Cracked wheat is a common ingredient in Indian, Middle Eastern, and African cuisine. Chefs use it to make cold salads, vegetable dishes, and even desserts. Many people also use it to make breads and hot cereals. It is a versatile and nutritious food and, over the years, has become increasingly popular in the U.S. and other countries.
Sold in most whole foods markets and through online retailers, cracked wheat is made from raw, whole-wheat kernels that have been mashed into smaller pieces. Three basic textures are generally available, namely fine, medium, and coarse. Certain recipes might call for one texture over another, but usually, it is a matter of individual taste. Coarser wheat has more body and a heartier, nuttier flavor than the more finely ground variety.
One of the most popular dishes that showcases cracked wheat is cold wheat salad. Usually, finely chopped vegetables, such as onions, peppers, and cucumbers are mixed with coarse wheat that has been cooked and chilled. Spices and flavorings, such as cilantro, lemon, and curry are typically added as well. In Middle Eastern cuisine, this dish is often called tabbouleh, while in Indian cooking, it’s commonly referred to as daliya. Variations of this dish can also be found in North African cuisine, in which mint and other fresh herbs are typically added for additional flavor.
Given the versatility of cold wheat salad, many chefs add their own twists, including a variety of different vegetables, such as tomatoes, celery, spinach, or broccoli. Others might opt for additional protein by mixing in beans or other legumes, such as lentils. The dish can be spiced up with a little hot pepper or even made sweeter with ingredients such as dried mango or raisins.
In addition to cold dishes, cooks also use cracked wheat to prepare hot platters, and it is sometimes used as a substitute for rice. Once the wheat is cooked to the desired consistency, vegetables, cheese, beans, or even meat can be mixed in and heated through. Chefs can serve the enticing blend as either a side dish or entrée.
Many people use this type of wheat instead of flour when making bread. The whole kernel gives the bread a satisfying, robust flavor and texture while increasing the nutritional value. Similarly, cracked wheat can also be used as a flour substitute in other items, including breakfast favorites such as muffins, pancakes, and waffles. Some individuals also find that it makes an excellent hot cereal. Coarsely ground wheat yields a thick, slightly chewy cereal, while the finer varieties create creamier, smoother textures.
Due to the adaptable nature of cracked wheat, certain chefs even use it to create delicious desserts. For instance, in Indian cuisine, chefs use the wheat as a base for a very rich, sweet treat called payasam. To create this pudding-like delicacy, the kernels are cooked in a pressure cooker until they break down to form a thick, creamy base. Chefs add sugar, coconut milk, nuts, and other tasty ingredients. The dish can be served hot or cold, although the longer it sets, the thicker it becomes.
Sometimes, people use the term bulgur wheat interchangeably with cracked wheat, but there is one important difference: Bulgur wheat is already cooked, whereas the cracked variety is not. Many recipes using either cracked or bulgur wheat can be found on the Internet. Cooks should remember, though, that cracked wheat is raw and generally needs to be steamed or cooked first, or the recipe won’t come out right.