So, about a month ago, my friend Phoebe sent a very entertaining email asking me to join her in a “spring pantry purge.” Like yours truly, Ms. Lapine is a culinary hoarder (occupational hazard), but a recent move to Brooklyn (Godspeed!) prompted her to go all Marie Kondo on her superfluous foodstuffs. And while she significantly lightened both her kitchen and spiritual load, the best part about the de-cluttering process was the fact that it unearthed some long forgotten gems lurking in her cabinets—from festive African spices to slightly obscure grains—which, in turn, inspired several surprisingly creative and delicious meals.
Thrilled with the results of her own pantry cleanse, Phoebe thought it would be fun to gather the interwebs for a communal #SpringPantryPurge, inviting fellow bloggers to share a recipe featuring a pantry ingredient (new, old, basic, niche—just as long as it was already hanging out in our kitchens). Needless to say, I responded “Yes, yes, YASSS!” because I am a good friend, but also because my hoarding had gotten out of control and several of my kitchen cabinets no longer closed. This pantry purge was exactly what I needed to kick-start a solid spring clean.
I was excited. I told my roommate about it. He was excited. (Logan is not a hoarder and does not understand/approve of my tendencies.) I bought extra trash bags and ordered The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on Amazon. I was armed and ready to overhaul my kitchen/apartment!
Then I got distracted by The West Wing and promptly abandoned my grand purging plans.
Had life continued without incident, I probably would have forgotten about cleaning my pantry until I received a Google alert about writing this post. However, I was given a good kick in the purge pants a few weeks ago when a heavy bag of petrified brown sugar toppled from the top shelf of “the baking cabinet,” breaking two spice jars and nearly knocking me out on its descent.
It was time.
I’m lucky enough to have many deep cabinets in my NYC kitchen, but that just means there’s more room for this hoarder to stash, and subsequently lose, items in their dark recesses. Emptying them all out was a serious undertaking (which is why I had never done it before), and I was understandably scared. However, once I started de-hoarding, I got reallllly into it. Before I knew it, I was three hours in, surrounded by rock hard marshmallows, peppermint bark from 2012, and endless boxes of almost empty quinoa.
At one point Logan came home to find me pants-less, overwhelmed, and surrounded by trash bags. “Why are you so sweaty?” he asked. Naturally, I said, “I was watching cops,” but the dude quickly realized what was up, and he was PSYCHED. “Carry on!!!” he screamed. And so I did.
I’m please to report that post-purge, all my cabinets now close as they should, and they’ve been cleared of their expired/unusable/icky goods. My kitchen is infinitely more organized and pleasant to cook in, but what’s even more thrilling is that I rediscovered so many wonderful ingredients (just as Phoebe promised I would). The bulk of them were lower profile whole grains that got pushed to the back of my pantry (lost behind the aforementioned boxes of quinoa), most notably, a large unopened sack of wheat berries. Joy of JOYS! I hadn’t cooked wheat berries in years.
If you’re wondering WTF wheat berries are, I guarantee you’re not alone. Wheat berries are literally whole kernels of wheat, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. They were trendy for a bit circa 2013 (which is probably when I bought my bag), but they’ve sort of fallen from grace due to gluten-free mania, which makes me sad because wheat berries are actually pretty badass.
Not only are the grains absolutely packed with protein, fiber, and B vitamins, they also taste delightful. Slightly sweet and nutty with a distinctly chewy texture (sort of like farro but even heartier), wheat berries are great on their own, as well as added to soups, stews, stuffing, and salads. I’m eternally grateful to Phoebe for prompting a revival of this whole grain in my kitchen, as it inspired the life-changing salad that you now see on your screen.
Friends, in honor of #SpringPantryPurge, I proudly present Chicken and Wheat Berry Salad with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Arugula…
This powerhouse salad is a riff on one of my favorite Ottolenghi recipes, and it’s unbelievably fresh and springy. It’s got a bright, Asian-y thing going on with a little heat and epic pops of crunch and sweetness, and the insane layers of flavor and texture will blow you away. What I love most about this salad is that it becomes even more awesome after a stint in the fridge, so it can do double duty as both dinner and sassy desk lunch, and it’s a great make-ahead showstopper for spring/summer potlucks.
The recipe is best with roast chicken (you can 100% use store-bought rotisserie chicken if you like), but you could also shred some foolproof chicken breasts and call it a day. And although I urge you to give wheat berries a try (ASAP!), in the spirit of pantry purging, please feel free to use any grains lingering in your cabinets. Wild or brown rice, farro, barley, or a mix of grains will all work.
Chicken and Wheat Berry Salad with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Arugula: (Serves 4 generously)
1 cup wheat berries
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 pound shredded chicken breasts
2 packed cups baby arugula
1 cup shredded Brussels sprouts
1 packed cup cilantro leaves, chopped
¼ packed cup mint leaves, chopped
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced into thin strips
Fresh ground pepper
For the Dressing
Juice from 1½ lemons
2½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Preparing your Chicken and Wheat Berry Salad with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Arugula:
-Place the wheat berries and chicken broth in a medium saucepan with a good pinch of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer for 35-45 minutes until tender. (Wheat berries can vary slightly in cooking time, so I recommend tasting a few at the 35 minute mark and going from there.) Strain the wheat berries (they’ll absorb a lot of the broth as they cook, but not all of it), and let them cool to room temperature.
-Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook for about 5 minutes until softened and lightly browned. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
-In a large mixing bowl, whisk all the ingredients for the dressing.
-Add the shredded chicken and toss to coat.
-Add the cooled wheat berries and onions and toss again.
-Add the arugula, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, mint, green onions, and jalapeños, and toss again. Taste and season with a little extra salt (if necessary) and plenty of fresh ground pepper. (If you like things extra lemon-y like I do, feel free to add an extra squeeze of fresh lemon juice.)
-Transfer to a serving platter or plates and serve. (You can serve this room temperature or chilled!)
- 1 cup wheat berries
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ½ medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound shredded chicken breasts
- 2 cups baby arugula
- 1 cup shredded Brussels sprouts
- 1 packed cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- ¼ packed cup mint leaves, chopped
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced into thin strips
- Juice from 1½ lemons
- 2½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- Place the wheat berries and chicken broth in a medium saucepan with a good pinch of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer for 35-45 minutes until tender. (Wheat berries can vary slightly in cooking time, so I recommend tasting a few at the 35 minute mark and going from there.) Strain the wheat berries (they’ll absorb a lot of the broth as they cook, but not all of it), and let them cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook for about 5 minutes until softened and lightly browned. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk all the ingredients for the dressing.
- Add the shredded chicken and toss to coat. Add the cooled wheat berries and onions and toss again. Add the arugula, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, mint, green onions, and jalapeños, and toss one more time. Taste and season with a little extra salt (if necessary) and plenty of fresh ground pepper. (If you like things extra lemon-y like I do, feel free to add an extra squeeze of fresh lemon juice.)
- Serve salad at room temperature or chilled.
If you’re interested in doing your own #SpringPantryPurge (do ittttt), here’s some recipe inspiration for the randomness in your cabinets from some of my favorite peeps in the blogosphere…
Feast + West | Honey Chipotle Roasted Chickpeas
Clean Food Dirty City | Lentil Rice Bowl with Shaved Cauliflower Salad
Crepes of Wrath | Garlic Noodles
Appeasing a Food Geek | Wine Wednesday + a Kale and Tomato Galette
Feed Me Phoebe | Maple Pecan Gluten-Free Banana Bread
Arthur Street Kitchen | Kale Kimchi
Pamela Salzman | Drunken Beans
The Mom 100 | Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
Snixy Kitchen | Kale Salad with Toasted Nuts, Seeds, & Buckwheat
Loves Food, Loves to Eat | Warm Lentil Salad with Butter-Crumbed Eggs
The Speckled Palate | Curried Veggie Rice Bowls
The Naptime Chef | Spring Couscous Salad
the pig & quill | Roasted Fig + Potato Salad with Asparagus + Goat Cheese