Wheat Berry Surprise

I improvised a dinner with wheat berries and veg. Tina asked what I was making and I said “Wheat Berry Surprise”! This starts with Mark Bittman’s Cooking Grains, The Easy Way then I threw in more tasty stuff.

I used wheat berries (whole wheat kernels), but you can use any grain you prefer. Likewise, the greens could be chard, dandelion greens, turnip greens, etc. Most greens will cook more quickly than the lacinato kale. I tossed in some chickpeas for protein.

Wheat berry surprise

Ingredients

  • 1 cup wheat berries
  • 4 cups broth or water (I used chicken broth)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (approx.)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced thin
  • celery leaves, chopped
  • 1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale, chard, or other greens, cut into ribbons
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • several sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1+ teaspoon salt (omit or reduce if using salted broth)
  • a few grinds of black pepper

Preparation

Put the wheat berries, thyme, bay leaf, and broth (or salted water) in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes or so. The wheat berries will be softened but chewy when done. See Bittman’s recipe for details.

While the grains are cooking, cut up the onions, carrots, and celery. The carrots should be diced small enough that they will cook while being sauteéd. I always add the leaves from the celery bunch because I like a bit of extra celery flavor.

Wash the greens. I find it easier to wash lacinato kale after it is cut. Strip the leaves from the stems, cut across the leaves, then put the ribbons in a salad spinner. Fill it with water, agitate the leaves, dump, do that again, then spin dry.

In a medium-sized pot (3 qts?), heat the olive oil, then sauteé the mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery ribs and leaves) until soft, about 10 minutes. Grind some pepper into the mix toward the end. Add some salt, if you want. If the wheat berries aren’t done, turn off the heat and cover.

When the wheat berries are done, remove the thyme twigs and bay leaf, then drain.

Turn the heat up on the pot with the mirepoix. Add the chickpeas and stir. Put about 1/4 cup of water in, then layer the kale on the onions and carrots, then dump the wheat berries on top of everything. Cover. The kale will cook with the steam from the water and the heat from the wheat berries on top.

After about 5 minutes, check the kale for doneness. It should still be a little chewy.

When the kale is cooked to your satisfaction, stir everything together and serve.

Technique

Stripping kale and chard off the stems with a knife is slow and fussy. Every time I did it, I thought that professionals must do it some other way, because this was taking way too much effort and time. Then I read about this fast technique in Samin Nosrat’s book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (see page 232).

You strip the stem out with your hands. Lay the leaf down on a cutting board, put two fingers astraddle the stem at the base of the leaf, then grab the bottom of the stem and pull up and out. The stem will come out and the leaves will be ripped off. Bits may stick to the stem or the stem might break, so tear off any remaining bits until you are satisfied. Stack the leaves at the back of the cutting board and they’ll be ready to chop.

Notes and Variations

Salt is a personal taste. Like beans, wheat berries can be tasty with a bit more salt. The broth I used has 530 mg of sodium per cup, which is about 1 teaspoon of table salt in 4 cups. To be precise, Pacific Foods Organic Free Range Chicken Broth has 2130 mg of sodium in 4 cups. Table salt has 2325 mg in 1 teaspoon. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, what I use, has 1120 mg of sodium in 1 teaspoon. So, take my recommendations with a grain of salt and trust your own taste buds.

Use vegetable stock to make this vegan.

Add pancetta (reduce or omit the salt). Get four ounces cut into small cubes (about 1/4 inch). Instead of olive oil, brown the pancetta slowly to render the fat. When it is done, remove with a slotted spoon and put in with the wheat berries. Continue with the recipe, sauteéing the mirepoix in the rendered fat. If there isn’t enough, add a little olive oil.

Allergy-Friendly Trail Recipes

The cooking merit badge requires a Scout create menus “keeping in mind any special needs (such as food allergies)”, but doesn’t provide a source for allergy-friendly recipes. It does give a URL for FARE, but that doesn’t have an organized recipe section.

The next version of the merit badge pamphlet should reference Hiking Free: Allergy Friendly Recipes For The Outdoors because that is the only book I know of on the subject.

Hiking Free Kindle Cover

I’m not the right person to review it, because I don’t regularly have to deal with food allergies, but she created these recipes for her son’s food allergies. I’ll trust that. I do have several of Sarah Kirkconnell’s other books and recommend them highly.

The author describes it as:

110+ Recipes That Are Top 8 Allergen Free: No Gluten, Peanut, Tree Nuts, Soy, Seafood/Shellfish, Dairy & Egg. Recipes for backpacking, the great outdoors, camping, car trips, dorm living and travel, for anywhere you need easy to prep meals that are safe to eat.

You can buy it here, $12.99 for paperback, $7.99 for Kindle.

Also, the 2016 edition of the merit badge pamphlet keeps the dangerous trail cooking recipe that uses ground turkey breast. It just isn’t possible to safely store and transport that on the trail (see requirement 1c). I blogged that problem back in 2014 in the Cooking Merit Badge: Trail Cooking Fail post.

Update: Sarah has posted two of the recipes on her blog along with a longer story about how she came to create all the recipes.

The Best Hot Pad

I use what the professionals use, Tucker Burnguard hot pads. They are made of Nomex, with a vapor barrier, so they won’t melt and are less likely to cause steam burns when wet. They aren’t as flexible as other hot pads, so my wife doesn’t use them. But give them a try. If you like them, you are done with choosing hot pads for life.

Tucker burnguard 1

They aren’t exactly decorative and the label might burn, but the hot pad will protect you. And…it is about time to toss these in the laundry.

Oh, yeah, this is the Tucker Burnguard site. Here is a link to buy them at Chef’s Resource: Tucker 8″ Square Hot Pad with BurnGuard (Nomex)
. I’ve bought several things from Chef’s Resource, so I’m comfortable recommending them.

Skillet Lasagna

Made this tonight and it was tasty. This is a simple one pot meal, just right for Cooking Merit Badge. Scouts will learn to dice an onion (not required for the merit badge, but an essential skill), sauté the onion (also not required and also essential), and brown meat (which is always tasty).

They should also learn a bit of “mise en place”, getting everything ready and in its place before starting. The recipe doesn’t make that clear, but a mentor (Merit Badge Counselor) should walk them through prepping the tomatoes and onion first, then getting the other ingredients ready while those are cooking.

Skillet Lasagna

Recipe for Skillet Lasagna.

The first time you stir this, you will probably wonder about using lasagna noodles. Next time, I might use a different pasta shape. Maybe rotini (corkscrew), penne (tubes), or farfalle (bowtie). Or I might go with lasagna again. That did work, despite the concern while stirring.

A bit more ricotta, basil, parmesan, or whatever is fine with me. I’m always good with more flavor or richness.

The recipe calls for a “meatloaf mix” of ground beef and pork. I bet that would be tasty, but we used 85/15 ground beef. 80/20 might be better, but you can always add a bit more olive oil.

Dicing an onion is one of the most basic skills in the kitchen. Doing it wrong is a good way to slice your finger. So watch this knife skill video from Kenji López-Alt and learn to do it quickly and safely.

Sautéing onions is not hard, but requires attention. A bit of oil, cook over medium high heat, stir occasionally (avoid burning), until the onions are translucent and tasty. Add more oil if the skillet is dry.

Cooking Merit Badge requires understanding frying, but sautéing isn’t quite the same thing. Frying is done at medium to medium high heat with plenty of oil and large pieces of food. The food is not moved around much so that it can cook through and brown. Like fried chicken. Sautéing is at higher heat, medium high to high, uses less oil, food is usually in smaller pieces, and stirred more often.

This article on Sautéing vs. Pan Frying is short and clear.

The recipe calls for minced fresh garlic, which is kind of a bother. We keep a jar of minced garlic in the fridge. It doesn’t taste quite as good, but it sure is easier.

Bon appétit!

Fresh Peas

A few weeks ago, I noticed fresh peas in the pod at our grocery store. I was about to buy some, but I wasn’t sure how much to buy. I’d always used frozen peas. Well, the conversion factor is roughly a pound of peas in the pod to a cup of shelled peas. This batch was generous, with two or more cups from 1.25 pounds.

Peas

Fresh peas are great, so “double the peas” is like doubling the bacon or the chocolate. Not a problem.

I used fresh peas in the pasta last night, and I’ll keep using them as long as they are available.

$7 Stove Windscreen

A kitchen splatter guard is just the right size for a backpacking stove windscreen. It costs $7 and weighs eleven ounces. A little heavy but a good choice for Boy Scout patrols.

It is tall enough to shield the flame of a canister-topper stove and big enough to leave room around the fuel tank so it won’t overheat.

Windscreen 1

A view from the top, showing the room for ventilation or bigger pots. Back in the 1970’s, my dad made a windscreen like this by bending some tabs on thin sheets of aluminum.

Windscreen 2

The one I bought is the Norpro Nonstick 3 Sided Splatter Guard. Each panel is 10 inches wide and 9 inches tall. The Amazon price varies. It cost $5.55 when I bought it. Similar splatter guards should be available at department stores or hardware stores that sell kitchen tools.

Windscreen 3