Warm Wheat Berry Salad with Peas and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Salted lemon, fresh mint, and fennel shake up wholesome wheat berries. Some wheat berries are quite large; I prefer small kernels, like the ones I buy from Heritage Prairie Farm, for their lighter texture. If you see similar wheat berries for sale at the farmers’ market, try them out. Curly pea shoots and pops of sweet peas sweeten the deal. When I can find it, I also like to stir in anise hyssop, a licorice-flavored herb.

I have another neat trick to separate this dish from weightier whole-grain salads. I dehydrate some of the cooked wheat berries, then fry them until crisp. To do so, set up a dehydrator or preheat the oven to 135F and oil a baking sheet. Remove 1/2 cup of the cooked wheat berries and spread out onto the baking sheet. Dehydrate them for five hours. To fry the wheat berries, heat 1/2 inch of oil in a wide pot or straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, scatter the wheat berries into the pot and fry until crisp, about 1 minute. Drain the wheat berries on paper towels and season with salt. While the dynamic texture is worth the effort, you can skip this step without compromising the flavor of this honestly good—and good for you—salad.

2 cups wheat berries
Kosher salt
4 wedges Preserved Lemons (recipe below)
1/2 sweet onion (like candy or Vidalia), finely diced
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups peas, freshly shucked or frozen
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh fennel
fronds or anise hyssop
6 cups pea shoots

1. To prepare the wheat berries, rinse them under cold water. Place in a medium pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring the pot to a boil and season with a big pinch of salt (about 1/2 teaspoon). Cover and simmer over low heat until tender but still chewy, about 1 hour. Drain the wheat berries (if any excess water remains). You should have about 6 cups of wheat berries.

2. To make the vinaigrette, run the lemon wedges under a stream of cool running water for 15 minutes to rinse away excess salt. You also can soak the wedges in a generous amount of water overnight. Drain the wedges, remove the pulp, and cut away as much pith as possible without losing any of the rind. Mince the rind. In a small bowl, mix the rind with the onion, lemon zest and juice, vinegar, and honey. Season gently with salt and pepper (the rind will be salty), then whisk in the olive oil.

3. To make the salad, if using fresh peas, blanch them in a pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes, then drain. If using frozen peas, rinse them briefly under running water. Fold the peas into the wheat berries, followed with all but 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Mix in the mint and fennel fronds, then taste, seasoning with salt if needed. Keep warm.

4. To serve, in a large bowl toss the pea shoots with salt, pepper, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette. Lay a bed of pea shoots on a serving platter. Spoon the warm wheat berries on top.

Preserved Lemons

It’s easy to understand why chefs across America have lemon rinds curing in their walk-in coolers: salt-cured lemons are not only easy to make, they also lend a lemony perfume to a dish without adding acidity. Morocco gets most of the credit for curing and cooking with citrus rinds, and rightly so. (What would a tagine be without preserved lemon rinds in the broth?) But the practice of curing lemons also has roots in America. In Housekeeping in Old Virginia, a household manual published in 1879, a recipe instructs cooks to coat lemons in “very dry salt,” store them near a fire for seven days, and then cover them in boiling vinegar and spices. After a year in vinegar, they were ready to use.

My version of preserved lemons uses two parts salt to one part sugar. I also add a handful of herbes de Provence. With this ratio, you can scale the recipe to cure more lemons. You also can use Meyer lemons or orange wedges, though I’d advise against grapefruit. Unfortunately, curing the rinds emphasized the grapefruit’s bitter floral flavor, which I find more difficult to fold into savory meals than lemon or orange rind. When buying citrus to cure, opt for organic, unwaxed fruit. The wax on conventional store-bought lemons inhibits salt from soaking into the rind.

To cook with preserved lemons, remove a few rinds and rinse them under cool running water for 15 minutes. Alternatively, soak them in several changes of cool water over the course of a few hours. Next, run a sharp knife between the rind and pith, removing as much pulp and pith as possible. Once the rind is clean, it is ready to be sliced or minced and added to stews, panseared fish, or sautéed vegetables. The lemons can be used after a month of curing, but I prefer to wait four months for the best results. After four months, store the lemons in the refrigerator. They will keep for more than a year.
makes about 2 pints

2 cups kosher salt, plus more if needed
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup herbes de Provence
8 lemons

1. In a large bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and herbes de Provence.

2. Slice off the ends of the lemons and cut smaller lemons into 4 wedges, larger lemons into 6 wedges. Coat the wedges generously in the cure. Layer some cure at the base of a ceramic or glass storage container (a wine bottle chiller or large Mason jar works well). Layer in the wedges, sprinkling more cure between each layer. Squeeze 1 or 2 of the lemons over the top, then coat the top layer generously with the remaining cure. If the lemons aren’t completely covered, sprinkle a layer of salt over the top. Cover the container and set aside for 4 to 5 days.

3. In a few days, lemon juice will leach out of the wedges and mix with the salt, creating a brine. Check to see that the lemons are submerged. You might need to put a plastic lid on top of the lemons and put a weight, such as a ramekin, on the lid to prevent the wedges from bobbing to the surface, which inhibits proper curing. Place in a cool corner (preferably under 65F), giving the lemons a periodic stir, and cure for at least 1 month but preferably 4 months. Once cured, the lemons will keep for at least a year in the refrigerator as long as they stay submerged in the brine.

Preservation KitchenExcerpted from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy. Copyright © 2012 by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.