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We all know that choosing whole grains over processed ingredients is better for our health, yet the likes of millet, quinoa, and barley are still stuck on the culinary sidelines. Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough bring these unheralded culinary superstars to the center of the plate, with more than 100 recipes showing that their range of textures and flavors is greater than any other food group, they're incredibly versatile, they're economical, and they can anchor a meal.
Readers will be surprised at how easily and creatively whole grains can be used as the base for breakfast, dessert, and elegant entrees: Baked Barley Grits with Apples and Sausage will far outdo the standard cornmeal; and Millet Burgers with Olives, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Pecorino won't leave anyone missing the meat. Tips on quick-cooking grains or precooking ahead of time make cooking with these hearty staples practical for weeknights, and many are appropriate (or can be modified) for vegetarian and vegan diets.
Grain Mains is a modern manifesto for whole grains, with inventive and tantalizing recipes.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Chances are, if we're going to eat a whole grain at all, we do so in the morning: cereal out of a box, oatmeal from a package, or a bran muffin of some whole-ish pedigree. Why are whole grains so associated with our first meal of the day? Partly because they're an easily prepared food.
Say, what? you might be thinking. I soak a batch of wheat berries overnight and cook them for 55 minutes and you have the nerve to call that an "easily prepared food"?
Not now. Not with a zillion-hour work week and college prep for kids starting in the crib. (Is he learning Mandarin yet? Is he? Is he?)
Instead, we have to go back in human history. Whole grains were crucial crops, not only for satisfying hungry clans, but also for getting those same clans to live near one another in the first place. Cultivated grains shaped our settlement patterns: the Fertile Crescent, the Nile delta, and the interior mountain coast of modern-day Mexico, as well as the Indus and Yangtze River ecosystems. We can locate our relationship with grains in our bones.
Quite literally. Bone density and trace element scans from human remains at archeological sites worldwide confirm the increasing importance of grains to human settlement. People tented together; they started eating grains--which left chemical markers in their bones.
Their teeth, too, showed the effects of the change in diet. The dental wear patterns for the maize-growing human communities of Central America were gentler and less pitted than those for clans still practicing a nomadic lifestyle and eating tough shoots, roots, and jerkylike dried meat. The grain-eaters exhibited the angular, sloped wear of modern teeth, rather than the flat, even, sawed-off look of hunter-gatherers.
In short, grains were the earliest convenience foods, not the complicated preparations of joints and braises over the fire, not something you had to go out and hunt, kill, bleed, gut, butcher, hang, and dry, but just a big pot of water (or broth or milk) put to a boil with handfuls of the dried seeds from the harvest.
Indeed, grains may have put an end to our wandering around. Although causal connections are cloudy in prehistory, grains might not have been an outgrowth of human settlement but the very reason for it. Our ancestors not only wanted to live near the storehouses to keep from starving; they also couldn't very well transport those stores on horseback across the steppes or plains.
What's more, despite the goat culture that developed in the Middle East in the Bronze Age and the pig culture that developed in Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, there was a dearth of animal protein available to a growing, global population. In the Americas, amaranth and corn filled out the bill of fare; in Africa, sorghum and rice; in the Middle East, barley and wheat; and in Asia, buckwheat and millet--and much later rice.
These days, our brains may have thought up smart phones and Twitter, but our bodies are still in the tents. We developed biologically, socially, and gustatorially to require what grains provide. We thus connect them to what may be our most elemental meal: milk and carbs in the morning. And more elaborate fare as well--as you'll see in the recipes ahead.
THE WEEKDAY CEREALS
Our tour of grain mains starts simply, almost modestly--with granola and muesli, longstanding favorites in our home. The former is perfect for warm mornings. In our part of New England, that's from July 10 to 15. The latter is for cooler mornings when the pops in the radiators wake us before the alarm clock does.
Either dish is a make-ahead. Make-weeks-ahead, in fact. In keeping with the origins of whole grain storage and human settlements, they're breakfasts from the storehouse of your pantry! But do invest in a couple of sturdy, airtight, sealable containers. You don't want to stumble down to breakfast only to find that ambient humidity has ruined your hard work by turning the grains soggy--or worse, rancid.
After those recipes, we turn to the first of many Middle Eastern dishes in this book: Syrian Sliha. It's a mixture of nuts, wheat berries, and fruit that has become something of a make-ahead staple in our home when guests are on the way up from New York for a weekend in the country. It'll keep about a week in the fridge, if well covered. We bet you'll find it both new and comforting, an odd combo for a simple breakfast but one of the reasons you might turn to it again and again. It's also terrific for Christmas morning with green pistachios and red pomegranate seeds.
We finish off this first section with several hot, whole-grain cereals--the last three are either made in a slow cooker or with a slow-cooker variation. That way, they can be thrown together the night before, no more than a quick stir before heading off to bed. And once the slow cooker clicks to "warm," they can be kept covered in the appliance on the counter for a couple of hours, a good way to accommodate the varying schedules of a household. We find that the long, slow, even heat of the slow cooker mellows almost any whole grain into a lovely porridge, deeply satisfying in that way that only whole grains can be.
Among these recipes, you'll find congee, the Chinese classic, a staple of workers on their way to their jobs at restaurants across this country's many Chinatowns. Unlike the other fare in this section, it's a savory breakfast--and so unusual by whole grain breakfast standards (or certainly by North American standards). Although congee is usually made with white rice, ours is (of course) made with brown. It's made stovetop, but we also give you the directions for making it overnight in the slow cooker.
Try any one of these cereals and you'll soon see why whole grains were pantry staples for millennia. They're so satisfying, you might even find yourself out of bed before the radiator pops--or the air conditioner kicks in for the day. You might also be surprised when lunchtime rolls around without a hunger pang in sight. We can't think of better morning news than that!
MAKE-AHEAD MULTI GRAIN MUESLI
Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use quick-cooking or steel-cut)
1 cup wheat flakes
1 cup barley flakes
1/2 cup soybean flakes
1/2 cup chopped raisins
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
16 dried apricots, chopped
Mix everything in a big bowl. Dump it all into a big zip-closed plastic bag or an airtight container. Store it in the pantry for up to 2 months.
There are several ways you can prepare this muesli for breakfast:
• The I-remember-my-Swiss-grandmother way: For a single serving, stir 1/2 cup muesli and 3/4 cup plain yogurt (whole-milk, low-fat, or nonfat) in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
• The I'm-freezing-this-morning way: For a single serving, stir 1/2 cup muesli into 1 cup whole, 2%, 1%, or fat-free milk in a small saucepan; bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Cover, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer very slowly for a few minutes, until the milk has mostly been absorbed into the cereal.
• The I-overslept way: Pour it into a bowl and add milk or yogurt, like any other cereal.
Make ahead: Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.
Make It Vegan: Instead of using milk or yogurt when preparing the muesli, use soy- or nut-based milk.
MAKE IT EASIER:
• Omit the soybean flakes and use 1 1/2 cups barley flakes.
CHEF IT UP!
• Substitute chopped dried blueberries, dried raspberries, or even dried strawberries for the raisins.
• This muesli is not sweetened with anything except the dried fruit. If you want it sweeter, stir in up to 1 tablespoon maple syrup per serving when you set it to soak overnight, after the hot cereal has gone into bowls, or after you've added the milk to the cold version.
• It's also chewier that many versions of muesli, most hot cereals, or just plain oatmeal, thanks to the whole-grain flakes in the mix. They won't turn to mush, even if soaked overnight in yogurt.
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 50 minutes
2/3 cup almond oil
2/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use quick-cooking or steel-cut oats)
1 cup Kamut flakes
1 cup wheat flakes 1 cup barley flakes
1 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup instant nonfat dry milk
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1. Position the racks at the top and bottom third of the oven (or do the best you can dividing your oven into thirds) and preheat to 350°F.
2. Stir the oil, honey, and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the honey dissolves. Continue heating, stirring a few times, just until a few whiffs of steam come off the top. Set aside off the heat.
3. Mix the rolled oats, Kamut flakes, wheat flakes, barley flakes, almonds, dry milk, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, and salt in a big bowl. Pour in the oil mixture. Stir until everything's moist. Spread the mixture into even layers on 2 large rimmed baking sheets.
4. Bake until crunchy and irresistible, about 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking. Cool on the sheets set on a rack for at least 1 hour, maybe 2. Don't mess with it as it cools. It'll harden to a great crunch. Then break the granola into bits, chips, and flakes for storage.
Make ahead: Store in a sealed, airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.
MAKE IT EASIER!
• Cut down on the number of different flakes. Use the rolled oats as they are, but use 1 1/2 cups wheat flakes or kamut flakes and 1 1/2 cups barley flakes.
• Most nut and seed oils are available in toasted and so-called "untoasted" varieties. If toasted (that is, the nuts were toasted before the oil was extracted), the can or bottle will be so labeled. In this book, we call for untoasted nut and seed oils unless otherwise stated. For the best flavor, do not use a refined oil but rather one marked "unrefined" or (even better) expeller-pressed or cold-pressed. Because nut oils do not move quickly off supermarket shelves, always smell the oil before you use it. Once opened, reseal the can or cap the bottle and store the oil in the fridge.
• Whole-grain flakes give this granola an irresistible crunch. You can find them at gourmet supermarkets, in health food stores, or from suppliers online. Do not substitute grain flake cereals.
• Feel free to swap out the nut-and-nut-oil combo to create your own version: walnuts and walnut oil, pecans and pecan oil, hazelnuts and hazelnut oil.
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, plus soaking the wheat berries for at least 8 hours
1 cup wheat berries, preferably soft white wheat berries
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup chopped walnuts (in about 1/2-inch bits to match the pistachios)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Soak the wheat berries in a big bowl of cool water for at least 8 hours and up to 16 hours.
2. Drain the wheat berries in a fine-mesh sieve or a small-holed colander set in the sink. Dump the grains into a medium saucepan with the fennel seeds and fill the saucepan two-thirds of the way with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the grains are tender, about 50 minutes. Drain again in that sieve or colander; if you're using a standard colander with larger holes, line it with cheesecloth or paper towels so you don't lose the fennel seeds.
3. As the wheat berries cook, scatter the pistachios, pine nuts, and walnuts in a large dry skillet and set it over medium-low heat. Toast, stirring once in a while, until the nuts are lightly browned, maybe 5 or 6 minutes. Spread them out on a large cutting board and cool for a few minutes; then chop them into small pieces, about the size of the wheat berries themselves.
4. Scrape the wheat berries and fennel seeds into a big bowl. Mix in everything else: the chopped nuts, sugar, pomegranate seeds, coconut, cinnamon, and salt. Cool to room temperature before serving, or store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for breakfasts (or snacks) in the week to come.
Make ahead: Store, covered, in the fridge for up to 1 week.
CHEF IT UP!
• Add 1/2 teaspoon rose water with the cinnamon and salt.
• Substitute 1 cup Kamut for the wheat berries.
• Syrian Jews in Damascus make this pomegranate, grain, and nut mixture to celebrate a baby's first teething--probably to remind the grown-ups of why they have teeth in the first place! Still and all, it makes a perfect breakfast. Spoon it into bowls on its own--or serve it with a little garnish of plain yogurt. It can be eaten at room temperature or cold from the fridge.
• Because the wheat berries are cooked with the fennel seeds, there's no real way to save time by using precooked grains. That said, you can cook the wheat berries with the fennel seeds up to 2 days in advance and store them in a zip-closed plastic bag in the fridge.
Table of Contents
Good News-and then More 1
One Quibble 4
The Gluten Question 6
The Lay of the Land (or of the Book, as the Case may be) 7
Water, Water Everywhere: Cooking Whole Grains 9
A Bird's-Eye view of our Whole Grains 13
1 Early 34
The Weekday Cereals 35
The Weekenders 46
2 Cold 62
Wheat Berry Salads 64
Rice and Wild Rice Salads 83
More Whole-Grain Salads 95
Not Salads at all 114
3 Warm 121
Soups and Stews 136
Casserole Comfort 154
Classics, Whole-Grained 176
Unexpected Elegance 198