Ancient grains make for hearty, healthy, interesting fare and this cookbook is loaded with a spectrum of colourful ideas for creating wholesome, appealing meals using them to their full advantage.
I fell in love with the ancient grain farro in Tuscany a few years ago and welcome ways of incorporating it into meals, from soups to salads to pilafs. Maria Speck's Ancient Grains Modern Meals showcases farro with honey roasted grapes, or in a stew of fire-roasted tomatoes and eggplant. I am also drawn to a riff on summer tabouli made with farro instead of bulghur wheat, more toothsome and rustic, a satisfying vegetarian meal replete with whole grains, vegetables and even some tangy feta if you so choose.
After I finished drooling over the farro recipes, I browsed some more and fell hard for the quinoa and barley offerings in Speck's beautiful book. I come to quinoa a bit late in the game, only just getting into it, enjoying pairing it with hot peppers, sweet fruit and fresh vegetables, frequently all at the same time. What think you of cumin-scented quinoa with red beets? Or lemon quinoa with currants, dill and zucchini? These are combinations that will thrill and delight you all winter long, offering comfort and health, which essentially equals well-being.
Barley makes a memorable appearance with figs and a grown-up tarragon-lemon dressing. It is also featured in a stew with lentils, mushrooms and dill, classic, timeless, but with the added surprise of fresh apples thrown into the mix. This is a book of innovation and inspiration, new ways of using ancient grains to nourish you and entertain simultaneously.
I am happy to report that meat does make an appearance as well, lamb burgers with bulgur and mint, exploiting the time-honoured flavours of Turkey with cumin and Aleppo pepper, plus the kick of garlic-spiked yogurt. For the perfect pantry-based concoction, when hunger strikes and your imagination wanes, try spicy spaghetti with carmelized onions, anchovies and tuna, all ingredients commonly kept as staples in our kitchens. No fancy wizardry here, just well thought out solutions to dinner dilemnas, presented with flair and love.
Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals
Barley: 2 cups water; 3/4 cup pearl barley; 1 2"x1" strip lemon zest; 3 peppercorns; pinch of fine sea salt.
Salad: 1 lemon; 1/4 cup chopped dried figs; 2 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4" pieces, about 1 cup; 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions, white and light green parts (about 4); 1/2 cup chopped tangy apple (Granny Smith is a good choice); 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil; 3 tsp. honey; 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt; 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper; 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon (use any herb you like if tarragon is not available; I think dill or thyme would be lovely here); 2 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley.
To prepare barley, bring water, barley, zest, peppercorns and salt to a boil in a medium sized saucepan. Decrease heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook until barley is tender but still slightly chewy, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 - 10 minutes. Drain remaining liquid and transfer barley to large serving bowl to cool. Remove zest and peppercorns.
To prepare the salad, finely grate zest of the lemon until you have 2 tsp. Cut lemon in half and squeeze to get 2 tbsp. juice. Place dried figs in a small bowl and stir in 1 tbsp. of lemon juice. Set aside. Add the celery, green onions and apple to the serving bowl with the barley.
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, remaining 1 tbsp. lemon juice, zest and honey. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning to suit you. Stir in half of the tarragaon and half of the parsely.
To finish, add the plumped figs with any juices to the barley mixture and drizzle on the dressing. Mix to combine. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Toss again, sprinkle with remaining herbs, and serve.
It is rare to find a book that sings out to me with page after page of beautiful, inspired creations that I must rush off and produce. Often, a cookbook will offer merely a recipe or two that appeals to me, but not so here. I find myself wrapped up in each and every dish, imagining it on my table, wishing it into existence. This is a book to embrace on a daily basis.
Other cookbooks I cannot live without? Here are some of my favourites:
Moosewood taught me to love cooking, back in the hippy days of my past, where I was seduced by the intoxicating flavours of the world so thoughtfully presented here. I still follow Katzen's directions for guacamole, hummus and babaganouj:
Everyone has recipes, but these are the BEST recipes, where the editors have made all the mistakes in their test kitchens to save you making those mistakes in yours. You could spend the rest of your life cooking from the international recipes and never be at a loss for a great meal:
Italian food is a staple in my diet, food I must have, often. Lidia Bastianich has it figured out, just the way I like it, authentic, real, simple, wonderful. I could cook from this book every day of my life and never grow tired of these timeless dishes:
What's for dessert? There has to be something, right? Life is short and it should also be sweet. So, make sure your sweet eating is great. Everything in this book is excellent, worthy of your time and worth the calories!