Salad days

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Hot and humid is the catchphrase for summer in Toronto, and with weather in the 30’s, my culinary thoughts turn to salads. I love pretty much any type of salad as long as it’s interesting — no boring iceberg lettuce with hothouse tomatoes, please. For example, lunch a few days ago was organic greens tossed with pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and lightly dressed with my favourite blend of balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil and Dijon, then adorned with avocado slices, bean salad and a bit of poached salmon.

Marinated salads are a particular favourite of mine: yesterday’s was thinly-sliced cucumber and fennel bulb (anise), with a bit of sliced celery, some flat-leaf Italian parsley and chopped fresh chives from my window garden. It would have been improved by the addition of a thinly-sliced red onion, but I was making do with what was already in the fridge. I dressed all of this with red wine vinegar and (unseasoned) rice vinegar, a dash of sesame oil, salt and pepper, covered it and refrigerated for a few hours. Great as a salad or as a garnish for cold meats.

Today’s special is wheatberry salad, a universal hit with my vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends alike. Wheatberries are a great source of protein, and their chewy texture and nutty taste makes them a natural for salads. The wheatberries needs to be soaked overnight, then simmered for about 45 minutes until they are softened but still chewy, but after that it’s just a matter of tossing in the rest of the ingredients, and letting it rest for a few hours. Once I’ve cooked and rinsed the wheatberries, I toss in dried cranberries, chopped fresh basil leaves, chopped almonds or Brazil nuts, and raw pumpkin seeds. This is really pretty variable; in fact, today I’ve made it with chopped dried apricots and mint instead of the cranberries and basil, and in the past, I’ve made it with cashew nuts instead of almonds, although they tend to get a bit soggy after a few hours. The dressing is dead simple and oil-free: three parts freshly-squeezed lime juice to one part Dijon mustard and one part honey, plus sea salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste. It will last for several days in the fridge, so I’ll be enjoying it all week if the hot weather continues.

Although the original recipe that I derived this from had some measurements, I always just wing it: I use as many wheatberries as can comfortably soak in a medium-sized mixing bowl, then I mix in the other ingredients until it looks like a reasonable mix of grains and other stuff. It’s really a matter of personal taste, and you can add more or less of any particular ingredient. Toss with enough dressing to lightly coat the ingredients, and let it rest for a couple of hours for the flavours to mix. Enjoy!

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