When most people think about pressure cooker recipes, they tend to conjure up images of stews, braises, and other sorts of steamy, stick-to-your-ribs one-pot meals that enjoy the spotlight in the colder months. But don’t forget that an electric pressure cooker is also a valuable tool for summer cooking: because everything is self-contained, cooking under pressure doesn’t heat up the kitchen. So don’t neglect your Instant Pot just because even the thought of your favorite soup recipe is making you sweat… think outside the box! It may sound crazy, but this week I used my pressure cooker to make salad. I only wish I had tried it sooner, because you’re looking at an instant summer staple.
I think this was my first time eating wheat berries, and definitely my first time cooking them. These are the same kernels that they grind up to make whole-wheat flour, just kept intact and cooked thoroughly, resulting in a plump, chewy, flavorful grain, almost like a more robust short grain brown rice.
Because September is Whole Grains Month, the dietitian in me is compelled to take a moment to chat about the special benefits of intact whole grains. I’m talking about whole grains consumed in their least processed form: merely hulled of their fibrous husks, but with the bran, germ and endosperm all in their natural state (examples include wheat berries, brown/wild rice, quinoa, farro, millet, hulled barley, and buckwheat groats). You can think of these as the ‘gold standard’ of grainy goodness. While processed whole grains (like whole wheat flour) still have the same richness in nutrients (fiber, protein, B vitamins, a bit of healthy fat, and essential minerals like magnesium), intact whole grains have the perk of an extra-low glycemic index. This ensures a slow digestion process, keeping you fuller longer and minimizing spikes in blood sugar that can contribute to chronic health problems. For more details, get a healthy dose of carb common sense from the Whole Grains Council.
So, wheat berries have a lot going for them. Now that I know how tasty they are, how super cheap they are in the bulk bins, and how easy they are to cook in the Instant Pot… I’m hooked!
This recipe started with a craving for Smitten Kitchen’s feta salsa, which I’ve made a few times as a party appetizer. I knew the rich flavors would be well suited to bulking up with hearty whole grains, and I figured fresh tomatoes and a drizzle of my best balsamic would kick it up to the next level of juicy summer freshness. What was once an indulgent treat is now a balanced meal, with just enough fat and salt from the feta and kalamatas to keep things interesting. Just the way we like it around here!
(You can, of course, make this without my loyal kitchen companion, Instant Pot. Just boil the wheat berries in 4-5 cups of water (add more if needed) for about an hour, until they’re tender, then go on with the recipe.)
[Instant Pot] Balsamic Basil Wheatberry Salad
For the wheat berries
1.5 cups wheat berries (hard red winter wheat kernels)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cups water
1 pinch salt
For the salad:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1-2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1-2 oz. feta cheese
1 large handful each of fresh basil and fresh parsley, chopped
Begin by toasting the dry wheat berries to emphasize their nutty flavor: add the olive oil to the pressure cooker to cook over medium heat (press the 'Saute' button to begin cooking at medium saute heat). When the oil is hot, add the wheat berries and cook, stirring frequently. When the wheat berries are fragrant (after about 5 minutes) add the water and salt, then cook under high pressure for 30 minutes (press 'Cancel' to stop saute mode, then close the lid and press 'Manual' to select 30 minutes).
When the cooking time is complete, allow 10 minutes for a natural pressure release before opening the valve and lid. Drain the wheat berries in a colander and rinse with cold water to cool the grains.
Transfer the wheat berries into a large bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.