My weekday lunches revolve around salads like this one, built on grains, fresh vegetables, some sort of protein element, and fresh herbs. I prepare a few servings at a time, and that conveniently takes care of lunch for the next couple of days.
I do try to mix things up so as not eat the same thing all the time, but I admit I’ve become a little fixated on this particular one lately: it is full of flavor, refreshing and filling, with a satisfying mix of textures from the fleshy tomatoes and the chewy grain.
The cereal I am using is petit épeautre (literally, small spelt), an ancient cousin of spelt that goes by the Latin name Triticum monococcum or the common English name einkorn wheat.
Petit épeautre was one of the first cereals cultivated for food*; it is a nutritious grain that thrives on arid, mountainous grounds where little else will grow. The one I buy, an organic petit épeautre de Haute Provence grown in the Southeast of France, is said to have been grown unchanged — without cross-breeding that is — in the area for 9,000 years**. It is protected by a geographical indication, and it hopped aboard the Slow Food Ark of Taste a few years ago.
Einkorn wheat has long been displaced by higher-yield crops, but it is regaining a little popularity in France and elsewhere, as conscious eaters try not to rely so heavily on common wheat, and also because it has been suggested that the grain, although not gluten-free, might be safe for gluten-intolerant patients. (I’ll hasten to note that more research is needed and it is too early to be taking any risks, but these initial findings are hopeful.)
Einkorn wheat is worth seeking out, but if you can’t find it, feel free to substitute spelt (Triticum spelta) or emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum, a.k.a. farro) here, depending on what’s available locally.
While the tomatoes and petit épeautre are permanent fixtures of this salad, the third wheel varies according to what’s on hand: I like it with firm tofu, as pictured, but it is also very good — perhaps better — with feta or mozzarella. You’ll also note that I add a touch of ground cinnamon to the seasoning mix; I like the spicy tickle it brings.
About the cinnamon I use
I am in love with the fresh cinnamon I order from Cinnamon Hill, a small company that specializes in sourcing and selling the highest-quality, freshest cinnamon from Sri Lanka and Vietnam (ordinary cinnamon usually comes from China or Indonesia). I get whole sticks, and grate them with the beautifully crafted (and highly giftable!) cinnamon grater that Cinnamon Hill has designed. Truly, you don’t know what cinnamon tastes like until you’ve tried freshly harvested, freshly grated, top-grade cinnamon, and it makes an amazing difference in this recipe.
* See Alternative Wheat Cereals as Food Grains, G.F. Stallknecht, K.M. Gilbertson, and J.E. Ranney, 1996.
** If you understand French, I recommend reading this interview with einkorn wheat producer Etienne Mabille.
Tomato and Einkorn Wheat (or Spelt) Salad
– 190 grams (1 cup) einkorn wheat or spelt or farro
– one shallot, minced
– one bay leaf
– barely 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I use fresh cinnamon from Cinnamon Hill)
– ground chili pepper, to taste
– 4 to 5 ripe medium tomatoes, about 600 grams (1 1/3 pounds)
– a small bunch of chives, snipped
– 170 grams (6 ounces) tofu, or 85 grams (3 ounces) feta cheese or 170 grams (6 ounces) mozzarella, cubed
– olive oil
– red wine vinegar
– salt, freshly ground pepper
Serves 3 to 4.
Rinse the einkorn wheat, drain, and place in a medium saucepan. Add 480 ml (2 cups) cold water, the minced shallot, the bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 45 minutes, or however long the package says you should; I don’t pretend to know better. Let cool.
(Note: you can double the amounts of grain you cook, and freeze half for another time.)
When the einkorn wheat is at room temperature (or just above), place it in a medium salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, add a dash of vinegar, and add the cinnamon and chili pepper. Stir to combine.
Core the tomatoes and cut them into bite-size pieces. I like to keep the seeds and juices because I don’t mind liquids pooling at the bottom of the bowl (I just drink them), but if you prefer, you can run your thumbs in the cavities of the tomatoes to remove the seeds and juices. (In that case be sure to save and filter the tomato water for drinking.)
Add the tomatoes, tofu or cheese, and chives to the salad bowl, sprinkle with a bit of pepper, and toss to combine. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary.
Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. The salad will keep for a day or two, and travels well.
Cooking/baking time: 45 min