Wheat Berry “Paella”


March 11, 2013 by Meg G.

Last Sunday, Heather and I decided to take a trip to the new Ocean State Job Lot a few towns over. When we lived in Rhode Island, we had one of these little gems right in our neighborhood. If you haven’t been there, I’m not sure you can fully comprehend its magic. I guess you could liken it to a cheaper, less polished Target? Anyway, they sell a surprising amount of organic, whole grain, and otherwise healthy food. This one has a HUGE Bob’s Red Mill selection of grains and beans and soup and bread mixes. So, we stocked up and when I got home I did a little price comparison with what we already had in the pantry. Here’s a few examples:

Bob’s Vital Wheat Gluten (for sausage and cutlet making):

  • $7.99 at Price Chopper and $5.59 at Job Lot

Bob’s Israeil Cous Cous (orange-cran cous cous salad coming soon!):

  • $4.29 at Health Food Store and $2.99 at Job Lot

Needless to say, we stocked up on some great pantry items, including wheat berries.

Wheat berries are the entire wheat kernel (minus the hull) and when milled, they produce whole wheat flour. They look a bit like seeds or nuts when they are uncooked, but they plump up nicely and become a chewy grain with lots of texture. In Whole Grains for a New GenerationLiana describes two different varieties: hard red and soft white. The red variety is higher in protein and cooks up firmer than the soft white. She suggests using either of them as a breakfast grain, in soups and stews, cold salads, or as a warm side dish. We haven’t tackled wheat berries over at the FSC Book Club yet, but Heather had her eye on this Paella dish from Post Punk Kitchen, so we jumped ahead and gave them a try.

Uncooked Wheat Berries

Paella is a Valencian (Spanish) rice dish that traditionally includes meat, seafood, or some combination of the two. It always includes saffron, which gives it a beautiful golden color. In this veganized version, chickpeas stand in for protein, roasted red peppers and leeks bring some rich flavors, and wheat berries cover for rice. Since we don’t make a habit of buying saffron, we cheated with just a bit of turmeric, which helps with color, but doesn’t offer the same flavor.

This recipe has a few steps, including cooking the wheat berries for about an hour, so plan accordingly. You can certainly prepare the wheat berries and the roasted red peppers the day before. Here goes!

Wheat Berry Paella with Chickpeas and Leeksadapted from Post Punk Kitchen


  • 1 cup wheat berries
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 leeks, white and green parts only, sliced into ¼ inch circles and washed well
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 roasted red peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Lots of fresh black pepper
  • 15 oz can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (or parsley, if you prefer)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Paella Prep

For the Wheat Berries:

  1. Place them in a 2 quart pot and submerge in water that covers them by 2 extra inches. Cover and bring to a boil.
  2. Let boil for 2 minutes then turn the heat off completely.
  3. Keep covered and let steam for another hour. They should be firm and chewy. Drain and set aside.

Cooking Wheat Berries

Cooked, Drained Wheat Berries

For the Roasted Red Peppers:

  1. Preheat your oven (we used the toaster oven!) to 500 degrees, or as high as you can.
  2. Core and flatten your peppers like photo below.
  3. Place on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and roast until blackened, but not decimated (see photo below).
  4. Remove from the oven and wrap up the aluminum foil around them. Let sit for at least 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. (This helps to remove the skins.)
  5. Peel off the skins and dice.

Cored, Flattened Peppers Roasted Red Peppers

Steaming Peppers

If you have a gas stove or a grill, you can do this right over the flame. We, unfortunately, have an electric stove and range. Wah wah. : (

For the Paella:

  1. In a large pan over medium heat, sauté leeks in 1 tablespoon olive oil with a pinch of salt for about 7 minutes, until tender. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  2. In the same pan over medium low heat, sauté garlic in 2 teaspoons olive oil for about a minute. Add the oregano and thyme and sauté for about 30 more seconds. Add white wine, salt and turmeric and turn the heat up high. Bring to a boil and let boil and reduce for about 3 minutes.
  3. Lower heat back to medium, add the cooked wheat berries, vegetable broth, tomato paste, roasted red peppers, bay leaves, and fresh black pepper. Let cook for about 15 minutes adding the chickpeas about halfway through. The wheat berries should absorb a lot of the liquid, but it should still be somewhat saucy.  Remove bay leaves and taste for salt.
  4. Mix in the chopped cilantro and lemon juice. Turn off heat and let sit for about 10 minutes to let the flavors marry – it will only get better over time, so plan on some extra flavorful leftovers!

Sautéed Leeks

Garlic and White Wine

Red Peppers and Seasonings

Vegan Paella

The flavors in this dish are awesome – creamy and rich, but still bright. It smelled amazing and really warmed up the house and our bellies. I think making your own roasted red peppers makes a huge difference over those jarred ones. But if you don’t have time, I’m sure the jar would do. I imagine that you could mess around with the veggies and get a totally different, but equally delicious meal.

Vegan Paella

As you can see, we didn’t have much broth left, but that didn’t bother me. You can certainly add a bit more veggie broth if you’re the saucy type. ; ) Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Wheat Berry “Paella”

  1. Jessica says:

    The really awesome cold foods bar at the Whole Foods here in Fairfax, VA got me loving wheat berries. They have a nice chew…as an Italian I’d call it al dente. I’ve yet to cook with them, though.
    And I second Meg’s endorsement of Job Lot! Oh how I miss those little Rhody gems 🙂

    • Meg G. says:

      Glad you agree! They have a lovely texture, don’t they? Speaking of the Whole Foods cold bar – that’s the inspiration for my cous cous recipe that I’ll be posting later this week!

  2. Aloma Sands says:

    I am following this blog for a while now, and i have already taken nice recipes or ideas from it. And i always clip to read it when its name appears in my reader. But, I have to admit that with today post i am really shocked.

    I am Spanish, and from that part of Spain where “paella” was born. Here, i know that we are a little touchy about what deserves “paella” name and what doesn’t. We are even able to start long arguments about something should or shouldn’t be included in a paella recipe. At the same time, we really know, admit and even are proud that any kind of dried rice, made in a certain way, cooked in a “paella” can take its name. I know this recipe comes from Post Punk Kitchen. Maybe it is very “punk” making this kind of transgression … But please, there is something that always, ALWAYS, is included in a paella, and it is RICE. Naming this, surely delicious, recipe as a paella is a kind of cultural crime for us and i couldn’t help mentioning it.

    • Meg G. says:

      Aloma – thank you for being a loyal reader of SWSC – and for your thoughts on paella. I assumed that Isa’s version of this dish might ruffle some feathers, but I’m grateful that it inspired you to share some further insight into this beloved, traditional dish that comes from your native land. I make lots of untraditional versions of food these days – like “sausage” and “chicken cutlets” – it keeps things interesting and helps me to keep growing as a home, vegetarian cook. I hope you’ll continue to stick around for the ride!

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