When I started my weight loss journey, I quickly found that I needed to prepare my own food more, instead of running through those all-to-convenient and abundant drive-thrus. This meant that I not only needed to up my culinary game, but I also had to change my cooking style. I turned to TV cooking shows for inspiration, and one of my absolute favorites was Food Network’s Ask Aida, featuring culinary curator and TV personality, Aida Mollenkamp.
I loved Aida’s scrumptious recipes, straightforward instructions, and helpful tips ranging from cooking techniques to how to use certain kitchen gadgets to how to select quality produce. I religiously watched her shows and together we made such delicious dishes as a vegan chili, chipotle chicken fajitas, shrimp piri piri, and steak with a compound butter that was to die for. The more I learned, the more confidence I gained in the kitchen and soon I was swapping out this for that and eventually crafting my own creations in order to get the lean calories I needed for my weight loss journey.
So when I was invited to participate in the Virtual Salad Party sponsored by California Walnuts and make a recipe from one of three featured chefs, I was beyond excited to select one of my virtual culinary mentors, Aida Mollenkamp. I chose her Chipotle and Toasted Walnut Wheat Berry Salad because, while I’ve cooked a lot with other grains such as quinoa, couscous, farro and sorghum, I have not yet worked with wheat berries. I saw this as yet another opportunity to learn from Aida. Score!
Whenever I follow a recipe, I always like to make it as crafted first, and then recraft it as my own taste buds, style and dietary needs dictate. I have to say, though, that Aida created a real winner with this recipe because it was delicious. It was so good, I had to go back for seconds, and then I happily took leftovers to work for lunch the next day.
I did have to substitute hard wheat berries as my search of three local grocery stores could not find the soft wheat berries specified in the recipe. I followed the directions on the grocery store bulk bin and soaked the hard wheat berries over night before preparing them according to Aida’s instructions. The result was a delicious, nutty, slightly crunchy grain that I will absolutely be working with again.
Upon first bite, I thought that perhaps the recipe could use another chipotle. But then the finish left the perfect amount of heat. The real surprise, however, are the raisins. They add a sweet, chewy flavor that really balances out the spice of the chipotle, the nuttiness of the wheat berries, and the smoky crunch of the toasted walnuts. All of the flavors combine in perfect harmony like lovers destined for each other.
As part of the Virtual Salad Party, I’m really excited to be giving away a copy of Aida Mollenkamp’s cookbook, Keys to the Kitchen. Designed to help home cooks become more confident in the kitchen, I just know that the winner will enjoys her tips, tricks and recipes as much as I have over the years. Just try this one for a sample of the deliciousness that awaits you then enter the contest below!
- Serves: 8
- Calories: 340
- Fat: 15
- Saturated fat: 1.5
- Carbohydrates: 49
- Sodium: 85
- Fiber: 9
- Protein: 10
- Cholesterol: 0
- 2 cups soft wheat berries, rinsed (about 12 ounces)
- Kosher Salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 8 ounces carrots, small dice (about 2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
- 1 chopped chipotle en adobo plus 1 teaspoon chipotle en adobo sauce
- 1 cup toasted walnut halves, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup raisins
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 3 scallions, light green and green parts thinly sliced
- ¼ cup fresh Italian parsley or cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- Fill a medium saucepan with heavily salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in wheat berries, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until tender but still chewy, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet to cool. (Can be made through this step up to 4 days ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.)
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add carrots and a pinch of salt and cook until just softened but still retains some bite, about 5 minutes more. Stir in thyme and chipotle and sauce and cook until fragrant then remove from heat.
- Place wheat berries in a large, nonreactive bowl and add carrot mixture, nuts, and raisins. Whisk together remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, vinegar, and honey until honey is dissolved then stir into wheat berry mixture. Let salad marinate at least 15 minutes before serving or cover and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 24 hours. Just before serving, add the scallions and herbs.
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