By Lauren Chattman
Always one to buck the trends, these days I am adding more wheat to my diet while other people are going gluten-free. This morning, I cooked some wheat berries, mixed in a little sautéed apple, sprinkled my cereal with pomegranate seeds and walnuts, and topped everything off with plain yogurt. I dare you to say that this wheat-based bowl of superfoods is bad for me!
Gluten is a protein found in wheat as well as rye and barley. There are people out there who should be concerned about eating any grain containing gluten. About 1 percent of the general population has celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the small intestine in response to gluten consumption. For these people, even a bite of something with a small quantity of wheat can trigger this response. Additionally, about 6 percent of the general population shows symptoms of gluten sensitivity, a similar but less severe condition in which an immune response to gluten triggers symptoms but not the long-term damage to the small intestine that can result in untreated celiac disease.
For the rest of us, eating wheat is only a problem in that we eat too many servings of processed white bread at the expense of fruits, vegetables, and healthy whole grains. If bagels, doughnuts, and muffins dominate your diet to the extent that you have no room for anything else, you may be missing out on important nutrients as well as healthy fiber. Instead of cutting out all wheat products, why not eat wheat in a less processed and more nutritious form, and one that tastes great when combined with other whole foods?
Wheat berries are as whole as you can get. They are entire wheat kernels, unprocessed except for the removal of their tough hulls. Milled, they become whole wheat flour. White flour is whole wheat flour minus the bran (which contains wheat’s fiber) and germ (which contains healthy oils and other nutrients). Wheat berries have a nutty flavor that is equally welcome in savory and lightly sweetened dishes. Cook them like pasta, in lightly salted water. Depending on how old and dry they are, they will take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to soften up.
Drained, they can be combined with whatever you like. For my breakfast bowl, I added some flavenoid- and phytonutrient-rich apple to help regulate my blood sugar. I threw in some pomegranate seeds for their cancer-fighting antioxidants. Walnuts provide plenty of Vitamin E for vascular health. And yogurt has calcium plus those probiotics for healthy immune and digestive systems. But really, I just liked the combination of flavors, textures, and colors that these add-ons gave me. What a cheerful way to start the day.
One of the most delightful things about my breakfast was the fact that the wheat berries were grown nearby, at Quail Hill Community Farm. I took home my full share this summer, and froze whatever I didn’t eat. Now I have enough wheat berries for many warming winter breakfasts. If you didn’t stockpile local wheat berries from Quail Hill or from Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett (where CSA members received them during the summer and they were sold at local farm markets), you can buy them at any supermarket or natural foods store.
Wheat Berries for Breakfast
Makes 4 servings
You can boil your wheat berries up to 3 days before eating, drain and refrigerate them in an airtight container until ready to use. Other cooked grains may be substituted for the wheat berries, including quinoa, couscous, barley and bulgur.
2 cups wheat berries
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced? 1/4 cup maple syrup plus more for drizzling? 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds? 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1. Add the wheat berries to a pot and cook over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add water to cover and salt, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer until soft but not mushy, about 20 minutes for fresh berries, 40 to 60 minutes for store-bought berries. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apple slices and cook, stirring, until they just begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wheat berries and maple syrup and cook, stirring, until heated through.
3. Portion the wheat berries into bowls, top each bowl with ¼ cup of yogurt, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and walnut pieces, and serve immediately with more maple syrup on the side.