March 25, 2011

Wheatberry ‘Paella’ With Chickpeas & Leeks

by IsaChandra

Serves 4 to 6
Total time: 1 1/2 hours || Active time: 40 mins

The origin of this recipe is pretty much a culinary steam of consciousness. It starts last fall, when I visited Europe for the first time. Terry and I were lucky enough to spend a week in Paris at the Gentle Gourmet for Paris Vegan Day, and afterwards we took a train to Barcelona. The train ride was about 8 hours, and most of it was spent playing this flavor game we made up. We wrote down every flavor we could think of, closed our eyes and ran a pencil across the paper, picking four items at random. Then with our four choices, we imagined a dessert out of them. So while you may never want to try our lavender cream pie with candied mint, poppyseed shortbread and blood orange caramel, it was a really fun way to to spend a scenic train ride. Well, that and sips of thick espresso from the snack car.

And the game does have some practical benefits. It’s really how lots of us cook – by inspecting our pantries and fridges for what might work and then throwing it together and hoping for the best. So when I was wondering what to do with some wheatberries that had been taking up residence in the pantry, I rolled the dice in my spice rack to see what would happen. I keep everything on a couple of lazy susans in a cabinet, so I just kind of twirl them around hoping for some inspiration. This reminded me of our train ride and picking out flavors, which instantly reminded me of Spain, and well, duh, of course I should make paella, or really “paella,” since it’s inspired by that dish, but not prepared the same way at all.

Memories of Barcelona had whet my appetite for all sorts of flavors that I put together here. Saffron of course, but also roasted red peppers, leeks and lots of garlicky goodness. We didn’t eat anything exactly like this, but elements are roughly inspired by a restaurant we visited a handful of times called Organic.

The end result is a homey dish, with lots of great texture. The wheatberries have a satisfying chewy bite that works wonderfully with the creamy chickpeas and everything is coated with a tangy, sultry broth, punctuated with a few briny capers.

The actual hands-on work here isn’t at all tedious, you just need to do a little preparing ahead of time – mainly cooking the chickpeas and soaking the saffron, which take very little effort. If you’re not used to working with wheatberries, definitely give the recipe a read because who knows? You might be missing out on your favorite new grain!

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup wheatberries
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 leeks, white and green parts only, sliced into ¼ inch half moons and washed well
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup dry white wine (Chardonnay is great)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 roasted red peppers, jarred or homemade, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
4 teaspoons capers
Lots of fresh black pepper
2 cups drained, cooked chickpeas (one 15 oz can should work)
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Prepare the wheatberries:
This is my favorite cooking method for perfectly cooked, plump wheatberries with great texture. Just place them in a 2 quart pot and submerge in water that covers them by 2 extra inches. Cover and bring to a boil. Let boil for 2 minutes then turn the heat off completely. Keep covered and let steam for another hour. They should be firm and chewy, but if you think they are a tad too firm that’s okay because we’re going to cook them the rest of the way in the paella. Drain and set aside.

Prepare the saffron threads:
In order to get the most flavor from saffron, they need to be steeped. It’s very easy, just pour 1/2 cup of boiling hot water over the saffron in a coffee mug, cover and let sit for about an hour. Once ready to use, press against the saffron with the back of a spoon to crush it a little. It’s now ready to use.

Prepare the paella:
First you’re going to saute the leeks and set them aside. I love the delicate oniony-ness of leeks and it will get lost if they’re overcooked, so this method works wonders – we’ll add them back to the pan at the end. So… in a large pan over medium heat, saute leeks in 1 tablespoon olive oil with a pinch of salt for about 7 minutes, until tender. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In the same pan over medium low heat, saute garlic in 2 teaspoons olive oil for about a minute. Add the oregano and thyme and saute for about 30 more seconds. Add white wine, salt and saffron threads in water and turn the heat up high. Bring to a boil and let boil and reduce for about 3 minutes.

Lower heat back to medium, add the cooked wheatberries, vegetable broth, tomato paste, roasted red peppers, bay leaves, capers and fresh black pepper. Let cook for about 15 minutes adding the chickpeas about halfway through. The wheatberries should absorb a lot of the liquid, but it should still be somewhat saucy.  Remove bay leaves and taste for salt.

Mix in the chopped parsley or cilantro and lemon juice. Turn off heat and let sit for about 10 minutes to let the flavors marry. It’s one of those things that will taste even better in an hour or so, so if you’ve got that kind of time then go for it, just gently reheat before serving.



  • March 25, 2011 at 8:17 pm: Christopher

    I’d loooove to make this, but unfortunately I gots da Celiacs and wheatberries are kryptoniteberries for me. Would you say kasha would make a good substitute, or am I missing a better option?

    • March 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm: IsaChandra

      Well rice is an obvious answer! Quinoa or millet, too.

  • March 25, 2011 at 8:24 pm: Molly

    We’re going to Barcelona in two weeks! I’ve been warned the trip is going to be challenging for me at times, so I’m happy to know you’ve survived to tell the tale. I usually do my wheatberries in a pressure cooker, but I’m excited to give this recipe a shot.

  • March 25, 2011 at 8:31 pm: heather

    It shocks me that I’ve never cooked with wheatberries (I think I’m quinoa-dependent), so this seems like the perfect time to rectify that shit as I have just about everything for this one (I mean, except for the wheatberries. Duh.)

  • March 25, 2011 at 8:44 pm: katherine

    thinking i might try this tonight but sub quinoa for the whetberries (thats what i have at home) and maybe a red onion for the leek. and sundried tomatoes for the roasted red peppers. but basically its your recipe ;)

  • March 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm: deborah

    Hello from Australia! This looks sensational, and I’d love to make it, but I’m not sure what wheatberries are, because i can’t find anything here that’s called by that name. Is it just whole grain wheat, or something else?

  • March 25, 2011 at 9:13 pm: Mark O'Leary

    From the dreaded Wikipedia: “The term wheatberry or wheat berry refers to the entire wheat kernel (except for the hull), comprising the bran, germ, and endosperm. “

  • March 25, 2011 at 9:29 pm: Jennifer

    Wow. That sounds awesome. My meals are all spoken for this weekend but that is definitel getting made next weekend. :]

  • March 25, 2011 at 11:59 pm: ¡Yo Soy Liz!

    I spent one weekend in Barcelona and at ate Organic three times. Best salad bar ever and el cheapo to boot!

  • March 26, 2011 at 12:54 am: Violet

    Hot tip on chickpeas that may rock your world. Rather than soaking overnight, cook them when they’re dry and hard. Simmer 4 hours in spring water (4 hours at sea level, and longer at higher altitudes), adding water as needed. They’re tremendously rich and nutty — not like any chickpea you’ve ever tasted. You’ll never, ever soak again.

  • March 26, 2011 at 12:57 am: Violet

    PS Wheat berries are often sold as “hard winter wheat.” Check ‘em out as hot cereal with sliced fruit, plant-based milk, and a few drops of your favorite sweetener.

  • March 26, 2011 at 1:35 am: Jodie

    I was just thinking the other day that I need another recipe that uses wheatberries. This is perfect!

  • March 27, 2011 at 12:55 am: Sophie

    this looks delicious! and it’s just my luck that i bought wheatberries the other week :-) can’t wait to try some version of this :-)

  • March 27, 2011 at 6:05 am: Bil

    I wonder how this would taste with freekeh,…..smoked, cracked wheatberries? Probably wonderful!

  • March 28, 2011 at 8:56 pm: SundayintheKitchen

    I love the clean, fresh, zingy flavors — I may swap out the wheatberries for barley, my current grain obsession.

  • March 30, 2011 at 4:16 pm: Prudence

    Made this last night. Very tasty. One note, you don’t say when to add the leeks to the dish, I put them in with the chick peas.

  • April 3, 2011 at 2:11 am: Tessa

    Made this tonight and it was fantastic. My 14 month old daughter devoured it too!

  • April 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm: firebird

    Made this last week with bulgar — sooooo good. Had my co-workers drooling over my leftovers at lunch the next day.

  • April 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm: AM

    This is my new favourite meal. I made it a couple nights ago and even had my meat-eating bf anxious for more. I can honestly say that I will probably make this delicious and easy dish once a week for a long time to come. Thanks Isa!

  • May 4, 2011 at 4:42 am: Jenn

    where can I get Saffron…and is there a sub for it? I have looked everywhere and its either crazy expensive or non existance.

  • May 8, 2011 at 2:18 am: Z

    As usual, delicious recipe. Thank you!

  • May 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm: Shannon

    Hi, Jenn. It is more expensive than gold but you’ll only use a relatively small portion of the package you buy in each recipe that calls for it (a little goes a long way). Make sure you don’t try to cut corners to make it cheaper because while things like turmeric can mimic the colour there is no substitute for the flavour of real saffron. A 1 gram box here in the UK costs about £3-£4 (about $5-$6.50) and you’ll get 4 batches of this recipe out of that. Let the awesome Penzey’s help you learn more: http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeyssaffron.html

  • May 25, 2011 at 9:54 am: Dianabol

    Love this one too, I’ll be making this for dinner.

    Diana B.

  • June 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm: Helena

    Oh God, what would I do without you to save me in winter? I was getting short on soup-ish concoctions!

  • June 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm: Leah

    This is my new favourite dish! I must have made it four times in the past 2 months. It’s easy, delicious, and looks so pretty that it’s perfect for dinner parties! Thanks for the great recipe.

  • July 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm: Luv What You Do

    I have never tried that method for the wheatberries. I am excited to give it a go!

  • July 23, 2011 at 4:07 am: kristy

    i’ve tried a couple different veggie broths, and i always find them to be too tomato-y. Do you make your own veggie broth? or what brand would you suggest?

    • July 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm: IsaChandra

      I switch it up, sometimes make my own but sometimes i use the Better Than Bullion kind. I also like Frontier brand, but not in huge amounts.

  • October 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm: Rebecca

    I don’t have saffron threads; any good suggestions for a substitute?

    • October 16, 2011 at 7:28 pm: IsaChandra

      Honestly, this would be good without. It just won’t have that paella taste.

  • December 2, 2011 at 3:53 am: Ada

    Love, love, love this… as do my non-vegan family and friends. The flavors are amazing and i love how the leftovers are even better. I did run out of saffron the last time I made it and I can vouch for the fact that it is far more significant flavor-wise than I had given credit for in past makings. :) I was thinking of trying this with barley just for fun.

  • December 13, 2011 at 6:12 am: Jessie

    This was vegan dinner #5 of 5 in our veggie house this past week, and it took the prize for most delicious. Served it over zucchini ribbons lightly sautéed in oil. What a special dish! I think I will be making this for an upcoming birthday celebration. I was also totally pissed that my husband ate the leftovers. I can’t believe I forgot to bring them for lunch and beat him to it!!

  • February 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm: John

    This was good without saffron or capers. Ada, let me know how it goes with barley. I was thinking that myself or maybe quinoa. Is it just me or are wheatberries a bit tough? Going to add olives next time.

  • December 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm: Emma

    Another one reporting back on how much they enjoyed this recipe. Both me and my Mum loved it :) I also used up all my saffron a couple of weeks ago and haven’t yet replaced it so had to make this without. It was still fabulous so I can only imagine it is extra-delicious with it! Many thanks.