I got this cookbook, see?
And I’ve been browsing its pages over the past couple weeks, filling my head with visions of barley mac n’ cheese, polenta coffee cake, and quinoa date bread. There has been a mini-miracle as well. Do you ever have those quietly lovely internal celebrations when you read through an enticing recipe and realize you presently have every ingredient it calls for? I do. I did! And so I made this.
The cookbook titles this recipe Syrian Sliha. According to the authors, Sliha is a dish eaten by Damascus Jews to celebrate a baby’s first teething… interesting, no? It wasn’t so much the name of the dish or its backstory that grabbed me, but the beautiful array of colors and textures boasted by the gorgeous full-page photograph.
…and the fact that I auspiciously had every last thing on the somewhat exotic ingredient list.
This grain salad of sorts brings some serious flavor to the breakfast table. Its lead character is soft white wheat berries*, a varietal typically used to make one of my favorite flours: whole wheat pastry.
Wheat berries are satisfyingly chewy and slightly sweet with a hint of nuttiness which echoes the toasty pistachios, pine nuts and walnuts. Then of course come the toasted fennel seeds, lacing the dish with a haze of anise, the shredded coconut, lending tropicalness and texture, and pomegranate arils: the perfect juicy-tangy foil for all those rich nuts. Cinnamon, maple syrup, and coarse salt round out the closest thing your taste buds may ever experience to a full-on breakfast rock symphony in surround sound.
Oh please, don’t let me forget the yogurt. After everything I just said, this dish is nothing without a very generous dollop of whole milk yogurt atop its colorful peak. I’m not kidding. If you don’t have access to yogurt, don’t even make this. Sliha on, Wayne!
*Wheat berries are fully intact wheat kernels (aside from the inedible hull) and are the most unprocessed version of wheat you can buy in the supermarket. Wheat berries, like many whole grains, are an excellent source of fiber and B vitamins. They also contain some healthy fats, yeehaw! Because of their toughness, wheat berries typically work best when soaked before cooking. Anywhere between 8 and 12 hours of soaking in lots of room temperature water should do the trick. I like to soak and cook a big batch of grains on the weekend to help me through busy weeknight dinners.
Syrian Sliha aka Nutty Pomegranate Wheat Berry Breakfast Bowl
Note: I altered “Grain Mains’” recipe by reducing the amount of nuts by half (for calories’ and economy’s sake) while bumping up the coconut and pomegranate. I chose maple syrup in place of white sugar and toasted the fennel seeds and added them at the end rather than boiling them with the wheat berries as the original recipe suggests.
1 cup soft white wheat berries, soaked for 8-12 hours, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp fennel seeds
½ cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup pomegranate seeds
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tbsp real maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp coarse salt, like kosher
plenty of plain whole milk yogurt for topping
1. Dump the soaked and drained wheat berries into a medium saucepan and cover grains by at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the grains are just tender, about 50 minutes. The wheat berries should barely dance in the water while cooking. Drain the grains in a small-holed colander.
2. While the wheat berries cook, combine the fennel seeds, pistachios, pine nuts, and walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. Toast the nuts and seeds, stirring occasionally and guarding them with a watchful eye and alert nose, until they are lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Pour the wheat berries into a big bowl, maybe the same one you soaked them in. Then stir in the nuts, seeds, pomegranate arils, coconut, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt. Let the Sliha come to room temperature before enjoying (with a giant dollop of plain whole milk yogurt, that is!) or “store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for breakfasts (or snacks) in the week to come.” –Grain Mains