Salad Series {post #1} Wheat Berry Salad and the Elusive Vinaigrette

We eat a salad of some sort just about every day at our house. I’ve been told it’s a particular strength of mine to compose a salad, I just think we excel in things we love to eat. Funny though, back in culinary school I struggled most with making a vinaigrette – it just seemed impossible to balance just enough acid with the oil. Drop by drop we would add the oil into the bowl while the other would vigorously whisk in fear of breaking the emulsion. We would all stand around the bowl with our plastic spoons tasting and re-tasting this terribly flat or lip puckering concoction – “maybe a little more oil” – “no, maybe a bit more acid” – “maybe it needs more salt” – “I just don’t know!” It’s so funny to think about it now. One day it just clicked. I remember the moment I finally started to understand the vinaigrette. I was working my internship in Los Angeles, at Ciudad (owned and operated by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger AKA The Two Hot Tamales). Before service each day, Susan would grab a handful of spoons and walk through the line and taste everything that we were about to send out to the guests, I mean everything! At that point I was just moved up from prep to working the salad/hot appetizer station. Prep cooks work behind the scenes, usually off the line. They peel potatoes, chop onions, slice mushrooms – pretty much anything and everything that makes the chefs and line cooks life easier. The dishwashers and prep cooks are the true backbone of any restaurant, they make us all look better.  In the beginning Susan would comment to me that my salads needed more vinegar/acid (or salt!), even after painstakingly making the dressings. This made me really stop and think about what I was trying to achieve, and in turn brought me back to culinary school and the vinaigrette recipe standard of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid . If you can keep this formula in the back of your mind you are well on your way to making great vinaigrettes. Vinegars and citrus such as lemons have different levels of tartness, so depending on what your acid of choice is, you may have to slightly adjust the amount oil. For me it’s more like a 2:1 ratio, I like a little extra punch, but everyone’s tastes are different. It’s not a science, it’s a subtle balance – you want your tongue to tingle ever so slightly. The acid will hit you in the back sides of your tongue, just enough to make your mouth water a bit. Pay attention, close your eyes and taste – you’ll know when you have the right balance when you say to yourself “damn, that’s really good”.

I’ve been looking forward to diving into this Salad “Series” with you. Salads, vinaigrettes and dressing – there are no limits to the flavors and combinations – so let’s get crazy and creative! Well, at least creative.

Pottery handmade by Catalina Aguirre Hoffman

Wheat Berry Salad with ginger and citrus.
I’ve dubbed this salad “the kitchen sink”, make at the end of the week when you have bits and pieces of things left over that you need to use up. When I’m thinking about a salad, I want to hit all the senses. Is there something crunchy, something a little sweet, salty, something peppery, astringent, a little acidic, something chewy (and this wheat berry salad is definitely chewy!). Sometimes you can achieve this in just a few ingredients – some mixed greens, a few seeds or nuts and a fantastic vinaigrette. Well, this Wheat Berry Salad has more than a few ingredients, but so good! Remember “kitchen sink”, throw in what you have on hand – a handful of nuts, some dried fruit, left over veggies, that little chunk of cheese that’s been sitting in the fridge waiting for a purpose…

23 Responses to “Salad Series {post #1} Wheat Berry Salad and the Elusive Vinaigrette”

  1. Oooh, I never thought of using maple syrup – no wonder your dressings are so good!

  2. K……Excellent blog as always, The food, the photos, your content and the relaxed writing style all compliment each other in just the right way……BillyGeeeeeeeeeee

  3. Magnificent Kelly!!!

  4. That looks awesome! The wheat berry salad you made when you were here was the best salad I ever had!

  5. The salad looks beautiful. I really enjoyed reading about your experience in professional kitchens. I would love to mix up a wonderful vinaigrette each time we make a salad. Yours sounds beautiful!

  6. Your wheatberry salad looks wonderful! I love making salads with wheat berries. They are so much more filling than green salads.

  7. Hi Christin,

    This sounds yummy.. How many servings does it yield?


  8. I remember the first time I had wheat berries, I was 14 years old and my friend Johnny invited me over for a dinner he was preparing. We were new vegetarians and he had never cooked before and he made a wheat berry casserole. It didn’t taste very good and had an errant piece of plastic that had found its way onto my plate-yuck! His Dad looked up from his dinner plate and asked”What IS this stuff?!” John answered, “It’s buckwheat groats” and his Dad answered back “Yes, it’s GROSS, but what IS this?”
    Yours looks soooo good I may even try them again…

    • Hi Val! Yes, we all have these embedded food memories (some great, some aweful!) from when we were young that’s hard to work past! Mine was beets, if you can believe that! I would try to quickly pass by them at the table hoping someone wouldn’t notice I didn’t take any…more times than not someone would give me a big scoop of them – did I mention they were the canned variety? Anyhow, I hope you find a way to enjoy the wheat berries/groats again – they are wonderful.

  9. Hi Kelly, Your salad is absolutely fabulous ! Your blog and your photographs are delicious too :) Nathalie from Bordeaux (France)

  10. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, wonderful recipe and beautiful photography!

    I feel so blessed to have found your site. I made a wheat berry salad a couple years ago and loved it but never made it again. I had forgotten about it until I saw the picture of your wheat berry salad. Like you, my husband and I eat a salad every day. We love salads. But we do not do a good job at mixing grains, various textures and interesting vinaigrettes in our salads. I look forward to trying this salad and others on your site! Thank you again for being so generous and sharing your beautiful site!

    • Hi Ann, thank you so much for looking/commenting on my blog – I really love new visitors. I hope you like the salad, you can pretty much put anything into it – whatever you have around, make it your own. It’s quite a bit of salad, you and your husband will be eating it for a few days…:)

  11. Your explanation of how you will know when you get the acid balance just right, is a perfect description. I know as soon as I taste the dressing, if it is correct, but would have no idea how to describe it. Thanks for putting it into words. can’t wait to try this salad.

  12. Thank goodness I found this site. I have been looking for a wheat berry salad and I found it here. This was a great meal in it’s self. And the vinaigrette was exactly what I was looking for. Fresh, zingy, and fab. I have giving this site to my friends and family and have hear great things. You say simple,maybe, but we say delish! Thanks for sharing!


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