The holiday season may not be quite wrapped up yet, but I doubt I’m alone in my sense that it’s time to dial things back a little. As much as it goes by quickly, the holiday season is also long, and (I’m about to sound crochety here) it just seems to be getting longer. The supposed one-month period from Thanksgiving to New Years now seems to start even earlier–Halloween just barely staunching a trickle of advertisements that finally gushes forth November 1st.
With two young kids, my New Year’s version of tying it on varies between either heading to bed at 10:30 or 11:00. If I’m not in bed before midnight, it will only be because I’ve accidentally passed out on the couch (from fatigue, not liquor). So I’ve already moved on to first phase of post-holidays, which is trying to eat a bit lighter and do things a bit more low-key, in attempt to balance out Christmas platters of sin, my mother-in-law’s whiskey sours, and a frenzy of toys. (I’m hearing the twittering of zhu zhu pets in my dreams…)
So on this blog, in anticipation of the New Year, there are no how-tos for punch bowls bejeweled with a fruit-studded floating ice rings, tiers of cleverly arranged canapes, or how-tos on the perfect cheese platter (but wow, can I get an invite to that party?) Instead, here’s a recipe that’s easy to execute when you just don’t have the energy-mental or physical-to tackle much of anything. It’s filling without being heavy, and can pull together whatever disparate mix of leftovers you may still have lingering (loitering?) in your refrigerator. And if it also takes up residence in the fridge, I find that its flavors meld and get even better the next day.
Now of course I’m not arrogant enough to claim I’ve one-upped Lebovitz. But it’s such a simple recipe and so infinitely adaptable, and so just right for where we are this time of year that I think it deserves a little play here on Three Clever Sisters. I’ve pared it down even more than the original recipe and it’s still delicious; but if you’re more ambitious Lebovitz has plenty of suggestions on his blog for amping it up. What’s perhaps nicest is it’s more method than recipe (everything in this recipe is approximate and fudgeable), and an unfussy way to eat seasonally when it’s most challenging–winter. The contrast of textures–the nubby chewiness of the wheat berries against the tender roasted vegetables, is perfect comfort, and using preserved lemon adds the kind of vibrant, umami flavor you usually turn to cheese for. (Yes, New Years resolution-makers, this is vegan!)
And a side note on a trick I’ve recently learned for making easier work of the chopping and peeling. My personal bugaboo is dealing with winter squash. No matter how sharp my knife is, it’s always a battle (and I don’t like my odds in knife fights). However, thanks to googling as well as some suggestions from people on our facebook page, I’ve started microwaving butternuts and their cousins for a few minutes before chopping, and it really does help. (You could also put it in the oven for a bit). It seems to generally require a few minutes in total, but I zap in one-minute increments to avoid overdoing it. I also always make a few slits before starting so that no steam builds up in the vegetable while heating. I don’t know if it would explode like a potato, but I don’t know want to know either.
As for peeling, I’ve been using a serrated peeler on recommendation from my mother-in-law, and to my amazement it make wonderfully easy work of removing the peel. A reason I was extra glad to find a second one in my Christmas stocking this year.
Roasted Winter Vegetable and Wheat Berry Salad
- 1 1/2 c wheat berries or farro
- one bay leaf
- 2 pounds assorted root vegetables; I used kuri squash, parsnips, and celery root, you could also use carrots, rutabagas, any winter squash, or salsify, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes. (More importantly, make sure that all cubes are of similar size so they roast evenly).
- 1 large red onion, peeled and diced
- 1/3 c plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 or so branches of fresh thyme (I used 2 teaspoons or so of dried thyme).
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- finely chopped preserved lemon or lime, or the juice of a fresh lemon.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Put the wheat berries in a pot and add salted water to cover by one inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until tender but still chewy, about 40 minutes to an hour.
While the wheat berries are cooking, mix the diced vegetables and onion together in a large bowl. Add 2 tablepsoons of olive oil and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix evenly. Spread out on two rimmed baking sheets, and place in the oven to roast until tender. (Test each type of vegetable; I found that celeriac took longer than the parsnips and squash). Stir every once or twice while roasting. It should take around twenty minutes to a half hour but will vary.
When the wheat berries are done, drain and remove the bay leaf. Pour into a bowl and mix in the remaining about 1/3 cup of olive oil and the chopped preserved lemons (or lemon juice if substituting). Taste, and add more salt if necessary (you will need less if you are using preserved lemons as they are naturally quite salty).
Stir in the roasted vegetables and adjust seasoning again. Serve warm or at room temperature.