Green Lentil & Wheat Berry Salad

I remember the days when whole grains were the latest and greatest food trend.

First, there was an explosion of whole grain breads, the options beyond “white” and “whole wheat” multiplied overnight. Other food products soon followed suit: pasta, tortilla chips, granola bars, popcorn, and breakfast cereal all claimed to be “made with whole grains” to appeal to the health conscious consumer (regardless of their actual nutritional content).

With time, the hype around whole grains faded, and the spotlight shifted to other foods. But unlike some passing food trends, whole grains have earned a spot in my heart. They are a diverse bunch: their tastes, textures, and appearances vary greatly. Generally speaking, they’re more filling due to their higher fibre content, and contain more protein, minerals and vitamins compared to their refined counterparts.

The whole grain I picked up at the store was wheat. Yup, that’s right, the same wheat that’s used to make wheat flour. Each wheat berry is made up of the bran (outer brown shell), the germ (the part which will become the plant if the grain germinates), and the endosperm (starchy part which is often ground into white flour).

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Wheat berries! Each of them can grow into a wheat plant! 

This salad is made with wheat berries, lentils, fresh cucumbers, and tomatoes. It’s seasoned with a pomegranate dressing, and topped with spiced peanuts to garnish. This recipe is so easy to toss together, super satisfying, and tastes better the next day. Served slightly warm or cold, the tangy dressing, chewy grains, and crunchy nuts make an unforgettable meal.

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Green Lentil & Wheat Berry Salad

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup wheat berries, soaked for 3-5 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge.
  • 3/4 cup green lentils
  • 1/2 English cucumber, seeds removed (optional) and diced
  • 3-4 Roma tomatoes, seeds removed (optional) and diced
  • 1/3 cup blanched skinless peanuts, roughly chopped
  • Salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin to taste
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp sugar

Method

  1. In a medium sized pot, bring 3 cups of water and the wheat berries to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
  2. To the same pot, add the green lentils and cook for 20 more minutes. The wheat berries and lentils should be tender, but not mushy. Drain well, and return the lentils and wheat berries to the pot.
  3. While the lentils and wheat berries are cooking, toast the peanuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. When they are golden brown, turn off the heat. Add salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin to taste. Reserve for garnish.
  4. Add diced cucumbers and tomatoes, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and sugar to the cooked lentils and wheat berries. Mix well, season with salt to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp of salt).
  5. Garnish with toasted peanuts on top and serve.

Late Summer’s Salad

End of August, the last few days of summer cling onto shorts, ice cream cones, and the outdoor swimming pool. Amidst the goodbye to warm weather and sunny days in Vancouver, we’re lucky enough to say hello to the season’s bounty: farm-fresh vegetables and fruits from local growers.

I’ve made a few variations of this salad already, using yellow bell peppers, chickpeas, eggs, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, bulgur, dried tofu, and yellow wax beans in various combinations with one another. The dressing was kept simple: olive oil, vinegar, salt, black pepper. Once I used soy sauce, canola oil (sesame, chili, or Sichuan peppercorn oil would be perfect here as well), white pepper, and rice wine vinegar for an Asian-inspired taste.

A hearty salad, perfect for lunch or dinner in the summer heat.
A hearty salad, perfect for lunch or dinner in the summer heat.

The trick to making this salad quickly is to pre-cook as many of the ingredients as you can ahead of time. For example, I soaked and boiled about 1 cup of dry chickpeas, cooked 3 eggs, and reconstituted 1 cup of dried bulgur all at once when I made this salad the first time a few days ago. Today, I simply pulled the chickpeas, egg, and bulgur out of the fridge, and they were ready to use. This salad came together in no time at all.

Late Summer’s Salad 

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • 1 roma tomato, seeds removed, diced
  • 1 mini cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup bulgur, cooked
  • 1/3 cup chickpeas, cooked
  • 3 figs, 3/8 inch cubes
  • 1 egg, boiled to your liking, cut into 8 wedges

Dressing

  • 1-1.5 tbsp acid (balsamic vinegar, or rice, red or white wine vinegar, or lemon juice)
  • 1-1.5 tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and black pepper

Method

  1. Put all ingredients except the egg into a medium-sized bowl, mix well to combine.
  2. When ready to serve, gently lay the egg pieces on top of the salad.

 

To compliment the sweetness of the figs, I used a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar from the Vancouver Olive Oil Company (http://vooc.ca).
To compliment the sweetness of the figs, I used a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar from the Vancouver Olive Oil Company (http://vooc.ca).

Beet, Potato, and Radish Salad

Beet, potato, and radish salad dressed with pomegranate molasses, sesame oil, cumin, and garnished with coriander leaves.
Dressed with pomegranate molasses, sesame oil, cumin, and garnished with coriander leaves.

This dish is deeply connected with the land: 1) most of the ingredients used are grown locally on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral land belonging to the Coast Salish peoples; 2) most of the ingredients are in season right now; 3) most of the ingredients are buried in the soil until they’re ready to be dug up, which makes this the most grounded dish I’ve made in a while.

When I bought the beets, potatoes, and radishes, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. But I couldn’t say “no” to the sweet and tender beets, the thin-skinned potatoes, and the bright red radishes with luscious tops. “I’ll figure out a delicious way to eat them somehow!” I vowed. I considered how to best show off the unique flavours and textures of each of these vegetables, and I think this was a pretty decent first attempt. The Middle-Eastern inspired dressing was the perfect complement to these humble and often overlooked vegetables. The richness of the sesame oil takes the edge off of the slight astringency of the pomegranate molasses, and we already know how well cumin and coriander go together (think: guacamole, Indian curries). In the future, I would try to boil the potatoes instead of roasting them to give them a bit of a contrast with the roasted beets.

Potato, Beet, and Radish Salad 

Serves: 3 as a side

Ingredients

  • 4 small new potatoes, scrubbed
  • 3 small- medium red beetroots, washed
  • 1 tbsp oil, and more for greasing baking pans
  • 1/2 tsp salt, divided in 2
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, divided in 2
  • 1 bunch radishes, washed
  • 5 sprigs coriander, washed and minced
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F, grease two (2) 9 in. x 9 in. baking pans.
  2. Cut up the potatoes and beetroots into 1/2 in. thick wedges, toss each with 1/2 tbsp oil, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper, lay in one layer in separate baking pans.
  3. Bake for 25 minutes, turn and bake for another 20 minutes, or until fork-tender.
  4. Meanwhile, wash the radishes and cut them into quarters.
  5. Make the dressing by mixing the pomegranate molasses, sesame oil, and ground cumin seeds.
  6. In a large bowl, toss the roasted potatoes and beetroots with raw radishes and the dressing mixture.
  7. Garnish with minced coriander and serve.
Beet, potato, and radish salad dressed with pomegranate molasses, sesame oil, cumin, and garnished with coriander leaves.
Beet, potato, and radish salad.

Eggplant Salad

To me, summer begs for light, cool, refreshing dishes, and this definitely hits the spot. This recipe uses steam to cook the eggplant, requires very little oil and produces a soft, silky texture that’s quite pleasing to the mouth. Eggplant by itself can be a little bland, so here it gets a helping hand from its good buddy garlic, and a traditional Chinese salad dressing made from vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  

Asian Eggplant Salad
Asian eggplant salad 

This dish begins with fresh Asian eggplants, which are long, narrow and has a more tender flesh and thinner skin compared with the more common varieties.

Asian Eggplants
Asian eggplants 

Wash the eggplants, remove the stems, and cut into segments about 3 inches long. Cut each segment in half widthwise, and make 2 or 3 slits widthwise in each segment, but do not slice through all the way. Sounds complicated or confusing? Check out this picture! The goal is to cut the eggplant into more manageable pieces, and slit them so it can be seasoned on the inside.

Asian eggplant for salad

Now is a good time to prepare a steamer. If you have a steamer, put about 2 inches of water in the bottom and start bringing it to a boil. If you do not have a steamer, try using a rack like this one set on top of a wide-mouthed pot with water at the bottom.

Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic for each eggplant. Generously season the inside of the eggplant with salt and minced garlic, make sure to get it inside the slits. If you have time, let this sit for 30 min. If not, simply place the seasoned eggplants in one layer on a plate, pop it into the steamer with boiling water for about 20 minutes.

Eggplants seasoned and stuffed with garlic
Eggplants seasoned and stuffed with garlic 

While the eggplants are steaming, prepare the salad dressing: mix together 3 parts Chinese black vinegar to 1 part soy sauce to 1/2 part sesame oil.

Once the eggplants are cooked, carefully remove them remove from the steamer, pour the dressing on top, and allow to cool to room temperature. This may be served at room temperature or chilled. Flavour improves with time, so I recommend putting it in the fridge for a an hour or so before garnishing with chopped cilantro and serving.

Asian eggplant salad
Asian eggplant salad 

The taste test: lots of garlic-y flavour permeates throughout the layers of the eggplant. Good balance of sour (vinegar), salty (soy sauce) and umami (sesame oil). Eggplant is of course the star here, it tastes slightly sweet and provides a perfect vessel to mop up the delicious dressing.

Asian Eggplant Salad
Serves 4

  • 3 Asian eggplants, washed and cut into 3 inch segments 
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 9 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced 
  • 1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar 
  • 1 tsp soy sauce 
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil 
  • 3-4 sprigs cilantro, minced 
Method 

  1. Slit the eggplant widthwise, but do not cut down all the way 
  2. Fill a steamer with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil 
  3. Season inside the slits of the eggplant with salt and minced garlic 
  4. Place eggplants in a dish in a single layer and steam over medium heat for about 20 min or until tender 
  5. In a small bowl, mix together vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil 
  6. Pour dressing on top of the steamed eggplant, mix well 
  7. Allow to sit at room temperature or chill for about an hour to let the flavours marry 
  8. Garnish with minced cilantro and serve