Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Beat the heat: spelt salad.

There is no better time than the hot summer months to indulge in the chewy flavor party of a grain salad.  When it's hot out, I love a good grain and veggie concoction, dressed in a tangy vinaigrette and finished off with a dash of nuts and a sprinkle of cheese.  My favorite grain salad is sold in the deli case at the Sacramento Food Co-op.  It is a spelt (sometimes kamut) salad with vinaigrette, assorted veggies, cranberries, and feta.  Over Memorial Day, I accidentally spent $10 on a "medium" size container of the stuff - it fed me for four days!  Grain salads are hearty and substantial without being heavy.  They are a great way to use up produce or to try out a new ingredient or two without depending on it to carry the entire dish.  For example, when I made wheatberry salad (the recipe inspiration for today's post), I added a couple handfuls of French breakfast radishes, which were new to me.  They ended up being a fantastic, crunchy addition.
I had a bag of spelt hanging out in my pantry for weeks, a purchase inspired by one of my Food Co-op spelt salad dates.  This weekend I finally decided to take the plunge.  I have never cooked spelt before.  It is an ancient form of wheat, related to farro (though not identical, as some sources claim).  If you have had wheat berries before, then you have experienced the chewy, toothsome texture that also characterizes the spelt experience.  As far as cooking goes, you need to do some advanced preparation in order to enjoy it.  Spelt benefits from a lengthy soak, much like you would soak dried beans, and also requires at least an hour simmer (I cooked mine for at least 90 minutes, after a multi-hour soak).
I started with Ina Garten's Wheatberry Salad recipe, tweaked a bit for spelt.  Plus, I couldn't help but throw in a couple of ingredients that were hanging out in my pantry and refrigerator.
Check another new grain off the list!  This was a very satisfying accomplishment.  I'm already looking forward to my next spelt-based meal, and I'm secretly a little bit sad that the leftovers have all been voraciously consumed.

P.S. In the spirit of beating the heat, I went for a run on Sunday morning and ultimately decided that I need a new game plan.  I left the house around 8:30 for a quick three miles, and boy was it not ideal.  The temperature was lovely - just shy of 70 degrees - but the sun was killer.  It's the time of year where the sun just feels intense.  Running through the shady patches was pleasant, but most of my time was spent in the sun - and it was tough.  That, plus whatever pollen is floating around in our air, made for a bit of a challenge.  It was a "mind over body; strong mind, strong body" mantra kind of run.  So my new plan is to get up early, before the sun is direct and intense, to get my runs in.  And guess what?  I did it today!  I was up at 5:30 am and out the door by 5:45 for three miles before work.  The weather was insanely perfect, and the world was bright and calm at that lonely hour.  If I am going to work on my training over the summer, it's going to have to be at that ungodly hour.  Priorities!  Chalk this one up as another first: my very first totally voluntary pre-work workout.  Woohoo!

Spelt Salad

Adapted from Ina Garten via Food Network

1 cup spelt, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups filtered water

1 red onion, finely chopped

4 or 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 red bell pepper, small diced
2 carrots, chopped

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1/4 cup dried cranberries and/or cherries, chopped
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Cook the spelt: Heat the water and salt in a medium pot over high heat until boiling; add the spelt and return to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook the spelt for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  (You can cover partially in order to keep an even simmer.)  Simmer until the the spelt is plump and tender but still al dente. You may need to cook it for up to two hours (mine took about 90 minutes).  Drain. [Time this so that you drain your berries once your dressing is just finished, as described below.]

Make the dressing: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a medium pan. Add the onion and salt and pepper to taste; saute until onion has softened and is beginning to brown, about 8 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in 2 to 3 additional tablespoons of olive oil and the balsamic vinegar.

Bring the components together: Place the spelt, still warm, in a large bowl. Add the onion mixture and mix together. Add the red bell pepper, carrots, chickpeas, parsley, cranberries, and feta, stirring to incorporate. Add S&P to taste. Let the salad sit for at least 30 minutes for the vinaigrette to infuse the spelt.  Serve at room temperature.

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