots, sliced thin
1½ t. oregano
1 t. crushed basil
½ t. thyme
¾ c. shredded cabbage
1 c. frozen peas
½ c. wheat berries
1 c. cooked black beans
1 c. cooked elbow macaroni, cooked
Sauté onion, celery and garlic in oil and butter until tender. In a large pot combine sautéed vegetables, meat, water, tomatoes, broth, carrots and spices. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add cabbage, wheat berries and beans. Cover and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes until all vegetables are tender. Add peas and cooked macaroni and heat through. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle individual servings with parmesan cheese.