The First of Two: Ancient Grains

Editor’s Note: Linda Avery returns with two reviews to kickstart the new year. First up is Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck. Later this week, she’ll return with a look at Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now. Here’s to starting the year off with healthful — or at least mindful — inspiration.

Tis the season for resolutions, to-do lists, and various other self-rebooting nudges. For those who include “lose weight”, I suggest start by trying to eat healthier and, perhaps more importantly, everything in moderation.

To this end, I have two cookbooks worth consideration: Ancient Grains for Modern Meals and Cook This Now.

Here is the first. I’ll be back later this week with a look at the second.

Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

by Maria Speck
photos by Sara Remington

Facts: Ten Speed Press, 240 pages, $29.99 (or Amazon at $19.70)
Photos: 44
Recipes: 96
Give To: curious cooks who want to explore whole grain cooking

Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck was named in The Washington Post’s 2011 top ten list of cookbooks and on the New York Times 2011 notable cook books for holiday giving.

The first words of Speck’s introduction are “Whole grains have cast a spell on me…” and if she can’t cast the same spell on you, then she’ll sell the benefits and lure you with old world recipes she drew from her Greek and German heritage.

She defines each grain from barley, buckwheat and kamut to quinoa, millet and everything in between. The recipes are enticing: Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing, Mediterranean Mussels with Farro and White Wine, Lamb Stew with Wheat Berries in Red Wine Sauce and Wheat Berry Fools with Grand Marnier Figs!

With everyone from Mayo Clinic to the Harvard School of Public Health touting the benefits of whole grains, let’s jump on the good carbs bus. Speck makes it easy with recipes that focus first on taste, grain-goodness second.

Saffron Waffles with Orange Cream

Becoming a reasonably mature adult has not diminished the intense pleasure I get from making crisp waffles on a lazy morning. After my Iranian friend Golnaz brought me what I soon declared to be the best saffron ever, I started adding a pinch of the strands to everything, including this waffle batter. Don’t pass up the scrumptious cream topping which will kiss awake any prince out of The Thousand and One Nights. Still, it is barely sweet—so everyone can add a drizzle of maple syrup. Double the amount of topping if  you have very hungry royalty descending upon you.

These waffles have a gentle toothiness, which you can lighten if you like; for a smoother texture, use 1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) white whole wheat and 1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat pastry flour. You will need to adjust the preheating and cooking times as well as the amount of batter needed according to manufacturer’s instructions for your waffle iron.

Makes about 4 (7-inch) Belgian-style waffles,  to serve 6

For the orange cream topping
1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 large orange
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
1 to 2 tablespoons honey

For the waffles
2 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
2 cups white whole wheat flour (8 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Maple syrup, for drizzling

Make the orange cream topping
1. Beat the yogurt in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon until smooth. Finely grate the orange until you have 1 tablespoon zest. Set the zest aside.

2. Peel the fruit, cut the segments into 1/2-inch pieces, removing as much of the pith as you like, and gently stir into the yogurt. In a second medium bowl, using a hand mixer, whip the cream, honey, and zest until firm peaks form. Using a spatula, scrape the cream into the bowl with the yogurt-orange mixture, and fold until just combined. Chill, covered, until ready to use.

Make the waffles
1. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet and transfer the sheet to the center shelf of the oven. The wire rack will keep the waffles from getting soggy. Preheat the oven to 200°F.

2. Place 1/4 cup of the milk and the saffron in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until steaming. (Or combine the milk and saffron in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until steaming, 15 to 20 seconds). Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining 1 1/4 cups milk, saffron milk, and oil until blended. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and whisk together with a few swift strokes. Do not overmix; the batter should have a pebbled look, with many lumps. Allow the batter to sit for 5 minutes while preheating the waffle iron (or chill the batter for up to 1 hour).

4. Lightly grease the waffle iron with oil or coat it with cooking spray. When a drop of water sizzles and briskly evaporates on the surface, add 1 scant cup batter to the center and level with a spatula to distribute (or as specified in the manufacturer’s instructions). Close the lid and cook until the waffles are golden and can be removed easily using tongs, 3 1/2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the waffles to the baking sheet until ready to serve. Do not stack them, as the waffles will become soggy. Continue until all the batter is used, lightly greasing the waffle iron in between as necessary.

To get a head start: The orange cream topping can be prepared 1 day ahead. Chill, covered.

To light it up: You can use lowfat or nonfat Greek yogurt in the topping. Or omit the heavy cream, double the amount of yogurt, and add a bit more honey to taste. In the batter, 1 percent or 2 percent milk will work fine.


4 replies
  1. Victoria Corrigan
    Victoria Corrigan says:

    In 2011, I fell madly in love with farro, to my utter astonishment. The girl who previously thought plain ole brown rice tasted like, well, ‘dirt’, had had a whole-grain epiphany. Many thanks, Linda, for sharing this marvelous book; it will be a terrific guide to a deeper dive into the delicious and healthful world of grains.

  2. Debbie Elder
    Debbie Elder says:

    After reading this, I must buy this cookbook! Love the sound of the saffron flavored waffle recipe too. I switched over to a grain/bean/veggie based diet last summer and have had a lot of fun creating and trying new dishes using ancient grains.

    A great suggestion to start off the new year! Thanks so much.

  3. Linda Avery
    Linda Avery says:

    The book really does open a door to many textures, flavors and options for making a dish more pleasing. Please let us know of your successes with whole grains in the new year. Have a happy & healthy one.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Washington Post and The New York Times applauded Maria Speck’s 2011 “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” and now she’s back with “Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain […]

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