Saveur (November 2011)
Picture a pilgrim.
Now picture that pilgrim going on a year-long yoga retreat in India and then moving into a vegans-only communal house in Berkeley, and she's super sweet, but also she's always lighting incense all over the house and insisting that you let her "clear your chakra," and it's like, okay, we get it, you lived in India, but she's actually really, really nice, like that one time she helped you build the rainwater-recycling system for the house when none of the other roommates could be bothered, and so you put up with all her sunrise om-shanti-shanti-ing because it turns out she actually did learn a thing or two in India, and she's actually kind of a really awesome cook.
That pilgrim is bringing this Spiced Wheat Berry Pilaf to Thanksgiving.
And you know what? It's pretty good! Several of our dinner guests said they really enjoyed it. But with its Eastern spices and exotic flavors and aromas that you don't normally find at a Thanksgiving feast (apricots, cumin, pistachios, cardamom), this Wheat Berry Pilaf is a decidedly alternative alternative.
While we love traditional Thanksgiving stuffings and dressings, we also really enjoy exploring stand-ins to mix things up a little. In past years, we've made a Wild Rice Dressing with Dried Fruits and Nuts, as well as a Wild-Rice Pilaf with Cranberries and Pecans (which, now that we think about it, are kind of the exact same thing...).
This Spiced Wheat Berry Pilaf, however, takes stuffing-substitutions to a whole new level.
One big advantage this dish has over traditional stuffing? It's a snap to make. We prepared the wheat berries a day in advance and stored them in a resealable plastic bag in the fridge. The next day, all you have to do is toss in most of the other ingredients, warm it all on the stovetop, and then throw in the mint and lemon. Way easier than stuffing!
We liked this pilaf. We didn't love it.
At a non-Thanksgiving meal, we'd be happy to be serve and eat this. The bright flavors of lemon and mint mix well with the heady aromas of the cinnamon, cardamom and cumin. It's interesting and tasty.
But for Thanksgiving, we think we'll ask our yogic Berkeley Pilgrim friend to kindly just bring a bottle of wine.
2 cups wheat berries
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup (about 3 oz.) finely chopped dried apricots
½ cup pistachios, roughly chopped
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground cardamom
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup roughly chopped mint
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Bring wheat berries and 6 cups water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over high heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 1 minute. Add reserved wheat berries, along with apricots, pistachios, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, and salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until warmed through and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in mint and lemon zest and juice.