Two bloggers I correspond with recently sent me their cookbooks, and while I have a stack of books sent by various publishers and three pressing projects on my desk, I have to mention them because I’m anti-cookbook. There are too many of them. They’re redundant. Nothing is new. They give me a headache. Who really cares about the next new ingredient? I don’t know why the cookbook business continues to thrive. Honestly.
That said, I’m delighted each time I pick up and peruse Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking and David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop (will address the latter in the next day or so). First, Heidi’s blog is the best looking food blog around that I know of; it’s also well focused and her voice is appealing and clear. And the book is the same way. A soft cover and rich page stock with Heidi’s lush photography, the book feels like her blog. The all-veggie, hyper co-op, whole grain Birkenstock recipes make sense and are simple. I, an all but rabid carnivore, love this book BECAUSE it’s vegetarian. For someone who views a day without pork belly as a missed opportunity, this covers a spectrum of ingredients I wouldn’t ordinarily concern myself with, hearty takes on grains, vegetables, soups, salads with good informed descriptions of items like millet. Millet, for godsake. Heidi could actually get me to eat millet.
I made her wheat berries recipe and now I’ve got a fetish for them. I don’t know if you could get me to make her toasted wheat germ soup—ugh!—but I’ll be trying more of her ideas using beefy grains and cereals.
I went to Prune last week one of my favorites in nyc (roasted marrow bones, the signature handkerchief, braised rabbit, some pork shoulder, some fried artichoke, sooo good) with two friends and Sarah, a fine novelist and avid cook, said she’d bought Heidi's book and loved it. She’d done the wheat berries too! Bought three pounds! (Very nicely pared with an orange vinaigette, recipe below). What is it about wheat berries? They’re like meat. Here’s what Sarah had to say about the book, which she knew about because she’s a fan of the blog:
I bought it because I thought it would be a good way to sort of slowly start getting healthier food into our diet, and I liked the way she organized it, and all the educational and basic information combined with simple yet sophisticated recipes. Other than those encyclopedic health food cookbooks, this one sort of leads you through and gives you a way to start thinking about changing things. I also like it because it's not too radical and it's not too scary....meaning, she doesn't say things to make you hate yourself if you eat meat or don't always buy organic vegetables. It's more of an expanding of your options, and I can see that if you do that, of course you eat less of the other stuff.
Wheatberry Salad with Citrus, Pine Nuts, Feta, and Spinach
Serves 4 to 6
Plump wheat berries shimmering with an orange-flecked citrus dressing makes this a lively winter salad, but don't hesitate to alter it to accommodate the changing seasons. For autumn, try a cranberry vinaigrette and toasted walnuts. Basil dressing with fresh heirloom tomatoes and corn would be well suited to summer. In spring, toss the wheat berries with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil, blanched asparagus segments, favas, and shelled peas. Play off the shape of the wheat berries with different serving ideas: On top of crostini or crackers, you have a twist on caviar; or wrap some up in a leaf of lettuce and you've got a new take on the spring roll.
2 cups soft wheat berries, rinsed
6 cups water
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt, plus more as needed
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 generous handfuls spinach leaves, stemmed and well rinsed
1 cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
Combine the wheat berries, water, and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until plump and chewy, about an hour or so. The berries should stay al dente, and the only way to be sure they're done is to taste a few. Drain and season to taste with more salt.
To make the dressing, combine the orange zest and juice, lemon juice, and shallot. Whisk in the olive oil and season with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
Toss the hot wheat berries with the spinach, pine nuts, citrus dressing, then top with the feta. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with a bit more salt if needed.