Whoa, is it actually this close to Christmas? Where the deuce have I been? I got a bit of a shock the other day when my dear friend Kiki asked me if I could share with her my favorite healthy holiday meal ideas. Yikes! I have actually thought of doing some kind of “festive favorites” round-up every year, but never got around to it because I seem to have a serious aversion to things I am “supposed” to do. Oops. So now…err, uh…I guess I will give it a go! And thanks to Kiki for putting a fire under it. 😉
I am going to start with this dish that I came up with at work last week, which I feel fits the bill just so. And it re-introduces many people to this groovy grain we all know as wheat, but in its whole form! I feel it’s holiday-appropriate because the familiar flavours of the spice mix in this dish are reminiscent of Christmas, but with an exotic edge. In the back of my head I was going for some sort of Moroccan thing – I love cinnamon in savory dishes, especially when hanging out with coriander and cumin. Totally winter-warming! Secondly, we got those beautiful wheat berries, which spend a heck of a lot of time boiling away, sucking in all that heat energy. AND, the roasted carrots that turn from crispy-cold to caramelized with love from the oven. Sigh. Everything coming together for a good cause: feeding your beautiful body with warmth! What could be better than that during the holidays?
Wheat Berries…have we met?
Yes, you have. Wheat berries are just kernels of wheat (the kind that would otherwise be ground into flour), totally unprocessed in their whole state. Exciting, eh? I think so. I would put them in a category with short-grain brown rice, as they too are plump, hearty, and satisfying with the most amazing chewy texture. I love eating wheat berries in salads because they maintain their shape and suck up dressing like a good grain should. They are also wonderful in warm dishes and add awesome texture to soups and stews.
Because wheat berries are unprocessed, they contain all the goodness of the whole grain. We’re talking oodles of B vitamins (except B12) for extra energy and battling holiday stress; lots of fiber for keeping us, ahem, regular, as well as protein, folate, vitamin E, and calcium. Sounds like a pretty good deal, no?
The other wonderful proponent of wheat berries that I get a kick out of, are the plant lignans! Remember those fun-loving phytonutrients? They are commonly found in flax seeds, nuts, and legumes – I wrote about them here. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, lignans are converted by friendly flora in our intestines into mammalian lignans, including one called enterolactone that is thought to protect against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. Lignans have also been shown to decrease insulin resistance, which, in turn, reduces bio-available estrogen, which also lessens breast cancer risk.
Just a couple more reasons to eat your wheat!
You can find wheat berries at health food stores, most often in the bulk section. It’s rather inexpensive and is great to store in your pantry, as it keeps for months. Make it your new staple!
Warming Winter Wheat Berry Salad
2 cups wheat berries
7 – 9 carrots (1 lb. bag)
1 small red onion
6 cloves garlic
melted ghee or your oil of choice
½ cup dark raisins or chopped dates
2 tsp. sea salt
flat leaf parsley
about 25 Kalamata olives (optional)
1/2 cup almonds (optional)
1 ½ lemons – juice and zest
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. raw honey
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
pinch of sea salt
1. If possible, soak wheat berries overnight or for 8+ hours. Otherwise, rinse wheat berries well until the water is clear. Measure 6 cups water and add to a large pot with wheat berries. Add 1 tsp. sea salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer until cooked, approx. 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
3. Wash and slice carrots lengthwise from top to bottom, then again once more on each half. Then slice the carrot across widthwise so you have eight carrots slices.
4. Mince garlic and combine with ghee or oil. Drizzle over carrots and toss to coat on a baking sheet. Season with 1 tsp. salt. Place in oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and slightly caramelized. YUM!
5. Make dressing by combining all ingredients and whisking well.
6. Remove wheat berries from heat, drain and rinse under cool water (you will know they are cooked when some of the berries have split open. They will still be very chewy). Combine wheat berries with dressing, raisins, slivered red onion, olives, and chopped parsley. Let sit and marinate for as long as possible, or fold in the carrots as soon as they are roasted to your liking. Serve warm or cold, garnished with roughly chopped almonds and a grind of fresh black pepper.
As a side note: remember that wheat berries contain gluten, so if you are gluten-intolerant try substituting with quinoa (which I did, it was delicious!!!), whole buckwheat, short-grain brown rice, wild rice, or amaranth.
So ya’ll, here is my first holiday dish that you can enjoy without feeling like you’ve done a serious disservice to your body…and that’s just the beginning! In my next post I think I will actually put a real menu together. Wow. Probably good timing too, as I am having a holiday dinner party this coming Saturday and should perhaps begin planning something? Really? Do people actually do that? I sense a New Year’s resolution coming on…