Wednesday, January 23, 2008
A Full Embrace
When I get something in my head, it often takes a while for me to get it out. I mean hellER, I have been saying the same four lines uttered by Keasha of Shot at Love almost-fame for the majority of the last week, thanks to my friend DSchec.
A couple of weeks before that, I was playing the freecreditreport.com song on loop in my head, sometimes singing out loud, to the displeasure of pretty much everyone with whom I came into contact.
I know, I know, you’re saying, “hey girl heyyy, those are not the most “cultured” of things to have stuck in your head,” but I really have no control over what my brain decides it likes now, do I? Right. Didn’t think so.
When the something in my head is food, it is damn near impossible to get it out unless I eat or make that something. A couple of months ago I had the most unavoidable craving for grilled cheese.
I think “craving” might be the wrong word; preoccupation is much more like it.
I couldn’t move on from grilled cheese until I ate it many, many times. I had tried avoiding it, since it’s not really the healthiest thing in the world; telling myself that I didn’t actually want a grilled cheese sandwich. However, I underestimated the power melty, gooey cheese had over me. I finally gave in, and I haven’t ever looked back. Now when a certain food item is stuck in my head, I do my best to appease my brain as quickly as possible. I can’t ignore it and try to will it to go away, I must embrace it and acknowledge its unfailing power over me until I do so. So last week, when I could not get the idea out of my head that there was nothing better on this earth than a crunchy, chewy wheat berry, I knew what had to be done.
I first had wheat berries not that long ago, to be honest, maybe a year or so ago. I got a sudden urge for them recently and have been searching grocery stores for them. I finally found them sold in bulk at Whole Foods, for a rather cheap sum. The problem with wheat berries is that they take quite a while to cook. Some sources call for wheat berries to be soaked overnight, which cuts down a bit on the cooking time and allows the body to better digest them. I know my body likes a good challenge, so I just rinsed the wheat and got down to business.
Since the wheat takes so long to cook, I decided that I would make enough to have a warm salad that night and save some to make a cold salad later on, knowing full well that this preoccupation was not going to be felled by a mere salad. I bought a nice hunk of goat’s milk feta while I was at Whole Foods and went home on a mission. Since I bought bulk, my wheat berries didn’t come with instructions, so I came home and Googled “how to cook wheat berries.”
A constant theme was about three cups of liquid per cup of wheat berries, so that is what I did. Some recipes said 2-2 ½ cups, but I figured if I was draining and rinsing anyway as long as they were cooked properly it didn’t matter if there was some water that wasn’t absorbed. Better to have too much than too little, as long as I paid attention to make sure they weren’t getting overcooked. I brought the water up to a boil, threw in some olive oil and the wheat berries, lowered to a simmer and cooked, covered over low heat for about 75 minutes. Cooking time can be as much as 90 minutes, so be patient. When they’re cooked to your liking, drain in a colander and rinse with warm water. This will yield two cups of cooked wheat berries.
Warm Wheat Berry Salad with Shrimp and Feta
1 cup cooked wheat berries
6-8 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 – ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup cherry tomatoes, halved*
1-2 ounces of goat’s milk feta cheese, cut into small cubes**
About ten small olives, pitted and quartered
Allow the wheat berries to cool slightly. While those are cooling, heat the butter in a medium skillet and add the thyme and red pepper flakes. Add the garlic, sautéing until fragrant. Add the shrimp to the pan and sauté until just opaque. Remove from the heat. I cut my shrimp into bite-size portions, since I wanted to be able to get multiple things on the fork at once and didn’t want to have to futz around with a knife.
Mix the wheat berries, shrimp, tomatoes and olives. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and mix to combine. Add salt and pepper and adjust any seasonings, oil or juice to your taste. Add the feta cheese and enjoy!
*In retrospect, I should have roasted these tomatoes. They would have added more sweetness to the dish had they been roasted. In order to do this, place the cherry tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and place in a 375 degree oven (a toaster oven works perfectly fine too) until they pop. Delicious.
**Obviously any feta cheese would be delicious, as would any goat cheese, really. I like the goat’s milk feta because it has a firmer texture but still maintains the tang of goat cheese.
Since I know myself so well, within a couple of days I was clamoring for more wheat berries. What can I say, there’s just something about that nutty chewiness that I adore - it’s just so wholesome. So a couple of days later I threw the rest of the wheat berries together with some more tomatoes, feta, olives and sautéed zucchini. I tossed some chopped shallot, red wine vinegar, a little bit of honey and the zest and juice of one Meyer lemon into a blender, set it awhirl and drizzled some olive oil in through the cap while the blender was going in order for the vinaigrette to emulsify. I topped it all with some freshly chopped mint and I had another meal that, while different from the first salad I made, was similar in all the right ways.