I’ve been a fan of rye for a long time, but this summer has really sealed the deal for my love affair with the handsome grain. Rye is a wholesome and incredibly nutritious grain and for the past few years, I’ve had the joy of watching it grow.
This summer, when a micro-storm wreaked havoc on many of our grain fields, rye was the only grain that stood tall and proud, unfazed and untouched by the heavy winds and hail that pummeled down. Aside from being a resilient grain, it’s one that nourishes not only humans, but soils as well. Many farmers use rye as a winter cover crop because it increases organic matter and holds nutrients in the soil, as well as reduces soil erosion. Rye is a wonderful grain for northern climates, one of the most cold hardy. It’s also a fabulous crop for organic farmers like ourselves because it contains compounds that are allelopathic, meaning they naturally suppress weeds. On top of that, because rye is planted in the fall and establishes itself before the snow comes, by the time spring comes around, the plants already have a head start and can easily out-competes the weeds.
If you follow this blog, you’re already familiar with some of my rye recipes: there’s the rye blueberry cookies and then the rye brownies that I make with fresh-milled rye flour. But I also often use the whole rye berries in various recipes.
They’re nutty, tender, and chewy. Rye berries are cooked in the same way wheat, spelt, kamut, or emmer berries are: in plenty of water, like pasta instead of rice. The water is drained after cooking. I follow the Nourishing Traditions approach to preparing whole grains. That means soaking them overnight in water with a spoonful of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. This isn’t necessary but soaking in this manner helps to break down the phytic acid in the grain and makes the nutrients in the grain more readily available for your body to absorb. After they’ve soaked overnight, you simply drain the water and cook them in fresh water, like pasta.
Plain cooked rye berries can be used in all kinds of recipes, from breads to salads and they’re a wonderful substitute for rice, alongside meat or vegetable dishes. They’re a great way to diversify your grain consumption!
One recipe that I’ve been making again and again is this rye berry salad with red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, feta, and fresh dill.
It’s a perfect late summer / early fall dish that takes advantage of the bountiful harvest at this time of year. It’s wholesome, filling, and nutrient-dense. But you could easily substitute any of the grains I mentioned above if you don’t have rye berries on hand: wheat, spelt, kamut, emmer, or even barley will work well in this salad. You can also modify it with whatever vegetables you have on hand. In fact, I’ve made completely different rye berry salads (here’s one example). However you chose to make it, I hope you enjoy it!
Rye Berry Salad with Red Cabbage, Feta, and Dill
- For the Salad:
- 1 1/4 cup whole rye berries (wheat, emmer, spelt, or barley can be used)
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
- Half of a medium-small 2-pound red cabbage, finely chopped
- 1 small bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- Half a bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- About 12 cherry tomatoes, sliced into quarters
- 4 oz feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
- 1 quarter of a small red onion, finely minced (about 2 Tbsp minced)
- 1 Tbsp capers (optional)
- Sprigs of dill flowers, for garnish (optional)
- For the Dressing:
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
- Place the rye berries in a bowl filled with 4 cups of water and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Allow them to soak in this mixture for 12 to 24 hours. You can skip the soaking if you’re in a hurry, but it’s a good thing to do because it will make the rye’s nutrients more available for your body to absorb. Once the grains have soaked, drain the water and place the berries in a pot filled with 5 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to low so the grains can simmer for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until they are tender. You should taste them every now and then. Some people like them a little chewier (more ‘al dente’) and some people like them softer. You can remove them from heat and drain once you’re happy with the texture. Set the drained berries aside to cool.
- Once the berries are cooled, place them in a large salad bowl and add the finely chopped red cabbage, finely chopped fresh dill, chopped parsley, quartered cherry tomatoes, cubed feta cheese, minced red onion, and capers.
- To prepare the dressing, place all the ingredients in a lidded jar, shake well and pour half the dressing over the salad. Toss well and taste. If you wish, add more dressing. The rye berries can absorb a lot of the flavor from the dressing so be generous with it. Serve with fresh sprigs of dill flowers if you have some. This salad makes great leftovers the next day!
Yield: 6 servings
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.