Out here, winter's been a no-show for the most part. Of late, we've been waking up to 65 degree days that have sneaked up past 75 in the afternoons. I actually built up a sweat just walking Leo and Lily this morning, and that's when I noticed the daffodils and hyacinths already pushing out of the ground.
I feel cheated. I wanted winter, the whole nine yards. The snow, the storms, even my frozen fingers and toes crying for mercy on a walk outside. Cranking up the oven, guilt-free, to bake cookies, cakes and pies. One of the greatest charms, to me, of our D.C. area weather is that winters here are just right: we get two to three snowstorms each season, and our temperatures drop and stay below freezing, but only just. It's not so bad that you absolutely cannot get out of the house if you have to, and when the snow comes, there's plenty for Jay to make a snowman or go sledding on a hill behind his school where all the children in the neighborhood gather.
Jay has been moping around this year, asking when the snow will arrive. I don't have the heart to tell him, it probably won't.
I feel sorry for Leo and Lily too. Leo has never seen snow before, since he's just nearing the fifth month of his life, and Lily, who came to us from Puerto Rico, saw a very small amount of it when she got here last year, and she never quite took to it. It was strange, this white, freezing stuff lying on the ground that made one of her legs seize up a bit. But once they get used to it, I know Leo and Lily, like every other dog I've known, will grow to love snow. Especially Leo, with his thick fur. Lucy and Opie would play in it for hours. Lucy, tall, statuesque, and athletic, would cut a path through deep, two-foot snow with her lean, long legs, and Opie would follow, trotting behind her with that puppy-like walk he never quite lost. They would make snow angels, eat the snow, and slide around in it like it was the greatest thing ever.
Come again, snow.
My cravings for food have matched the weather, and this week I finally broke out some wheat berries that had been sitting in my pantry for months to make a simple salad. I haven't shared a wheat berry recipe with you in a while, and that's really not right, because I love the little golden suckers with a passion. Cooked to the right consistency, wheat berries are nutty and slightly chewy with a texture that satisfies and a flavor that addicts. The last recipe I shared with you, years ago, was for a pilaf made with wheat berries, but this time I have for you something simpler but just as flavorful and satisfying: my Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Beets and Curry Cashew Dressing.
To say this is a simple recipe is not quite true because, really, it's not a recipe at all. All you do is throw a few ingredients together and toss them in the flavorful dressing. The beets, roasted to perfection, are rich and meaty and tender and sweet. The pecans are crunchy and nutty. The cranberries are sweet and tart and hold on to the winter that never was. And the dressing-- a five-ingredient wonder of cashews, curry powder, turmeric, sriracha, and lemon -- is good enough to eat out of the blender by the spoonful.
The wheat berries can be cooked in a saucepan on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker, if you have one. I like using the pressure cooker, just because it makes short work of an otherwise slightly lengthy process. I also like that the pressure cooker makes the berries submit to a slightly more tender texture than you could easily -- or quickly -- achieve in a saucepan.
Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Beets and Curry Cashew Dressing
- 1 ½ cups wheat berries (soaked overnight)
- 6 beets
- ½ cup pecans (lightly roasted)
- ¼ cup cranberries
- 2 tbsp golden raisins
- ½ cup kalamata olives (optional)
- ¼ cup parsley (chopped)
For the curry cashew dressing:
- ½ cup cashews (soaked for at least 30 minutes, then drained)
- 1 tsp curry powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp Sriracha sauce (adjust according to your taste)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt to taste
- Cook the wheat berries. Rinse the berries and then place in a saucepan with 4 cups of water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, cover, then cook over a simmer for an hour or until the berries are tender but still slightly chewy. If using a pressure cooker, add 4 cups of water and cook for three whistles. Drain the cooked wheat berries before using.
- To roast the beats, start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees. You can either peel the beets before roasting or after. I tend to prefer the after method because the skins come off more easily. Roast the beets on a baking sheet for 35-40 minutes. Turn over once halfway through cooking. The beets are tender when you can pierce the center with a fork easily. Remove the beets from the oven, let them cool, and then cut into ½-inch cubes.
- Make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a blender with ½ cup water. Blend until very smooth.
- Place the wheat berries, cranberries, raisins, olives if using, pecans, and parsley in a large bowl and toss together. Add the beets at the end, because they will color everything a deep red (including your fingers, so wear gloves if you must). Drizzle on the dressing and serve.