If I didn’t do a major eye roll every time I read an overly-detailed recipe name, I’d call this “Double-Tomato Grilled Ratatouille Salad and Wheat Berry Salad with Tomato Seed Dressing.” Or perhaps I should go with “duo of tomato” instead; it sounds so very Top Chef-y. But wait, does that make it triple tomato if they’re fresh, roasted, and in the dressing? “Trio of tomato” does have a nice ring to it. Ah, let’s just call it what it is: a good, hearty, vegetarian one-dish meal that’s a nice salute to the last of summer produce. I wish I could tell you that all of the vegetables came from the garden, but alas, my green zucchini was a victim of the dreaded squash wilt, and the sweet basil just didn’t bounce back after being neglected while we were out of town during one of the hottest, driest weeks of the summer.
So what garden goodies (besides boatloads of jalapeños, of course) are still coming in now that the weather is starting to cool down? Tomatoes, eggplant, sweet peppers, and tons of fresh herbs that aren’t sweet basil. You name it (besides sweet basil) (ok, and dill; it went to seed) (alright alright I never have luck with cilantro either), I’ve got it: rosemary, chives, oregano, parsley, lavender, thyme, Thai basil, tarragon, sage…
With the abundance of eggplant, peppers, herbs, and tomatoes, ratatouille (even though I’d never made it before) seemed like a good direction to go in, with one problem: I wanted it to be a main dish, and—as much as I love vegetables—I knew I would be headed for a hangry meltdown in the afternoon if all I ate for lunch was a pile of veggies. I could just see myself losing all patience in the classroom and turning into That Mean Teacher Who Gets Really Angry About Everything And Doesn’t Have Any Patience.
Not wanting to be that person, I added wheat berries to the salad to make it more of a meal. I am a fan of the kind labeled “hard red winter wheat berries,” which is code for “you have to cook them a long time, but they don’t get mushy.” It’s kind of like the difference between steel cuts oats and instant oatmeal. Bonus: they are way less expensive than trendier items like quinoa. Even at the bulk bins at Whole Foods (Whole Foods!) they cost less than $2 per pound.
To put everything together, I grilled all the vegetables except the tomatoes, which I used fresh; I also tossed in some roasted cherry tomatoes that I’d made earlier this summer and had stashed in the freezer. For the dressing, instead of lemon juice or vinegar, I used the seeds and the juice / gel around the seeds from the fresh tomato, and I didn’t skimp on the herbs. Mission accomplished: a ratatouille-inspired vegetarian lunch that’s substantial enough hold its own as a main dish.
Note: This salad—minus the fresh tomatoes and basil—can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge for several days. You can also cook and freeze the wheat berries and the roasted cherry tomatoes ahead of time.
Also, the bell peppers I’m growing this year are really small and have very thin walls, so I used 5 of them, but I call for 1 large in the recipe because the grocery store kind are significantly bigger and fleshier.
Grilled Ratatouille and Wheat Berry Salad
makes 4 main-dish servings
- 1 cup uncooked hard red winter wheat berries
- 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus some
- 5 Tbsp. olive oil, divided, plus some
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 large zucchini
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 2 medium fresh tomatoes—heads up, you’re going to save their seeds
- 1/4 tsp. fennel seed, crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- scant 1/4 tsp. table salt
- 1/2 cup roasted cherry tomatoes (see recipe below)
- 20 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- Cook the wheat berries: Put them in a sauce pan with the 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt, cover with plenty of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover the pot with a lid, and cook until tender but chewy, 45 minutes to an hour. Drain and cool.
- Roast the garlic: Preheat the oven to 350º. Put the unpeeled garlic cloves on a piece of foil, drizzle with a little olive oil, and wrap tightly. Cook until the garlic is soft, about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool, and then peel.
- Grill the veggies: Preheat a gas grill to high heat and oil the rack. Slice the zucchini and eggplant lengthwise into strips about 1/4″ wide, and slice the onion crosswise into disks about 1/4″ wide. Deseed the bell pepper and slice into strips about 1″ wide. Brush everything with 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill the veggies about 5 minutes per side, or until cooked to your liking. (I did this in 2 batches: I cooked the zucchini, onions, and eggplant directly on the grill, and then used a grill pan for the peppers.) When done, remove all the vegetables from the grill, and when cool enough to handle, chop everything into bite-size pieces.
- Make the dressing: Deseed and chop the fresh tomatoes, reserving 1 1/2 Tbsp. of the seeds and juice / gel that surrounds the seeds. Put the 1 1/2 Tbsp. of tomato seed-juice into a small (1-cup) food processor, and add the remaining 3 Tbsp. olive oil, the peeled roasted garlic cloves, the fennel, thyme, and oregano, and the table salt. Blend until emulsified.
- Assemble the salad: Toss together the cooked wheat berries, the grilled vegetables, the parsley, and the dressing. (At this point, the salad can be refrigerated for several days.) Top with the chopped fresh tomatoes and sliced basil leaves just before serving.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes:
Note: I make these in the summer when the cherry tomato plants in the garden are producing more tomatoes than I can eat. After the tomatoes are roasted, I freeze them on plates and then transfer them into plastic bags to keep in the freezer. They’re great to add to salads, sandwiches, frittatas, etc in the fall and winter.
- 2 c. cherry tomatoes
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 300º.
- Slice the tomatoes in half and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet.
- Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.
- Roast until shrunken and drier but not crisp, about an hour.