I've developed a serious love of whole grains in recent years. It didn't happen right away—their pronounced chew, even when fully cooked, took me some time to get used to. Now, pearled grains, like much of the farro on the market, just doesn't cut it for me. I want all that bran.
Well, earlier this week, after testing whether a pressure cooker is the best tool for cooking grains, I ended up with a lot of leftover whole grains on my hands. So Max and I teamed up to turn the bounty into two delicious and robust salads. I love to eat these kinds of dishes year-round, but I especially love them in the summer, when I cook up a big pot of the grains on the weekend, then keep them in the fridge for the remainder of the week, whipping up a different salad each night. They're filling without being heavy, and, aside from the initial boiling of the grains, require a minimum of cooking, which is welcome this time of year, when my kitchen swelters even without the stove on.
For my whole-grain spelt salad, I decided to serve it with quick-marinated mushrooms, leeks, and cucumbers. To make the mushrooms, I diced some cremini and sautéed them in oil until their water had been released and cooked off. Then I stirred in diced leeks and garlic, cooking it all together with some thyme until everything was tender but not browned. I transferred that to a mixing bowl and added a quarter cup of cider vinegar, letting the mushrooms soak it all up. The idea is to have a little tart pop with each bite of mushroom.
For a burst of color and some extra flavor, I sprinkled each bowl with espelette pepper powder, which is very mild and wonderfully fragrant and fruity. You can omit that if you want, or use something like smoked paprika, which will give a very different (but still good) flavor.
Max, meanwhile, made a wheatberry salad with peppery fresh watercress, bacon, and Parmesan cheese (photo at top). To get the most out of the bacon, he diced it and sautéed it first, then made a vinaigrette with the bacon fat, and stirred the crisped bacon into the salad. A touch of mustard, red onion, scallion, and lemon juice add depth and balance. It's delicious.
Really, any whole grain can be used in either of these salads; my spelt salad can be made with wheatberries, Max's wheatberry salad can be made with spelt. It's all very flexible. Which is another thing I love about these sorts of dishes.