Ancient grains for a healthy New Year

Maria Speck, author of Simply Ancient Grains writes: “we have seen an explosion of previously obscure grains becoming mainstream

Barley thumbprints with honey and hazelnuts (photo credit: ERIN KUNKEL)
Barley thumbprints with honey and hazelnuts
(photo credit: ERIN KUNKEL)
For Rosh Hashana we used to prepare white rice with raisins and almonds but this year we plan to make something different: kamut with oranges and leeks, a recipe from Maria Speck, the author of Simply Ancient Grains. The kamut is flavored with golden raisins and walnuts. It combines the satisfying quality of whole grains with the sweetness of fresh and dried fruit and the richness of nuts. Having leeks in the dish is a bonus, because leeks are a traditional Rosh Hashana vegetable in many homes. (See recipe.)
Speck writes: “we have seen an explosion of previously obscure grains becoming mainstream... An interest in healthier eating and home cooking has propelled whole grains front and center. Consumers are seeking out good carbohydrates to reduce the amount of “empty starches,” such as those from refined grains and pasta, in their diets.” Many are looking for gluten-free grains, and this has led to the greater popularity of polenta, buckwheat, millet, quinoa and different colors of rice.
It’s exciting to think of all the new tastes to discover by trying different grains and combining them with a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Such dishes are glamorous enough to be served for the Jewish New Year dinners.
Speck, whose background is Greek and German, tops orange-zest-flavored farro (an ancient form of wheat) with honey-roasted kumquats and tomatoes. Tart cherries, carrots and sweet potatoes enhance her vegetarian wild-rice paella, which is flavored with smoked paprika, saffron, Madeira and tomatoes. Pistachios and dates embellish her quinoa salad with roasted beets, blood oranges and pomegranate seeds. Her barley and wild-rice dressing is studded with apples, raisins, dried cranberries and walnuts, and flavored with fennel, onion, celery and Marsala wine.
To make incorporating grains into menus easier, Speck uses her “two-step philosophy.” When preparing steel-cut oats for breakfast, for example, she boils them for two minutes the night before, and then their cooking time in the morning is only five minutes. She uses similar methods with certain other grains, such as polenta, amaranth and black rice.
Some grains, such as whole wheat, spelt, rye and kamut, benefit from soaking overnight. “This not only helps them cook up faster and more evenly,” she writes, “but also seems to make them easier to digest.”
Speck says that the easiest way to incorporate more ancient grains into our busy lives is to cook a large amount of grains ahead on the weekend. “Grains reheat very well,” she wrote, and almost all cooked grains freeze well for at least three months.
Speck’s almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote would make a colorful addition to the holiday dessert table. It’s delicately flavored with honey and topped with crisp toasted almonds. (See recipe.) Another good choice is barley thumbprints with honey and hazelnuts, which are flavored with cinnamon and grapefruit zest and enriched with olive oil – a wholesome choice for starting the New Year. (See recipe.)
Kamut salad with oranges and leeks
In this colorful salad, “Kamut, an ancient wheat variety, provides superb chew,” writes Maria Speck, adding that each bite is interspersed with juicy oranges and crunchy walnuts. You can vary it with spelt, wheat berries or gluten-free sorghum. Speck adds blue cheese to the salad. Omit it to make the salad Parve.
Serves 4 to 6
■ 1½ cups water
■ ¾ cup kamut berries, soaked overnight and drained, or about 2 cups cooked
■ 1 bay leaf (optional)
■ 1 small dried red chili (optional)
■ ¼ cup golden raisins
■ 1 large orange, preferably organic
■ 2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed well, and cut into 2-cm. (¾-inch) segments (about 4 cups)
■ ½ cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
■ ½ cup dry white wine
■ 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
■ 1 tsp honey
■ ½ tsp fine sea salt
■ ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
■ 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
■ ¹⁄3 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
■ ¹⁄3 to ½ cup mild crumbled blue cheese such as Stilton (optional)
■ 3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh flatleaf parsley, for garnish
Combine water, kamut, bay leaf, and chili in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Decrease heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until tender but slightly chewy, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to steam for 10 to 15 minutes.
Drain, if needed. Transfer to a large serving bowl, remove spices, and spread to cool.
Add raisins to a small bowl and cover with hot water. Cut off a 5- by 2.5- cm (2- by 1-inch) strip of zest from orange, removing any white pith, and set aside. Finely grate remaining skin until you have 1 tsp zest. Peel the fruit, removing any pith, and cut into 1.25-cm. (½-inch) pieces to make about ¾ cup.
Add leeks, broth, wine, and the zest strip to a large skillet and bring to a boil. Decrease heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until leeks are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain, remove zest strip, and add leeks to bowl of kamut. Drain raisins and add them to bowl along with orange pieces.
In a small bowl, beat lemon juice, grated zest, honey, salt, and pepper with a fork until smooth. Slowly beat in olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified.
To finish, pour dressing over salad, gently toss, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, gently toss again, and sprinkle with walnuts and blue cheese. Garnish with parsley and serve.
Almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote
Speck serves this honey-flavored, gluten-free dessert with softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. To make this dessert parve, use nondairy milk and parve margarine.
Serves 8
Ingredients for Polenta:
■ 2 cups water
■ 1½ cups whole or low-fat milk
■ ¼ cup honey
■ ½ tsp fine sea salt
■ 1 cup (150 g) polenta, preferably medium grind
Ingredients for compote, and finishing:
■ 900 grams (2 pounds) fresh plums, pits removed, cut into 1.25 to 1.9 cm (½- to ¾ inch) pieces (if plums are small, cut into 8 wedges)
■ ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
■ 4 Tbsp. honey, or more as needed
■ ¼ cup dry sherry or apple juice
■ 1 Tbsp. brandy (optional)
■ 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
■ 4 Tbsp. (¼ cup) unsalted butter, preferably European-style
■ 1 cup sliced almonds
Preparation: To make polenta, combine water, milk, honey and salt in a large heavy saucepan and bring to a bare simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
Using a large whisk, slowly add polenta in a thin stream and continue whisking for 1 minute more, decreasing heat if mixture bubbles up. Decrease heat further to maintain a gentle bubble, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon every few minutes to keep polenta from sticking to bottom.
Remove saucepan from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring well once or twice.
Meanwhile, butter a 25-cm. (10- inch) ceramic tart pan and place it on a wire rack. Have a tall glass of cold water ready. Transfer polenta to pan, spreading it evenly across bottom with back of a wooden spoon, dipping the spoon into the water as needed to help distribute the mixture.
Cool at room temperature until firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Using the round end of the spoon, poke about a dozen holes into polenta – hold the spoon at a 45-degree angle and insert it while turning to keep polenta from sticking to the spoon. This prevents polenta from heaving in the oven later.
About 1 hour before serving, position a rack in center of the oven and preheat to 205°C (400°F).
Meanwhile, prepare compote: Add plums to a large bowl and sprinkle with cinnamon. Add 2 Tbsp. of the honey, the sherry, brandy, and 1 Tbsp. thyme leaves. Gently toss to combine; taste and add a bit more honey if you like. Cover bowl and chill to macerate, stirring once or twice.
Add butter and remaining 2 Tbsp. honey to a medium skillet. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until well blended. Add almonds and stir until they are warmed through and mixture becomes foamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately spread almond mixture over polenta, using back of the spoon.
Bake until small bubbles appear around edges and almond topping turns glistening golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and allow to set before cutting, at least 20 minutes.
To finish, cut tart into 8 wedges, using a sharp knife. Place each wedge on a dessert plate and spoon some of chilled compote with a bit of its juices on top. Garnish each serving with a few thyme leaves.
Barley thumbprints with honey and hazelnuts
Use fruity olive oil in these Mediterranean style cookies, recommends Speck. To make them parve, use nondairy milk.
Makes about 32 5-cm (2-inch) cookies
■ 1¾ cups (200 gr.) whole toasted hazelnuts
■ 1¾ cups (200 gr.) whole-grain barley flour
■ ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
■ ½ tsp. baking soda
■ ½ tsp. fine sea salt
■ ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
■ ½ cup honey
■ 4 tsp. finely grated grapefruit zest (from about 1 fruit, preferably organic) or lemon zest
■ 1 to 2 Tbsp. milk, as needed
■ About ¹⁄3 cup (100 gr.) apricot jam, preferably reduced in sugar, for the filling (strained if chunky), or 32 whole toasted hazelnuts to garnish
Add the hazelnuts to bowl of a food processor, fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until nuts are finely chopped with most pieces the consistency of pinhead oatmeal and a few slightly larger ones, about 10 1-second pulses. Or chop the hazelnuts by hand.
Add the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt to a large bowl and thoroughly whisk together. Add chopped nuts and whisk well again, then make a well in the center.
Add olive oil, honey, and zest to a medium bowl with tall sides and whisk until mixture is thoroughly blended and turns opaque, about 1 minute. Pour oil mixture into center of flour mixture. Working from center, combine the wet and dry ingredients with a dough whisk or a wooden spoon.
Bake until cookies firm up and are deep golden brown all around but still yield slightly when gently pressed with a finger, rotating sheets once halfway from front to back and top to bottom, 23 to 25 minutes total. Carefully slide cookies with the parchment paper onto a wire rack to cool completely. They will firm up as they cool.
Recipes reprinted with permission from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck, copyright © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.