Thursday, February 2, 2012

a quest for salad

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on February 1, 2012.

One evening, depleted after running a bunch of errands, I stopped by a new-ish restaurant. I was looking for something healthy and wholesome to fill my tank—not my standard starchy choice of bread and coffee—and was delighted to discover a whole case filled with portable and affordable salads. I chose the wheat berry salad—plump grains tossed with fruit and drizzled with an oil and vinegar dressing. It was so satisfying that on my return trips I’ve never even bothered to sample their other offerings.

Every time I’ve eaten the salad (and it’s probably only been three times, but it feels like all the time since I so rarely eat out), I think to myself, “Self, you have got to learn how to make this,” and then I spend a few minutes wondering if I should try to slip a wad of cash to one of the employees in exchange for the recipe. But bribery feels too complicated (not to mention unethical), and besides, the salad, loaded as it is with nuts and dried fruits, seems a bit extravagant, not like something I’d make at home just for any how.

But then, just a couple weeks ago, I bought the salad again, and this time I happened to glance down at the lid where, lo and behold, an ingredient list was printed, plain as day. The solution to my “problem” was so obvious that I may have, there in my van all by my salad-eating self, cackled with glee.

Back home, plastic lid in hand, I trolled the Internet and flipped through cookbooks, and soon I had a rough draft of a recipe. On the first try, the salad was tasty, but the wheat berries were too tough. For round two, I used soft winter wheat instead of hard spring and went out of my way to buy the ingredients that I had mistakenly thought I could do without—wild rice, green onions, dried cherries—and the salad improved dramatically. (Leaving the cherries out, in particular, was a rather foolish thing to do, especially when the word “cherry” had a prime spot in the salad’s title.)

My recipe isn’t exactly like the restaurant version, of course, but it’s pretty darn close. The salad is sweet and tangy, chewy from the fruit and grain, and with a bit of crunch from the nuts and apple. It’s filling, too, and now when I head into town for an evening of errands, I can carry my fortification with me.

Wheat Berry Salad
Inspired by A Bowl of Good’s Mary, Mary, Berry con Cherry Salad

1 cup soft winter wheat berries
1/4 cup wild rice
1 crisp apple, unpeeled, chopped fairly small
½ cup each, dried cranberries and chopped almonds
1/4 cup chopped green onion (or two tablespoons minced onion)
1/4 cup each, dried cherries and currants
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon each, canola oil and olive oil
½ clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 tablespoons orange juice

Put the wheat berries and wild rice in a pan with a quart of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour, or until the grains are tender. Drain.

Put the still-warm grains in a large bowl and add the apple, onion, dried fruits and nuts. The steam from the hot grains will help to soften the dried fruits.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Add more orange juice or vinegar as needed. If not eating immediately, store in the refrigerator. It will keep nicely for at least 3 days.

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