- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We hear a lot about whole grains and how good they are for us, yet many of us cook and eat them only rarely, if at all. Yet they are a wonderful thing to discover. Nutty, earthy and filling in the best sense of the word, they combine readily - both with one another and also with contrasting ingredients, such as herbs, dried fruit and nuts.

Each grain - barley, whole wheat berries, brown rice - has its own distinct personality in this lovely pilaf. Golden raisins, chives, mint and dried apricots lend touches that are slightly exotic and yet homey and familiar. Do try to find fresh mint. It’s an important feature of this dish, and dried mint will not achieve anything near the same effect.

The various grains need to cook separately. It’s not a lot of work - you just need several pots with lids.

Begin cooking the grains well ahead of time.

The cooking times for the grains are approximate, as are the amounts of water. In each case, do a taste test to determine when they’re done to your liking. Also, check the water level while they are cooking. You may have to add just a little extra if they seem dry. If there’s any extra water left when the grains are cooked, just drain it well.

This dish keeps well for five days or longer if tightly covered and refrigerated. Reheat gently, covered, in a 300 F oven or in a microwave. Or enjoy it at room temperature or cold - it’s great for lunches or snacks as well as for a side dish.

Winter wheat berry-barley pilaf with mint, chives, raisins and apricots

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1 cup uncooked wheat berries

1 cup uncooked pearl barley

1 cup uncooked long grain brown rice

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 to 4 tablespoons roasted walnut oil or canola oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups (packed) golden raisins

3/4 cup (packed) minced fresh chives (scallions may be substituted - be sure to mince them very fine)

1 bunch large fresh mint leaves, minced (about a cup, minced)

8 to 10 plump dried apricots, chopped or cut into strips

1 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted (optional)

Soak the wheat berries for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the barley and 2 1/2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, partially cover, and simmer over very low heat until tender (about 40 minutes).

Place the rice and 1 3/4 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, partially cover, and simmer very quietly for about 40 minutes, or until tender.

Drain the wheat berries and place them in a saucepan with 2 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until tender. This will take about 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

When all the grains are cooked, combine them in a large bowl. Stir to let excess steam escape. Gently mix in the remaining ingredients except the walnuts, and serve hot, warm or at room temperature (or even cold), with the walnuts sprinkled on top, if desired.

cMollie Katzen is author of “Moosewood Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press). To contact her, go to www.molliekatzen.com.

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