Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hearty Vegan Bean Chili with Wheat Berries

Dry, unprocessed wheat berries.

Cooked wheat berries.

Perfect for a Snowy Day
The east coast is covered with snow and by the looks of my family's Facebook pages, my cousins and their children all seem to be staying at home enjoying a "snow day". My husband and I just got back from Minneapolis where it snowed the entire time we were visiting. Snow makes me want a hot, spicy bowl of chili so I thought I'd make that today while I was still day dreaming of beautiful snow flakes.

Have You Ever Tried Wheat Berries?
With wheat being one of the most common foods in most of our households, it's ironic that wheat berries are so uncommon. Wheat berries are just unprocessed wheat from which all wheat products are made. A single wheat berry, or grain of wheat, is made up of the endosperm, the germ and the bran. The germ (containing the highest amounts of vitamins E and B complex) and the bran (containing most of the fiber) are removed when wheat is processed to make bleached, white flour. Over half of the wheat's important nutrients are lost during this process. Eating wheat berries in their natural, unprocessed form provides vitamin B1(thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3(niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, folic acid, vitamin E, manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, calcium and fiber. Whole grains, like wheat berries, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other degenerative disorders.

My First Experiment with Cooking Wheat Berries
I love the nutty flavor of wheat berries. But most of all, I love their chewy texture. Although I've eaten various dishes with this delicious grain while dining out, I must confess I had never actually tried cooking them at home. A few weeks ago, while walking through the Marin farmers' market, I came across a vendor selling organic wheat berries. I quickly bought a bag and had been thinking about what to do with them ever since. I finally decided they would make a perfect ingredient for a big pot of vegetarian chili. Their chewy texture might simulate the texture of meat. The result came out exactly as I had hoped. My husband and I both thought the chili had the texture of ground meat but all the health advantages of a vegan chili.

So What's the Downside?
Most of the bad eating habits in this country are because we don't have the time to cook. The one downside of wheat berries is that they take some time to prepare. I soaked them overnight, rinsed them the next day and cooked them for 1 1/2 hours. The good news is that you can make a big pot of them and store them in the freezer for a month. So when you have time on the weekend, make a big pot of wheat berries, freeze them until you need them and use them in salads, pilafs, breakfast dishes, soups and in this tasty and healthful chili recipe!

Why Soaking is Important
Although some recipes state that you don't have to soak the wheat berries, it's important to soak grains and legumes before cooking. Soaking neutralizes their phytic acid content which can bind (and make less available) important minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc.


Vegan Bean Chili with Wheat Berries
[serves 6]
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow or red onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, divided
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
One 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies
One 15 oz can black beans, rinsed
One 15 oz can pinto beans, drained
1 1/2 cup frozen corn (or 1 can, drained)
2 cups cooked wheat berries (about 3/4 cups dry)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 sliced jalapeno or 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, minced (optional)
1 medium avocado, diced

To make the wheat berries:
The night before, soak the wheat berries in water. The next day, rinse well and cook in 2 1/2 cups of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. After bringing to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until they reach the desired texture. Drain and set aside. You can do this ahead of time and freeze the wheat berries until needed.

To make the chili:
Sauté the onion and pepper for 5 minutes, add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Stir in half the cilantro, the chili powder and cumin. Add the tomatoes, black beans, pinto beans, corn, cooked wheat berries and vegetable broth. For additional "heat", add sliced jalapenos or chipotle in adobo sauce to taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and gently simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust salt if needed. If desired, add fresh black pepper to taste. Place in bowls, garnish with the rest of the fresh cilantro and diced avocado and serve.

Per serving: 309.6 calories, 5.8 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12.4 g protein, 54 g carbohydrates and 12 g of fiber.

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