The silence is defining.

“Just wait,” I say. “It’ll be fine!”

The husband has asked what’s for dinner. He doesn’t like my answer.

“Wheat berries!” I’ve chirped. “They’re really healthy!”

He stares for a beat.

For two.

“Hmmm,” he finally says.

“Just wait,” I repeat. “It’ll be fine.”

The boys are more vocal.

“What is THAT?” they demand as I’m draining a pot of the toasty brown nubs.

“It’s dinner!” I snap. And when they don’t reply …

“It’ll be fine!”

I hate to break it to the men in my life, but this is the way we’re going to eat this year. More whole grains. Less meat. Lots of vegetables, in a swath of variety.

wheat1On this cold, blustery evening, a warm wheat berry salad sounds like the perfect way to kick off our new year’s eating regimen. Wheat berries are the unprocessed seeds of the wheat plant, and they’re naturally high in fiber — meaning they fill you up much faster than their refined brethren. They’re low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium; they’re a great source of iron, protein, magnesium and Vitamin E.

Yes, they take awhile to cook (over an hour). But they’re refrigerator stalwarts, meaning you can make them in advance and keep them chilled for up to a week.

I love wheat berries’ texture (al dente; chewy) and flavor (hearty; nutty). They’re the perfect vehicle for a melange of chopped vegetables, cheeses … even meats.

wheat5For tonight’s dinner (which will be fine), I simmer the berries in water and garlic, then drain them and add fennel, radishes, scallions and cauliflower. A handful of mint and dill perks everything up; a spoonful of feta cheese and my favorite pomegranate dressing unifies the disparate parts into a heady, Mediterranean-inspired main dish.

Still, nothing but silence from the men in the house. I decide to make a concession and quickly roast a chicken breast with olive oil and preserved lemons. Those who want meat can put thinly sliced poultry atop their plates.

When dinner is ready, the big boy takes a forkful of his salad and sniffs it. He slowly sticks it in his mouth.

“Hmmm,” he says. “I could eat this.”

The little one rolls his eyes, then takes his own bite.

“I guess I could, too.”

And the husband?

“This is so good,” he says, reaching for a second helping. “You should make it again.”

“I will,” I say. “But with farro next time.”

Silence.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “It’ll be fine!”

Warm Wheat Berry & Vegetable Salad

Feel free to play as much as you like with this recipe: Use any combination of vegetables you like, raw or cooked. Add cheese if desired, or omit it for a vegan dish. I love the Gourmet Today pomegranate dressing on all kinds of grain salads — from bulgur to quinoa to (now) wheat berries, but that, too, is a matter of taste. Use your own favorite.

  • 1 cup hard wheat berries (I bought mine from the bulk bin at Roots)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1/2 fennel bulb
  • 4 large radishes
  • 2 scallions
  • 1/2 cup cauliflower florets
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill
  • 2 ounces feta cheese (optional)
  • Pomegranate dressing

Place wheat berries in a large pot. Cover with 6 cups water. Add the smashed garlic clove, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the wheat berries are tender, about an hour and 20 minutes.

Drain the wheat berries, then toss them with 2-3 tablespoons of the pomegranate dressing. Set aside:

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Finely chop the fennel and the next five ingredients:

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Add  to the wheat berries and stir well. Toss with feta cheese (if desired), then drizzle in more dressing, salt and pepper until you have the balance of tastes you want. Serve as is or accompanied with thinly sliced chicken.

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