Wheat Berry Salad with Beets and Feta ~ this earthy whole grain salad is homey, but festive enough for the holidays, and even if you’re dealing with a mashup of carnivores, flexitarians, weight watchers, picky eaters, and vegetarians around your table, everybody’s going to lunge at this salad!
Grain salads are my official mini obsession for the fall/winter season ~ I can’t get enough of the chewy texture of the whole grains, or ‘berries’, and there are so many whole grain varieties to try, it’s hard not to get a little carried away. My RYE AND CARROT SALAD set it all off this year. I made that one with rye berries and lots of bright orange steamed carrots. It was so delicious I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This wheat berry salad was a logical next step.
I love my leafy greens, but these grain salads are much more suited to cooler weather. They’re so satisfying you can make a meal out of them with the addition of some good (whole grain) bread.
Grain ‘berries’ are simply the whole kernel of the plant ~ brown rice is an example, or barley. Even popcorn! It’s the raw unprocessed seed of the grain plant, whether it be oats, wheat, rice, rye, quinoa, or any other. They can be
- ground into whole grain flour like I use to make my WHOLE GRAIN PUMPKIN CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS
- rolled, like the oats in my MUESLI TOASTING BREAD
- chopped and made into JEWELED TABBOULEH or OVERNIGHT STEEL CUT OATS WITH WHISKEY BUTTER
- or left whole and used in a salad like my WILD RICE SALAD WITH CRANBERRIES AND NUTS
Whole grains have been out of the spotlight lately because of the popularity of Paleo and gluten free diets. I think it’s a shame, because they’re incredibly healthy, full of B vitamins and iron, and have tons of protein and fiber. Unless you have a rare condition like Celiacs disease where you can’t tolerate gluten, I think whole grains should be a part of any healthy meal planning.
Tomatoes aren’t the only heirlooms around ~ some ancient varieties of wheat like farro, spelt, freekah, kamut, etc., go all the way back to the Egyptians!
You’ll find wheat berries in large grocery stores or Whole Foods type stores in the grain section with the rice and quinoa, etc. I happen to like Bob’s Red Mill brand, but you will find others as well. I prefer to buy my whole grains in packages rather than from bulk bins because I can’t be sure how long they’ve been hanging around in those bins. Whole grains can spoil quickly ~ it helps to store them in the fridge or even freezer.
You can change out the cast of ingredients in this wheat berry salad according to what’s in season and what looks good at the supermarket. For right now all the root veggies look good, carrots, beets, turnips, etc. I like to steam or roast them just until they lose their raw crunch, but still remain firm and brightly colored. I love the look of both red and golden beets in my salad, and I think rainbow carrots would be stunning.
Just because the farmers markets have closed down doesn’t mean you can’t find stunning produce, just look at these beets!
I rely on minced celery and red onion not only for their crunch, but for their flavor. Lots of fresh herbs freshens up the mix and gives this dish a ‘salad’ vibe.
TIPS: This wheat berry salad is best made at least a few hours and up to a day ahead, which allows the dressing to soak into the grains and gives the flavors a chance to develop, so it fits into a busy holiday or work week schedule.
TIP: If you’re using red beets and don’t want them to bleed their color all over the salad, toss them in some of the dressing first, then assemble the salad without them, and tuck them in just before serving.
Wheat Berry Salad with Beets and Feta
- 1 bunch or 2-3 golden beets, small or medium sized
- 1 bunch or 2-3 red beets small or medium sized
- 1 cup wheat or rye berries
- 1 stalk celery minced
- 1/3 cup minced red onion about 1/4 of a medium onion
- 1 bunch fresh dill chopped (1/3 cup)
- 1 bunch fresh parsley chopped (1/3 cup)
- salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4-6 tbsp of your favorite vinegar I used O Olive Oil Honey White Balsamic
- pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 400F
- Trim the tops off the beets and put them in a single layer in a casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake until the beets are just tender, but not soft. Check with the tip of a sharp knife. I like them to be tender but still firm. The exact time will vary greatly depending on the size of your beets. Check small beets after 30 minutes, large beets after an hour. Let cool and then remove the skins. Chop the beets into bite sized chunks or wedges.
- Meanwhile cook the wheat berries according to the package directions, but check them for tenderness 10-15 minuted before the time allotted. I cook mine in 4 cups of water for about 40 minutes. You want them to be firm and chewy. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain well and put into a large salad bowl.
- Whisk the oil and vinegar together with a pinch of salt. Start with 4 tablespoons of vinegar and taste it, you may want to add more.
- Toss the red beets with a little bit of the dressing to retard the color bleed.
- Add the rest of the beets, onions, celery, and herbs to the bowl and toss with the dressing. You can either add the red beets in now, or reserve them to tuck in just before serving, your choice. They will bleed their color into the salad the longer they sit.
- Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least several hours.
- Garnish with crumbled feta cheese just before serving.
Make it your own~
- MAKE IT VEGAN: leave out the feta and add chopped toasted nuts like walnuts or hazelnuts.
- MAKE IT GLUTEN FREE: use any type of rice such as brown rice instead of the wheat berries. Be sure not to overcook the rice, you want it to be firm and chewy, not soft. Also consider wild rice, or Forbidden rice (black rice,) either would be a fantastic base for this salad. Quinoa is another gluten free grain, but it won’t give you that chewy texture.
- Goat cheese or even blue cheese crumbles would also work in place of the feta.
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