Eggplant, Chickpea and Wheat Berry Salad

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A summery Middle Eastern salad with feta, roasted eggplant, chickpeas and za'atar. 

I was hoping to have a post on our trip to Turkey by now, complete with the delicious food we ate and links to recreate it at home. But, my body has been stuck on Eastern European time zone so I haven’t had a chance to go through my pictures just yet. The past two weeks, I’ve been entirely unproductive.  Actually, take that back.  I've been constantly on the go with barely a chance to sit and relax, but everything is taking 10 times longer than it should. Must be that whole jet lag thing. It sure doesn't help that 9 pm has become a normal bedtime for me. Don't judge. That's 3 am Turkey time!

Scott, on the other hand, seems to be knocking things off the to do list left and right. This week he put the finishing touches on our new tiled shower, built a bed for our master, made a side table and frame for the iznik tiles we bought in the Grand Bazaar AND set up the new kegerator for his home brews. Yup, my husband brews his own beer.  And I make cheese and yogurt. When the zombie apocalypse comes, you probably should come to our house.

Although you’ll have to wait a few more days for Turkey pictures (I know, the anticipation is killing you!), I hope this Middle Eastern inspired recipe will help fill the gap. I thought I ate enough eggplant to last a lifetime when I was in Turkey, but who are we kidding. There’s no such thing as too much eggplant.

Eggplant

If you are moving towards a plant-based diet (and you should be), make friends with eggplant. It's meaty flavor makes eggplant a fantastic meat substitute in pasta and casseroles. It's even great thrown on the grill like a steak!  Most of the research done on eggplant focuses on a specific phytochemical called nasunin, found in the eggplant peel. Studies indicate nasunin is one of the most powerful free radical scavengers.  It is also effective in preventing the oxidation of lipids and helps relax blood vessels. Translation - eggplant is a major heart disease superfighter!

Wheat Berries

Maybe you're getting bored with standard brown rice and whole grain pasta? I suggest experimenting with wheat berries. Wheat berries are not a berry, but rather the wheat kernel itself, so you get all the benefits of eating the entire grain - bran, germ and endosperm.  If you've never tried wheat berries before, they taste similar to barley with a nutty, chewy flavor.  My favorite way to eat them is in a grain based salad, like the recipe I'm sharing today, but they also make for a pretty awesome breakfast, simply topped with almond milk, honey and cinnamon, or all fancied up with other healthy goodies.

Garbanzo Beans

My favorite bean, and not just because it's fun to say with a made up accent. Gar-BAN-zo! Okay, maybe that's a big part of it. Without garbanzos, there would be no hummus or falafel, and that is a world I would not want to live in. Nutritionally, garbanzo beans pack a hefty dose of fiber. In fact, 1 cup contains half your daily needs! We all know fiber is good for keeping you regular, but it does so so so much more.  Fiber is an indigestible type of carbohydrate found in plant foods.  Fiber slows down digestion and keeps food in your stomach longer, meaning high fiber foods will keep you satisfied longer and have less of a glycemic effect.  Beans are an especially good source of soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids.  Bile acids are laden with cholesterol, so when soluble fiber attaches, it allows bile acids to pass through the digestive tract without being reabsorbed.

 

Eggplant, Chickpea and Wheat Berry Salad
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: 5 to 6
Adapted from [url href="http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/chickpea-zaatar-salad/"]Green Kitchen Stories[/url]
Ingredients
  • 1 cup dried garbanzo beans
  • 1 cup wheat berries (you could also use farro, barley, or spelt berries)
  • 1 large eggplant, diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon sumac or lemon zest *
  • 1 pint halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 2-3 tablespoons za'atar spice blend **
  • 1/2 cup crumbled ricotta salata, feta, or goat cheese. Or to keep it vegan, use oil cured black olives.
Instructions
  1. Place the beans and wheat berries in two different bowls. Cover with about twice as much water and let them soak overnight or all day.
  2. Rinse and drain. Place in a two large pots and cover with twice as much water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. The wheat berries should take about an hour, while the chickpeas may take another 15-30 minutes before they are tender. Drain and place in the refrigerator to cool.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Toss the eggplant with 2 tablespoons olive oil, cumin and sumac/lemon zest. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast about 25 minutes until tender and golden brown. Remove and let cool on the counter.
  5. Toss the cooled chickpeas, wheat berries and eggplant together with 2 tablespoons olive oil, tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, green onions, lemon juice, za'atar and cheese.
  6. * Sumac, a lemony tasting spice commonly used in middle-eastern recipes, is super hard to find. I usually substitute lemon zest.
  7. ** za'atar is another middle-easter spice blend. I used the olive oil spice I picked up from the spice market in Istanbul. If you can approximate it with half toasted sesame seeds and half equal parts lemon zest and thyme.