When Samuel Kim was growing up, his mother often spiked the family’s white rice with amaranth, barley, quinoa and other whole grains to boost its nutritional value.
“My mom is one of those people who looks for the health benefit in everything,” says Kim, executive chef at Washington, D.C.’s 1789 restaurant.
Kim’s mom was ahead of her time. Whole grains have crossed the frontier from hippie fad into mainstream American ingredient, showing up not only in restaurant fare such as Kim’s freekeh and black quinoa-studded dishes, but also at salad joints and in multiple supermarket aisles (not just the natural foods sections!)
Driven by a new awareness of healthy eating, increased demand for gluten-free products and a desire to spark up their kitchen routine, more Americans are reaching for exotic grains with mystifying names such as teff and triticale. Sales of grains in natural food stores rose more than 40 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to market research firm Mintel. Quinoa remains the leader, with nearly 80 percent of sales, but farro and freekeh showed the greatest growth.
And it isn’t just in natural foods stores. Unusual grains are being sold throughout mainstream grocers, from the sushi by the deli counter to yogurts studded with blends of grains and seeds.
While whole grains have gained caché, the perception that they are difficult to prepare or require a lot of time stops some cooks from using them. But many grains, such as millet, amaranth and buckwheat, cook as fast as — or faster than — white rice. Slow-cooking grains such as wheat berries or rye berries can be soaked overnight like beans then briefly boiled, says cookbook author Maria Speck, who outlines techniques in her new book “Simply Ancient Grains.” Once cooked, they can be stored in the refrigerator for days, Speck says, or even frozen.
“If you have a pot of these grains in the fridge or freezer, you’ll be suddenly so surprised at your own creativity,” Speck says. “Throw a handful of millet or wheat berries into a soup or a salad. Here you have a meal, and suddenly it’s nourishing and you haven’t done any cooking because you have your grains at the ready.”
Here’s a primer on while grains, with recipe ideas by the AP’s Alison Ladman.
A traditional food of the Middle East and North Africa, freekeh is wheat that is harvested young, then dried, giving it a smoky taste and aroma.
Whole freekeh (uncommon in the U.S.) is soaked overnight, then simmered until the kernels pop.
Cracked freekeh, which is the most common variety sold in the United States, does not require soaking and can be cooked using in about 15 to 20 minutes. Let the fully cooked grains stand in the covered pot for 10 minutes before serving to absorb any remaining moisture.
Freekeh is similar to bulgur wheat and can be used interchangeably in recipes that call for it, such as Tabbouleh: Combine 2 tablespoons each of chopped fresh mint and oregano with 1 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1 cup cooked freekeh and 2 minced cloves of garlic. Season with salt and pepper, then dress liberally with lemon juice and olive oil.
To make Curried Freekeh Chickpea Burgers, combine 1 clove minced garlic, 2 chopped scallions, 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1⁄2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and a 15-ounce can (drained) of chickpeas, reserving the liquid from the chickpeas. Stir in 1 cup of cooked freekeh, with just enough of the reserved chickpea liquid to make a thick mixture that holds its shape when you squeeze it together. Shape into 6 patties and sear on both sides in a hot skillet with olive oil. Serve with your favorite burger toppings on a toasted bun.
The gluten-free ingredient that pretty much started the latest whole grain trend, actually is a seed grown in the Andes Mountains. But most people treat it as a grain.
Available in golden, red and black varieties, quinoa is slightly crunchy and highly versatile, good for everything from soups, salads and side dishes to vegetarian burgers. For perfect quinoa, combine 1 cup of quinoa with 13⁄4 cups water in a heavy-bottomed pot. Cover and gently simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the grains sit, covered, for 10 minutes.Fluff with a fork before serving.
For Quinoa Sausage Stuffing, in a skillet over medium-high, cook 8 ounces of loose sausage meat with 1 medium chopped onion, 2 stalks chopped celery, and the chopped white portions of 2 leeks. Saute until everything is tender and browned. Stir in 2 cups of cooked quinoa and 1⁄2 cup dried cranberries. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and 1⁄2 cup chicken broth and cook for 3 more minutes. Serve alongside a roast chicken or turkey dinner, or use as a stuffing for the bird.
For Greek Quinoa Salad, in a large bowl combine 2 cups of cooked quinoa, 2 tablespoons capers, 1⁄3 cup sliced Kalamata olives, 1⁄4 cup chopped cherry peppers (hot or sweet), 1⁄2 cup crumbled feta cheese, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 3 tablespoons minced fresh oregano, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, and a few good grinds of black pepper. Serve over a bed of greens and drizzle with olive oil.
You’ll find millet in your birdseed mix, but don’t let that stop you from putting it on the dinner table.
Crunchy and nutty with a corn-like sweetness, this gluten-free grain with a fluffy texture makes a perfect side dish or salad. Add 1 cup of millet to a heavy-bottomed pot, cover with 13⁄4 cups of water, then cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, says Maria Speck, author of “Simply Ancient Grains.” Remove from the heat and let the grains sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
For Cheesy Mashed Millet and Cauliflower, in a large saucepan, combine 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, 3⁄4 cup millet and a chopped medium head of cauliflower. Bring to a simmer and cover, then cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until everything is very tender. For a rough mash, use a potato masher. For a smoother texture, put everything in the food processor and pulse until smooth. Stir in 1⁄2 cup each of shredded cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. Season with salt and pepper. Top with sour cream, if desired.
For Millet-Coconut Bite Cookies, in a medium bowl combine 1 cup cooked millet with 1⁄2 cup packed shredded sweetened coconut, 1 egg white, 2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix together thoroughly (use your hands). Use an ice cream scoop to form 1-inch balls and arrange on a kitchen parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes, or until browned around the edges. Allow to cool, then drizzle with melted chocolate. Store in the refrigerator.
A cross between wheat and rye, this slightly grassy grain often appears as flour, flakes, meal and whole berries.
To cook triticale berries, combine 1 cup of the grain with 3 cups of boiling water. Cover and soak overnight. When you are ready to cook, turn on the heat and simmer the grain, covered, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the kernels just begin to pop. Triticale berries also can be cooked in a large pot of boiling, salted water, like pasta, and drained when they are done, but they still must be soaked overnight.
To make a Slow Cooker Triticale Porridge, combine 1 cup triticale, 31⁄2 cups water, 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a slow cooker. Set to high and cook 4-6 hours, or until the water has been absorbed. Add a 1⁄2 cup dried cranberries, a 1⁄2 cup half and half, a 1⁄4 cup honey and cook for another half hour. Serve topped with toasted pecans, fresh blueberries and a dollop of yogurt, if desired.
An ancient variety of wheat with a nutty flavor and creamy texture, farro makes a good substitute for rice in dishes such as risotto (call if Farrotto).
For best results when working with whole farro, cover 1 cup of farro with 2 cups of boiling water, then soak, covered, overnight. When you are ready to cook, turn on the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the kernels just begin to pop. It also can be cooked in a large pot of boiling salted water, as you would pasta, then drained, but it still must be soaked overnight.
Semi-pearled farro — the variety you are most likely to find at most mainstream grocers — does not need to be soaked and can be cooked using the same two boiling methods, but with cooking time reduced to 20 to 25 minutes. In all cases, let the fully cooked grain stand in the covered pot 10 minutes before serving to absorb any remaining moisture.
For Mushroom Farro Pilaf, in a large skillet melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms and cook until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 diced small yellow onion, 1 diced small carrot and 2 diced celery stalks, along with 1 cup pearled farro. Stir for 2 minutes, then add 2 cups chicken broth and cover. Reduce heat to simmer, then cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the farro is tender. Season with salt and pepper, then top with toasted almonds.
Teff is a seriously tiny grain, and one that has been cultivated for centuries in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is best known for its traditional use in the fermented flatbread known as Injera (the spongy bread at the heart of those countries’ cuisines).
Teff is gluten-free and works well as porridge or polenta, and can be added to vegetarian burgers, cakes and cookies. To cook, place 1 cup of teff and 3 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
TEFF AND ALMOND TEA CAKES
Start to finish: 30 minutes; Serves 18
11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup teff (uncooked)
1 cup ground almonds
2⁄3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
11⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
11⁄4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1⁄2 cup sliced almonds
Coarse sugar, such as demerara
Jam, lemon curd or butter, to serve
Heat the oven to 375 F. Coat 18 muffin cups (11⁄2 pans) or a 12-cup pan and 2 mini loaf pans with cooking spray or line with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, teff, ground almonds, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and almond extract. While whisking, pour in the melted butter.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently fold them together just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan cups or pans, then top with the sliced almonds and a sprinkle of coarse sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Serve with jam, lemon curd or butter.
This big, chewy grain has a pleasant wheat flavor and makes a versatile base for salads, stews and pilafs.
Wheat berries come in hard and soft varieties, with hard wheat berries containing more protein. Both varieties can be sprouted and added to salads, breads and other dishes.
For the shortest cooking time, cover 1 cup of hard wheat berries with 11⁄2 cups of boiling water and let the grain soak overnight. Then simmer, covered, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the kernels just begin to pop. For soft wheat berries, use 13⁄4 cups of water and reduce cooking time to 40 to 50 minutes.
WHEAT BERRY RISOTTO WITH PROSCIUTTO AND ASPARAGUS
Start to finish: 11⁄2 hours; Serves 6
1 cup wheat berries
2 cups water
3 tablespoons butter, divided
3 ounces prosciutto, torn into small pieces
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the wheat berries and water. Cover and cook until the water is absorbed, 30 to 35 minutes. The wheat berries will not be done yet.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the prosciutto and cook until crispy, about 3 minutes. Spoon out into a bowl and set aside. Add the asparagus to the pan and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until just tender and still bright green. Spoon out into another bowl and set aside.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan, along with the onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion is tender. Add the partially cooked wheat berries and stir to thoroughly coat the grains. Cook for 2 minutes, to lightly brown the grains. Add 11⁄2 cups of the broth and stir for 15 to 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add another 1 cup of broth and continue to cook — stirring occasionally — until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Repeat with 1 more cup of broth (you should have 1⁄2 cup left). Once most of the liquid has been absorbed, test to make sure the wheat berries are cooked through and tender. If not, add 1⁄2 cup water and continue to cook. Repeat as necessary.
Once the grains are tender, transfer 1⁄2 cup of the grains to a blender, adding the last 1⁄2 cup of chicken broth. Puree until very smooth. Add the pureed mixture back to the wheat berries in the skillet and stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the asparagus and serve topped with the crisped prosciutto.
Sturdy and very chewy with a rich, tangy flavor, rye berries make an excellent substitute for brown rice. They also can be sprouted and added to salads, breads and other dishes. For the shortest cooking time and best results, cover 1 cup of rye berries with 11⁄2 cups of boiling water and let the grains soak overnight. When you are ready to cook, turn on the heat and simmer, covered, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the kernels just begin to pop.
CREAMY RYE BERRY AND GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE WITH LEMON CRUMBS
Start to finish: 45 minutes; Serves: 8
12 ounces green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
7 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cloves minced garlic
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 cups cooked rye berries
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Zest of 2 lemons
Heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a large casserole dish with cooking spray.
Blanch green beans in boiling water, then plunge into ice water to cool. Pat dry.
In a large saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat, then add the garlic. Stir and cook for 3 minutes, or until the garlic is just tender. Add flour and stir to moisten completely. Whisking continuously to keep the mixture smooth, and add milk a little at a time until it is incorporated. Whisk continuously, scraping the pan, until mixture comes to a simmer for 3 to 4 minutes and thickens.
Remove pan from the heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, mascarpone cheese, paprika and dill. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir in the cooked rye berries and blanched green beans. Spoon into the prepared casserole dish.
In a large skillet over medium, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle evenly over the top of the casserole. Bake for 15 minutes, or until everything is bubbling and hot.