You can buy packs of unmilled wheat grains (also known as wheat berries) online and, increasingly, in supermarkets too. Which is excellent news, because they’re plump, berry-like and pleasingly chewy if simmered for 45 minutes (a little less if you soak them first, though I’m not sure there’s much point). There’s a wholesome quality to them, and because they carry aromatics well and hold their own against other robust flavours, I think they make an excellent filling side for a multitude of meals, whether that’s as part of a mezze spread or with oily fish like salmon and mackerel, or meaty stews.
I first came across wheat berries at a street food stall called Gourmet Goat, which serves the grains with slow-cooked shoulder of kid goat and massive dollops of cooling yoghurt. Capers, tomatoes, fresh herbs and lemon abound – the flavours work so well that, to be honest, this dish simply apes theirs. They’d work nicely with spelt grain and pearl barley, too.
- Yield: 4 to 6 Servings
- 300 g wheat grains
- Leaves from 8 stems flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons light olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 5 tablespoons capers, roughly chopped
- Leaves from 6 stems mint, thinly sliced
- 250 g sun-blushed tomatoes, cut in half, oil reserved
- Extra-virgin olive oil (optional), for the dressing
- ½ finely grated zest
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 210°C/Fan 190°C/Gas 6½. Spread the wheat grains out over a baking tray and toast for 10 minutes, or until nutty and slightly browned.
- Roughly chop the parsley leaves and set them aside. Chop the stems very finely and put them in a saucepan with the light olive oil; cook gently for 3 minutes. Add the toasted wheat grains and bay leaf and cover with water by 3–4 cm. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 35–45 minutes, or until plump, tender and berry-like.
- Drain the wheat berries, reserving 3–4 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Add the garlic, capers, parsley and mint, tomatoes and 5 tablespoons tomato oil (supplementing with olive oil if there’s not enough) and loosen the mix with the reserved cooking liquid. Season generously with salt, black pepper and the lemon zest and juice. Serve immediately, although it holds its temperature for 15 minutes or so, and is still very good served cold.