In my last post I talked about the wonderful CSA—that's the Crown Heights CSA, to be exact—that I joined at the beginning of the summer. The produce I've been picking up weekly has been unfailingly fresh, great looking and even better tasting, and this Tuesday's haul was no exception. Among other items, I received a thick, verdant bunch of scallions, a large handful of palely golden wax beans, and three fat beets—one of my favorite vegetables of all time. With temperatures holding steady in the 90s the whole week, I knew that these veggies were destined to be eaten cold. The question was how to bring them together into harmony.
I thought about the different kinds of cold salads that we eat during the summer—beets with goat cheese, a pasta salad to chuck the beans into—and immediately dismissed them as been there, done that. I wanted to try something new. That's when I remembered the cold rice salads that my mom often made when I was growing up, usually with brown rice, vegetables, toasted nuts, etc. (my mother was really ahead of the curve when it came to eating and enjoying whole grains). I decided to take a cue from her, but also to go a step further into unknown territory by using a less common grain. My first thought was spelt, but the only version the Co-op carried was imported from Italy and a small bag cost a whopping six dollars. Right nearby, though, was a bag of equal size of wheatberries, priced to move at an incredible 55 cents. That's my kind of deal, people! I grabbed it up.
At home, I simmered the wheatberries in salted water for about 40 minutes (contrary to popular belief, wheat berries do not need to be soaked before cooking) until they were tender, then drained them and allowed them to cool. In the meantime, I boiled up my beets, peeled and diced them, and cut up and blanched my wax beans. I combined everything in a big bowl, adding liberal amounts of sliced scallions and chopped parsley, as well as a lemon-olive oil dressing. And then I took a picture:
But the story didn't end there, folks: oh no, it had just begun. You see, I wanted to take the photo a) while there was still natural light; and b) before the beets totally took over and dyed everything magenta (as opposed to the early, and still quite beautiful, subtle stage of blush that you see here). But there were more things to come for this salad: right before serving it, I dotted the top with fresh Spanish goat cheese—you could also use something like feta or ricotta salata—and sprinkled on some chopped toasted walnuts. With the snap of the beans, the sweetness of the beets, the nuttiness of the wheat berries and the creaminess of the cheese, I'd say this summer salad definitely achieved the harmony—nay, the symphony—that I was looking for.
Wheatberry Salad with Beets, Wax Beans and Fresh Cheese
Serves 6 - 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main
1 cup wheatberries, picked through to remove any debris or hard grains
1/2 lb. wax beans, trimmed and cut into halves or thirds depending on length (or substitute green beans)
3 large beets, trimmed and cut into quarters, but not peeled
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
4 oz. fresh cheese, such as goat or sheep's milk, or use a mild feta or ricotta salata, cut into cubes or broken up into pieces
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and chopped
1. Fill a medium pot with water and set it to boil. Add a generous amount of salt, then add the wheatberries. Drop to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 40 - 50 minutes, or until wheatberries are tender. Drain and allow to cool.
2. In the meantime, fill a second medium pot with water. Set it to boil and salt generously. Drop in the beans and cook for exactly two minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon—do not drain, you'll need the water for the beets—and immediately rinse beans with very cold water to stop the cooking process.
3. Bring the bean water back to a boil and add the beets. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the beets are tender. Drain beets, then place them in a bowl while they are still hot. Cover bowl with a large plate (or with plastic wrap) and let the beets steam up as they cool down. This will make it a cinch to peel them. When cool enough to handle, peel beets and cut them into small pieces.
4. When wheat berries, beans and beets are cooked and cooled, combine in a large bowl. Add the scallions and parsley.
5. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice with olive oil to taste, probably about the same quantity, or slightly more, as of the lemon juice. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour over salad, and stir to combine. Chill in fridge until ready to eat.
6. Before serving, garnish the salad with the cheese and the walnuts.