Farmers' Market Share: Thanksgiving Wheat Berry Salad Recipe

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Sweet potatoes: Try not to eat them all before you're done. - JÉRÔME SAUTRET, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
As a compulsive cooking overachiever, I have a tendency to see pot lucks as a challenge: How can I make something totally novel and awesome...yet avoid shopping? It's like Iron Chef: College Ingenuity.

So when I was invited to a pot luck by a school friend with whom I'd never hung out off-campus, the stakes were raised. I don't want to be the person who brings a bag of tortilla chips -- I mean, really, people -- but I also didn't want to sacrifice the loaf of bread I'd baked that day.

I want to make a halfway decent impression on new people.

I had most of a farm share still hanging out in my crisper. Plus, lately I'm on a quest to rotate my pantry stocks, and thanks to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I've accumulated bags of random whole grains. And there was a Thanksgiving theme to contend with.

Add that together, and somehow I managed to whip up a pretty good salad, if I do say so myself -- and all without laying out any additional cash and using existing tried-and-true recipes, which is always an excellent bonus. Otherwise, I tend to try some random recipe that I've been eyeing and then screw it up somehow because I was in a rush and forgot to add something in the middle and wind up apologizing for my cooking and the missing cake because it's all over the bottom of my oven and the fact that I just showed up late.

Embarrassing.

Anyway, you can adapt the general framework of the whole-grain salad to just about any season, and it makes a good quick meal for yourself if you're not due at a pot luck that week. With the exception of some obvious odds and ends (olive oil, salt and cranberries), this was also a completely local dish, which is always really satisfying.

Wheat berries have a really satisfying snappy quality that stands up to most anything you can throw at them, from parsnips to pumpkin. Plus, they're easy to cook and store for later if you have extras.

ALISSA NELSON
  • Alissa Nelson
Thanksgiving Wheat Berry Salad

1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch rounds
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
Generous amount of black pepper
2 cups wheat berries (or barley -- or even brown or red rice)
Generous amount of Swiss chard, braised (last week's recipe)
1 cup cheese of your choice (I suggest goat or Ropp cheddar blue cheese)
1/2 cup or so of pecans

For vinaigrette:
1 cup cranberries, finely chopped
2 tbsp maple syrup (the real stuff -- don't even get me started on this)
1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
1 tbsp neutral oil
1 tsp grated ginger
1. To cook sweet potatoes, toss the sliced potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover a baking sheet with foil, lightly oil (or spray with cooking spray), arrange the potatoes and cover tightly with more foil. Put in a cold oven, and set the oven for 400. After 25 minutes, remove the top foil layer. After 20 minutes, flip the potatoes (they should be golden brown on the bottom). After about 20 minutes more, they will be done.

These will be the most awesome sweet potatoes you will ever eat, so try to restrain yourself until you're done. OK, you can sneak a few. Thank Cook's Illustrated for this part.

2. To cook wheat berries, combine with 6 cups of water (the ratio is always 3:1). Bring to a boil, add a generous amount of salt (as if you were salting pasta water), cover and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, toss generously with some olive oil and set aside.

3. To make vinaigrette, whisk together all ingredients until smooth and toss with the wheat berries.

4. To finalize, combine everything. Salt and pepper to taste.

Alissa Nelson is a graduate student and compulsive buyer of cookbooks. She enjoys scouring seed catalogs and thrift stores alike. Every Wednesday she seeks the bounty of local farmers' markets -- and then cooks it.