Simply Ancient Grains

by Maria Speck
Photographs © 2015 by Erin Kunkel

Facts:  10 Speed Press, 272 pages $27.50 (or Amazon Hardcover $19.25, Kindle $11.99)
Photos: About 54
Recipes: 107

The 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 Recipes for Living Well.” Consider it a continuation of her first book, especially if that book left you wanting more: more recipe ideas, more cooking techniques, more ways to easily incorporate whole grains into your diet.

She’s created recipes like Baked Feta Fingers in Saffron Quinoa with Tomatoes for a sumptuous breakfast to Amaranth Pudding with Amaretto Cream for a festive dessert. She wants everyone to love grains as she does and recognizes the time required to properly cook grains. Knowing a lack of time may be discouraging busy cooks from getting a meal on the table led Speck to introduce the Two-Step Method (an expansion of the short-cut for cooking steel-cut oats introduced in her first book). After her diligent testing of a plethora of grains, Speck hands you the secrets of what can be successfully done ahead, whether that’s soaking certain grains overnight, preparing a batter the day before, or using quick-cook grains when appropriate.

The tools Speck delivers:
• A highly informative roster of grains from amaranth to wild rice including origin, texture, flavor, and whether it’s gluten or gluten free.
• Pick Your Grains table of contents with a listing of the recipes which contain the specific grains.
• “Fine Points,” following most recipes where she suggests variations, make ahead instructions, how to stretch leftovers, and the occasional substitute (if you can’t find purslane, replace with arugula).

This book isn’t just a cookbook, it’s a thoroughly researched resource book (not surprising given Speck’s journalism background.) Did you know (from the “Fine Points” following her Olive Oil Biscuits with Cracked Pepper and Honey Glaze recipe) “Placing olive oil in the freezer slightly thickens it and makes for a better rise. But don’t let it freeze completely, because unlike butter, it can’t be grated but will just melt into your hands.”

I found this kamut recipe wonderfully bright and versatile. If you can’t find asparagus, just substitute blanched sugar snaps, cut on the bias, or snow peas or even petite green beans.


Spring Salad with Asparagus Coins, Kamut and Lemon Vinaigrette

Photography © by Erin Kunkel

This lemony salad wakes you up after a long cold winter. Lots of crisp fresh asparagus and radishes are tossed with a brazen dressing that packs a tangy punch but also miraculously mellow and marries the ingredients.

Serves 4 to 6

For the Kamut
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup Kamut berries, soaked overnight and drained, or 2 1/2 cups cooked

For the Salad
1 or 2 lemons, preferably organic
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced shallots (about 1 medium)
1 small bunch asparagus, rinsed and trimmed (scant 1 pound)
1 cup thinly sliced radishes (about 8), plus a few small ones for garnish, preferably with a bit of their green stems attached
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup thinly shaved Parmesan, using a box grater, for serving

1. Add the water and the Kamut to a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until tender with a slight chewiness, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and transfer the Kamut to a large serving bowl to cool.

2. Finely grate the lemon until you have 2 teaspoons zest, then squeeze it until you have 1/4 cup juice. Add the lemon juice, zest, mustard, salt and pepper to a medium bowl and combine with a fork. Stir in the shallots and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, cut off the asparagus tips, slice the tips in half lengthwise, and set aside for garnish. Equip your food processor with the slicing disc. Cut the stalks in half and process until you have 2 1/2 cups asparagus coins (reserve the rest for another use). Transfer to the bowl with Kamut. Add the radishes. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the dill for garnish and add the remaining dill to the bowl.

4. To finish, using a small whisk, slowly add the olive oil to the dressing, whisking until it is emulsified. Drizzle 1/2 cup of the dressing over the salad and toss to combine well. Season with salt, pepper, and perhaps a bit more lemon juice to taste. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes for the flavors to mingle.

5. Toss again, top with the Parmesan, and garnish with the asparagus tips and the remaining radishes. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons dill and serve.

Fine Points: Make this salad only if you can find really fresh asparagus stalks−otherwise it just won’t taste good. The stems should be firm, not wobbly, with equally firm tips. There will be a bit of vinaigrette left, which you need if you add other ingredients.

Variations: Add 1 cup cooked shredded chicken or 1 cup packed fresh baby spinach. Instead of Parmesan top with 1/2 cup crumbled feta.
Try using spelt, emmer, einkorn, and whole wheat berries, preferable the soft type, in place of Kamut.

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