Monday, February 06, 2006

Wheat berries...they're not just for dinner

Today, after dropping Doctor Mom (a Shala X-mate) off in the West Village, I decided to take a leisurely drive and listen in to Tyler Florence's Show on WOR, the talk radio station that also featuers Joan Hamburg, whom, I am pretty sure, every tri-state Jewish woman past the age of 50 listens to religiously for tips on where to eat, what shows to see and random opinions about, well, just about everything - even really personal stuff. Tyler Florence is "Your Personal Chef", and each day he answers callers' questions about how to prepare this or that, rattling off recipes that I have to doubt anyone can every really remember once they got off the phone/turn off the radio. But I think the idea that the preparation of food can become intuitive and, thus, fairly uncomplicated, is what sticks in the mind.

As I was listening to Tyler today, it occured to me that I had been doing a lot of googling over the past few days about wheat berries and coming up with precious little. Since I am trying to work towards a more saatvic diet, I have been searching for interesting grains to incorporate into the mix. Yesterday, while shopping at Agata and Valentina, I decided to pick up a package of dry wheat berries (as well as a package of Israeli "bubble" couscous) to see what I could whip up. I have fond memories of a delicious brunch at Sarabeth's eons ago that included wheat berries as a side dish to pancakes. Since then, I have always kind of wondered exactly what wheat berries are and how those particular wheat berries had been prepared.

But as I said, my googling efforts have been to no avail. And the dried wheat berries were just sitting there in my pantry, offering me no insights, not even an instruction on how to cook them. So I found myself dialing into Tyler. I kind of never expected that anyone would actually pick up. But next thing you know, they were patching me through.

"We've got Lauren from Manhattan on the line. Hey Lauren, what's going on?

Suddenly I found myself feeling shy and nervous. But I pulled it together and managed to say, "Hi Tyler, I bought some dried wheat berries but I don't really know what to do with them. Do you have any ideas?" Which wasn't exactly what I wanted to ask, since I had a feeling that this would lead to Tyler ticking off the ingredients for a savory side dish, rather than instructions on how to just cook the little wheat kernels and turn my Sarabeth's memory into a dish I could eat. And sure enough, I was given a delightful-sounding recipe for an Italian-inspired dish involving olive oil, sweet tomatoes and capers. Delicious as it sounded, it wasn't what I was looking for.

By then, I was warmed up and ready to talk, so I told Tyler about the dish I had had at Sarabeth's and told him that I was really looking for something sweet rather than savory, like what I had gotten for brunch that day. Bingo. What I got was instructions on how to cook the wheat berries in milk (whole milk, 2-3:1 ratio of milk to wheat berries, cooked extra long to really soften them up and create a creaminess, approximately 15-20 minutes) and serve them with brown sugar and maple syrup, in place of steel-cut oatmeal. He also suggested, for satisfying the wheat berry sweet-tooth, a dish made with wheat berries and ricotta cheese.

"Does that sound good to you?" he asked.

I told him I was on my way home and would make the cereal-like dish for a late breakfast. He told me to call back and let him know how it went. I haven't, of course, since I'm pretty sure he says that to everyone who calls...



Anonymous said...

you'd b better off growing wheat grass then sticking those wheat berries in milk or even worse,mixing it with ricotta cheese.yucky.
Dairy actually leads to more joint inflammation....
and i'm not kidding about the wheat grass,it's actually pretty easy to grow and isso good for you...

or just cook them insomekindof broth to soften them up and you can use themin a cold tabouli like salad or as a veggie grain....

yoga chickie said...

So funny that you say that, since I was going to say that Tyler didn't mention that you can grow wheat grass with wheat berries, but I noticed that one of the berries had already sprouted, and then I confirmed online that this is true.

I didn't realize dairy leads to joint inflammation - I do pretty well with cottage cheese and with drinking warm milk (those are ayurvedically correct for a pitta), but then, I am fairly used to a constant state of low-level joint inflammation (side effect of chemo drugs), so I might not even notice.

In any event, next time I am just going to use water - I would imagine the wheat berries would feel and taste like al dente brown rice - and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Dear Yoga Chickie,

It's me, "Anonymous" again (!!!) I tried making wheatberries once, and in all honesty, I didn't think they were worth the trouble. You have to cook them FOREVER, and when they're all done, I thought to myself, brown rice or quinoa is better than this. Will be curious to hear if you have a better luck.

yoga chickie said...

YUM! I just had a bowl of wheat berries, and what although they are VERY much like brown rice, they have more bite and better taste. They are also like steel cut oats - but again, a different taste (wheat vesus oat) and also, large bites (since wheat berries are uncut). It took 20 minutes to cook them in water in the microwave, five minutes at a time with some rest time between each five minutes. No mess either.

I don't like quinoa - not sure why.

Any ideas on what to do with Israeli couscous? Is it worth trying? Or has it no value at all?


Anonymous said...

Value? In terms of nutrition, if it's whole wheat couscous, it will have some nutritional value. Otherwise, couscous (Israeli or the other kind) is like having white bread or non-whole wheat pasta. Nutrition aside, some people prefer the larger Israeli couscous - I imagine it would also be popular with children. It has a competely different texture than the other couscous. More like pasta. Glad your experience with wheatberries was better than mine. As for quinoa - I think it can have a peculiar flavor. However, that peculiar flavor can be minimized if you toast it before adding water. The toasting also adds a nut-like flavor.

Changing subjects here - "Dairy leads to joint inflammation"? Puh-leese. If that were the case, then most children - and a lot of adults - in America would have joint inflammation. People have truly amazing food neuroses, and will tell you things as if they're proven facts. I once read (from an Ashtangi with absolutely no scientific or medical credentials) that wheat reduces flexibility. Go figure.

yoga chickie said...

Reading your comment makes me think...I need to take the nutrition advice I get from anyone with a grain of salt (ha). For example, the example you bring up: dairy. I have no problem with dairy at all. Wheat? No problem. But I have noticed that a high carb diet makes me feel less flexible. I wonder if I would be better off adding in some more meat rather than taking away the meat - since I am losing Mari D. I wonder if the lack of animal protein is the problem?!

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About Me

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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