Localicious was the name of this year’s party for the FamilyFarmed EXPO held in Chicago March 11-13. What started five years ago from small beginnings has since grown into a three-day, agenda-packed event to connect family-owned farmers, artisanal food producers, buyers, policy makers, and the public with each other to promote the growth of local food systems. The Localicious party, naturally, showcased restaurants and producers who make use of local and sustainable food.
So on Friday evening of the expo I found myself in a cavernous room at the UIC Forum sampling one fantastic tasting dish after another:
Spit-roasted leg of lamb with horseradish crème fraîche and microgreens from Bistro Campagne.
House-made pork sausage with black lentils atop creamy mashed potatoes from Osteria Via Stato.
Chicken liver pâté with pickled winter vegetables and salt crackers from Lula Café/Nightwood.
Beef and black bean Brazilian chili from Province.
Mediterranean semolina-honey-butter cake from Pasticceria Natalina.
All good. And then I got to the Heritage Prairie Farm table displaying this colorful, wow-me bowl of wheat berry salad in an earthy-hued bowl (from IKEA!). Friend and farm chef Portia Belloc Lowndes prepared this salad with the farm’s wheat berry and enlivened it with baby arugula, Capriole goat cheese, craisins, microgreens, and a honey-citrus vinaigrette. “It’s a great, great grain when used whole,” she says. I took a forkful, then another, and another—and was ready to take the entire bowlful home. I love the combination of chewy wheat berries with sweet and savory flavors.
This sort of salad is easy to make on your own, especially if you plan ahead and break out the steps. Portia recommends soaking the wheat berries in water overnight and then cooking them for an hour and half. She buys her wheat berries from Ted’s Organic Grains in Kaneville, Illinois, but for most people who don’t live nearby, it will be easier to buy them at Green City Market in the summer or from stores that carry their own sources of grains. Depending on the pot you use, cooking time can vary, which for me, is about an hour. You can use what’s in season or mix in a variety of ingredients to your liking, such as dried or fresh fruit, nuts, crumbled feta, sliced scallions, grated orange or lemon. I particularly like the combination of dried chopped figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, and chopped parsley.
Below is get Portia’s honey-citrus vinaigrette recipe. I also included detailed cooking instructions from Lorna Sass’s excellent Whole Grains, Every Day, Every Way book.
Portia Belloc Lowndes’s Citrus-Orange Dressing
for Wheat Berries, Cous Cous, or Rice
Whisk the following ingredients together in a bowl or jar:
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
¾ cup olive oil
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons honey
salt and pepper to taste
Lorna Sass’s Cooking Instructions for Wheat Berries
To make approximately 2½ cups of cooked grains:
Use 1 cup dry wheat berries and 2½ cups water in a 2-quart pot.
Add salt to taste toward the end of cooking.
Presoaking the grains is optional but recommended. If time permits, soak the grains in the 2½ cups of water overnight. It saves some cooking time, but more important, presoaking results in a softer bran layer, more even cooking, and plumper grains.
Alternatively, do a quick-soak: Bring the water to a rapid boil in a Dutch oven or heavy saucepan. Stir in the grains. Turn off the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour.
Bring the water and grains to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until tender.
Once a few of the grains have burst open or you detect the whitish starchy endosperm peeking through one end of some grains, start checking for doneness: Cut a few grains in half and see if they are one color throughout. If so, taste a few grains and see if they are juicy and the starchy center is soft. Cooking time is typically 30 to 40 minutes for soaked grains, about one hour for unsoaked. If the water is absorbed before the grains are done, add more as needed.
When the grains are tender, drain them thoroughly. To plump them slightly more and reduce surface moisture, return the grains to the hot empty pot and cover them. Let them steam in the residual heat for 5 to 10 minutes.
After the wheat berries are cooked, add them to a bowl and toss with an appropriate amount of dressing to lightly coat. Let sit for 15 minutes. Complete your salad by adding additional ingredients to your liking.