Grains: Amaranth

Amaranth, a new name to learn! I have to look carefully at the spelling to get it right. Why did I choose to do this grain this week? Well, I was walking the aisles of the Longmont Whole Foods and happened across the Bob’s Red Mill section of grains. Hmm, I needed a new grain for my next post. Amaranth was my choice because of its unusual name.

Amaranth is one of the Ancient Grains. These are grains and pseudocereals that are considered to have been little changed by selective breeding over thousands of years. I think it is fun to try these grains just because they have a long history, and haven’t been selectively bread for ease of growth, processing, and flavor.

Amaranth in general refers to a species of plants, the amaranthus. Amaranth is not a wheat, making it a choice for those who cannot tolerate gluten. Many species of amaranth are cultivated, some for the grain called a pseudocereal, some for the leaves to be used as vegetables, and some for ornamental reasons. A lot of amaranth species are not cultivated – they are pesky weeds, called pigweed. And yes, pigweed is common in Colorado.

A pseudocereal is the seed of any non-grass grain (amaranth is a leafy plant). The nutrient profile of pseudocerals is similar to that of grass-grain cereals. Just like our familiar wheat products like wheat berries and bulgur, pseudocereals can be cooked in water to make porridge or added to soups, main dishes, sides, and salads, and the dry seeds can be ground into flour.

The Oldways Grain Council has a wonderful article on the history and use of amaranth. I learn that amaranth is the traditional grain of Mexico. It probably originated in Peru, and became a major food crop of the Aztecs, domesticated about 8,000 years ago. It was used both for food and for religious ceremonies. When the Christian Spaniards came, they outlawed amaranth because it was used in “pagan ceremonies”. But amaranth is a hardy species, and it survived. Not only did amaranth survive in the New World, it also spread around the world and became an important food source in areas of Africa, India, Nepal, China, Russia, Thailand, and Nigeria. It came to the US markets in the 1970s.

The Bob’s Red Mill package agrees with the Oldways Grain Council article, but the description is brief and not as colorful. It states that amaranth is the “supergrain of the Aztecs”, and highly valued as a source of protein, magnesium, iron, and fiber. They have a recipe for Alegria, a sweet treat made from popped amaranth to celebrate the Day of the Dead. (It also has a recipe for amaranth fritters.)

In the online article Comeback of an Aztec Food on the Fine Dining Lovers, the authors state “It [amaranth] grows fast – more quickly than corn – in high temperatures and is able to withstand drought, with a very high yield: one plant can produce 200,000 seeds”. This same website has a great photo of amaranth growing in a field.

I open my package of amaranth. Oh, it is full of small rolly-polly seeds – they want to go everywhere! Here is a photo of amaranth:

aramanthCompared to medium grain brown rice:

aramanth and brown rice

The package gives directions for popping the seeds, which then can be used directly in sweet-type recipes. Well, I wasn’t successful! I put a tablespoon in a large pan over medium high heat and stirred. They did start popping, but I tried to get every single one popped, and they turned fairly dark brown, and tasted terrible and gritty. And the rolly pollies spread all over my cooktop. The next morning, I heard a strange hissing/popping sound after my husband finished cooking his eggs. I went into the kitchen and found amaranth seeds trying to pop under the hot pan. These little seeds are really hard to clean up!

Nutrition

1/4 cup of dry amaranth has 190 calories, 7 grams fiber, 8 grams protein, some calcium and vitamin C, 20% of suggested daily iron, 15% vitamin B6, 30% magnesium, 10% folate, and 10% zinc. Wow! None of the grains I studied so far did have as much (or any) of these mineral and vitamin RDAs. (Source: Bob’s Red Mill package.)

Food Facts states “A study on amaranth reported that its seeds contain not only important nutritional properties, but also phytochemical compounds like rutin and nicotiflorin, and peptides with the ability to help lower hypertension and incidences of cancer.” Food Facts also states “One reason amaranth is emerging into the forefront among grains is because of its remarkable nutrition. It’s higher in minerals, such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, and carotenoids, than most vegetables. It has truly remarkable protein content: cup for cup, 28.1 grams of protein compared to the 26.3 grams in oats and 13.1 grams in rice.”

Cooked amaranth has a glycemic index value of 97. (Source: Glycemic Index (GI) Guidelines for a Plant-based Diet.) The author of an article on the Very Well Fit website states: “I have not been able to find a study of the glycemic index of cooked whole-grain amaranth. Ground into flour, it seems to be somewhat more glycemic than wheat flour, possibly similar to rice flour. It can also be popped like popcorn, in which case the glycemic index is near the top of the chart, at almost 100.” (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain. So the high value of 97 for amaranth is unfavorable for those people looking for low glycemic index foods.)

Cooking

The package said to cook 1 cup amaranth in 3 cups water for 20 minutes, but I found it took at least 30 minutes before it was soft and all of the water was taken up.

The photo below is cooked amaranth. The cooked grains/seeds are semi-reflective.

cooked aramanthI note from one site that you should rinse the cooked amaranth with water before serving or adding to recipes. That might make it have a more pleasing texture. But, you’d have to use a pretty fine sieve to rinse it.

Amaranth can also be toasted in a dry pan and then used in sweets. But, I was not successful (discussed above), so I suggest researching other online sites for directions. The bit that I did get toasted tasted yucky to me, so I am not going to pursue this.

Recipes

I did not really like the taste of amaranth cooked as a porridge. We all have our own tastes! To me, it was almost bitter. I stirred some sugar into my porridge and it was a lot better! But that defeats my slow-carb goals. Plus the texture was a little sticky and mushy. If I was gluten-intolerant, I would pursue recipes that use amaranth flour instead.

I have not totally given up on amaranth, since I have most of a bag of it left. I might try some of the recipes in the links below. They suggest using amaranth in puddings, as a substitute for polenta, in tabbouleh-style salads (after cooking and rinsing), or mixed with yogurt and granola (after toasting).

Grains: Wheat Berries

A wheat berry is the seed of any species of wheat. If you buy a product labeled “wheat berries” in our local U.S. stores, it is likely the berry of common wheat, unless it is otherwise specified. All wheat berries are whole grains, as they include the bran, germ, and endosperm.

About wheat

Many species of wheat make up the genus Triticum. The most widely grown is common wheat, T. aestivum. Hard winter wheats are planted in the autumn; flours made from winter wheat have a lot of gluten and are used to make bread flour for yeast bread. Spring wheats, in contrast, are “soft”, and have less gluten. They are blended with winter wheat to make all purpose flour, or used alone for cake flour. Durum is the hardest wheat, and it is usually planted in the spring in the US. Durum wheat is used in making pasta. Whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat berry, while other flours are made from only parts of the wheat berry.

So far I have discussed freekeh, farro, cracked wheat, and bulgur. I need a quick review, so here goes! Freekeh is made from green durum wheat, and farro from a species of wheat that includes spelt, einkorn, and emmer. Both can be found as full berries. Different treatments such as parboiling, roasting, and cracking or grinding lead to different commercial products: I had cracked freekeh and whole farro. Bulgur and cracked wheat are made either from durum wheat or from a mixture of several different species of wheat – on the internet, one website claims bulgur is an ancient grain. Freekeh and farro are definitely ancient grains. All of the above grains are whole wheat products.

Wheat berries are the same as wheat “groats”. The term “groats” is more common when describing oat products.

Wheat berries

Wheat berries can be cooked and used much like farro, freekeh, bulgur, and cracked wheat. But in the past, I bought them solely for making sprouts for bread.

Around the 1970s-80s, “Sprouted Wheat Bread” was popular in local stores. Me the bread making nut wanted to make my own sprouted wheat bread. I came across a recipe in a Bon Appetite magazine calling for milk, margarine, yeast, molasses, honey, ginger, gluten flour, whole wheat flour, white flour, and wheat berry sprouts. I adapted the recipe and made it my own, making changes over the years as I went from hand-kneaded bread to mixer-kneaded bread to breadmaker-kneaded bread. Here is a link to the sprouted wheat bread entry in an old blog that I wrote in 1999.

Sprouts can be made from just about any whole seed. You simply soak the seeds in water overnight, drain them, then water them daily and wait several days for them to sprout fully. Sprouts were very popular in the 1970s and 80s, especially alfalfa sprouts (Alfalfas Market in Boulder was named for them). A year or so ago, I decided I wanted to make sprouts again, so I searched local stores. Store after store – but no sprouting seeds! Even at Sprouts Market! I checked the produce sections for prepared, packaged sprouts and even those were sometimes hard to find.

After a frustrating search, I finally found both seeds and sprouting jars at the Vitamin Cottage store. (If I was wiser, I would have just searched online, since they are readily available there.) The Vitamin Cottage carries a wide variety of sprouting seeds and jars for sprouting. I bought alfalfa, mung bean, clover, sandwich mix, and wheat berry sprouting seeds.

Below is a photo of the package of wheat berry sprouting seeds. Note that the label specifies the wheat as Triticum aestivum.

wheat berries for sprouting

Last week, I found wheat berries sold in bulk at our local Whole Foods. The bin was labeled “hard winter red wheat berries”. They cost a few dollars for a pound (454 grams). Note that the wheat berries sold specifically for sprouting cost $2.69 for 50 grams!

Here are the bulk-purchased hard winter red wheat berries:

wheat berries

Compared to medium grain brown rice:

wheat berries and brown riceHere are sprouted wheat berries. They are kind of good “as is”, but are better in breads. (I sprouted these wheat berries from the berries I bought in a bulk-bin.)

wheat berry sproutsNutrition

1/4 cup of uncooked hard winter red wheat berries has 157 calories, 6 grams fiber, 6 grams protein, some calcium, and about 8% of daily iron needs. Source: Nutrition Value website.

Wheat berries have a glycemic index value of 41. Source: Glycemic Index (GI) Guidelines for a Plant-based Diet.

Wheat berries are a whole grain wheat product.

Cooking

Wheat berries take a long time to cook. Most sources say to simmer 60-90 minutes. Use 1 cup dry berries to 3 cups water.

Using a pressure cooker, I found online that they should be done in 15 minutes. That sounds better to me! I have a good electric pressure cooker.

The pressure cooked worked, but I goofed and set the cooker to “low pressure” and 30 minutes was barely enough time for the wheat berries to be done. I meant to use the “high pressure” setting! Next time I will do it this way:

  • put 1 cup wheat berries in the pressure cooker and toast them
  • add 3 cups water and a little salt
  • set pressure cooker to “high pressure” and set the timer for 15 minutes
  • quick release the pressure
  • if they are not done, cook some more!

cooked wheat berriesI liked these! They are as nutty tasting as they look. Crunchy and full of flavor. But tastes differ, and my husband didn’t like them much at all when I used them as a substitute for rice. He called them “rubbery”.

Note that the wheat berries I cooked are hard winter red wheat berries. I haven’t tried any other types of common wheat berries yet.

Recipes

Wheat berries can be used as a cereal, in salads, in grain bowls like tabbouleh, as a substitute for rice or pasta, and in breads. I think they would be great added to soups or added in small amounts to salads to provide a bit of crunch and flavor. Mixing with other grains might coax reluctant eaters into enjoying them. And as I discussed ad nauseum in the sections above, sprouted wheat berries can be used in breads.

Since wheat berries take so long to cook, it might be a good idea to cook a big batch of wheat berries and store them frozen in small portions. That way, you can pull a few out of the freezer and add them to a recipe in a flash!

Here are some recipes I might like to try:

Grains: Cracked Wheat

Cracked Wheat

In Turkey, we had several meals that included a delicious grain called “cracked wheat”. These cooked grains were big and chewy. When we got home, I bought a package of cracked wheat at a Middle Eastern store, and on the package, under “cracked wheat”, is printed “coarse burghul #3”. From my bulgur post, I knew that burghul is an alternative spelling of bulgur. How does cracked wheat differ from bulgur, or does it differ?

The package of cracked wheat that I purchased is sold under the brand “Ziyad”. They have a website – here is the link to cracked wheat #3. On the web site it says the wheat is parboiled and then dried.

Whole Grain Goodness states that cracked wheat is made from whole wheat grains that have been cracked or ground into smaller pieces, and it is similar to bulgur but is not usually precooked (parboiled). “Many people use cracked wheat as a base, like couscous, serving vegetables or meats alongside it. It can also be used in grain pilafs and multi-grain bread, pancakes, and other grain dishes”.

WiseGeek states that cracked wheat is made from whole wheat kernels that are cracked into smaller pieces. They further state that cracked wheat differs from bulgur in that it is not steamed and toasted before cracking. “Because cracked wheat is made from whole wheat berries, it carries a great deal of nutrition and fiber since it includes the fiber and nutrient rich outer bran and germ of the wheat. For this reason, it is often added to healthy diets, especially those eaten by people who are concerned about heart health.”

According to Wikipedia, accessed 7/2018, cracked wheat is crushed wheat grain that has not been parboiled. On the Wikipedia bulgur entry, they spelled the non-parboiled form “burghol”. But when I search today for “burghol” on the web, nothing comes up.

My conclusion is that the division between bulgur and cracked wheat is blurry. Assume that products called “cracked wheat” may or may not be parboiled – check the package if you are curious. My guess is that “cracked wheat” is used for coarser grinds. When we visited Turkey, the cracked wheat we were served was definitely a coarse grind, like the #3 product I bought here in the US.

The take-home lesson is that both cracked wheat and bulgur both taste wheat-y and nutty and in my opinion, great. The coarser bulgurs/cracked wheats will be marked #3 or #4. Check the package to see how long to cook it. Then, enjoy.

Here is cracked wheat, uncooked:

raw cracked wheatHere is cracked wheat compared to medium grain brown rice:

cracked wheat and rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry cracked wheat has 140 calories, 5 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, some calcium, and an appreciable amount of iron. (Source: Ziyad brands package.) That’s almost exactly like bulgur – only the fiber amount is different.

Cracked wheat, like bulgur, is a whole grain wheat product.

Online sources report the glycemic index of cracked wheat as 46-53, making cracked wheat a medium GI food. (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

A good reference for GI of bulgur and cracked wheat: Diet and Fitness Today.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup cracked wheat #3 2 cups 20 optional not necessary

My package of cracked wheat only gave instructions for a recipe, not basic cooking instructions. So, I just put it in boiling water and checked it: I found it took 20 minutes of simmering to become tender and soak up all the water.

Cooked cracked wheat:

cooked cracked wheat

Recipes

In Turkey, cracked wheat was often cooked with onions and tomatoes. The recipe on the package of Ziyad Cracked Wheat that I purchased in a local Middle Eastern store, the cracked wheat is soaked in water and then sauted with onions and garlic in olive oil; bell pepper, water or stock, and a little tomato paste are added; the mixture simmered until the cracked wheat is tender.

Epicurious offers a recipe for a yeast bread. Cracked Wheat Top-Knots call for medium bulgur (“also called cracked wheat”). The bulgur is soaked in hot water before it is added to the yeast dough.

Several sites suggest serving cracked wheat as a breakfast cereal, especially with nuts.

Garlic and Zest’s Mediterranean Cracked Wheat Salad is made with kalamata olives, peperoncinis, radishes, tomatoes, and garbanzos.

Spiced Cracked Wheat and Lentils for Grown-Ups from Food Network is made with jalapenos, turmeric, tomatoes, paprika, ground coriander, cinnamon, and cilantro.

Honey Cracked Wheat bread is another good cracked wheat recipe. It’s in one of my own posts: The Bakery, New and Improved Recipes, Zojirushi America Corporation. In that post I briefly discussed cracked wheat.

package of cracked wheat

Grains: Bulgur

Bulgur

Bulgur is a wheat product, made either from durum wheat or from a mixture of several different species of wheat. It is sometimes spelled burghul, burghul, or bhulghur. Bulgur is classified as a “whole grain” because it contains the endosperm, germ, and bran. It is one of the “ancient grains” – grains haven’t been selectively bred and have changed little for thousands of years.

I don’t think burghol is bulgur, but I’ll get to that in a later post when I study cracked wheat.

To make bulgur, hulled wheat kernels, called groats, are cracked and parboiled (steamed), then milled into different grinds, from fine particles to coarse particles (number 1 is fine, number 4 is coarse). I’ve found bulgur in many local stores, both in bulk and packaged. I think the packages I’ve found do not denote the grind, but I am going to pay more attention next time I look for it.

Bulgur is common in Middle Eastern cuisines. It can be used as a cereal, in soups, and as a substitute for rice or pasta. Cooked, it is fluffier than farro (an intact grain) or freekeh (a cracked grain), both of which are not parboiled.

Looking through my own cookbooks, I find many that have bulgur recipes. None before the 1970s, though, and mostly in “natural food” type cookbooks. It became popular with the hippie vegetarian movement because it is a whole grain with a good amount of protein.

Uncooked bulgur:

bulgur

Bulgur compared to medium grain brown rice:

bulgur and brown rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry bulgur has 140 calories, 7 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, some calcium and especially iron. (Source: Bob’s Red Mill package.)

Online sources report the glycemic index of bulgur as from 46-48, making bulgur a medium GI food. (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

Ordinary Vegan likes bulgur for people on a diet. They compared it to quinoa: cooked bulgur has half the calories per cup as does cooked quinoa, so calorie-counting dieters get to eat more of it. If you eat the same number of calories of quinoa and bulgur, you get the same amount of protein. They also claim that bulgur has more fiber than quinoa, and that bulgur has a resistant starch that is especially good for keeping us feeling full.

Food Network’s Healthy Eats has a page on “meet this grain” for another discussion of the nutrition and uses of bulgur.

Nutrition Value has more nutritional information for bulgur. Nutrition Value is a great database. It gives vitamins, minerals, proteins and amino acids, fats and fatty acids, carbohydrate values, and more miscellaneous information for many foods. You can search by a specific food, mineral, macronutrient, or amino acid, or search by food category. (It does not give the glycemic index.) I also like WolfAlph as a resource for nutrition values.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup bulgur 2 cups (may need more) 20-25 5 minutes draining not necessary

I added 1/2 teaspoon salt per 1 cup dry grain.

I wasn’t sure how long to cook the bulgur, since I did not have the package, so I had to look it up online. As it cooked, I checked it after about 10 minutes and decided it was too dry, so I added more water. I did this one more time during the cooking. I checked for doneness at 20 minutes, and stopped cooking at 22 minutes. Draining was not necessary. I did leave it covered, off burner, for about 5 minutes before opening the pan and letting the cooked bulgur cool.

1 cup dry cooked to 4 cups cooked! It really is amazing. You can eat a larger volume for the same amount of calories as some of the other grains.

I did not know the coarseness, or “grind”, of my bulgur, since I had bought it in bulk or taken it out of the package to store in another container. Different grinds (they are 1-4 with 1 being the finest) might have different cooking times, so if you buy bulgur in a package, consult the package for cooking time.

Cooked bulgur:

cooked bulgur

Recipes

Probably the most famous bulgur dish is tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur, tomatoes, onion, mint, parsley, olive oil, and lemon. I make variations of this type of grain dish a lot, using different types of grains – it makes a great lunch bowl, and a great side salad for those who like grainy dishes. Sometimes I add nuts or spinach or kale or cooked chicken or fish. But almost always, I add feta cheese, if I have some around! And at least one fresh herb – it seems to me to be a necessity for this dish.

Bulgur, cooked, can be added to bread dough.

Food Network’s Healthy Eats has recipes for:

Eating Well collection (includes Asian seasoned bulgur).

Epicurious has a recipe for bulgur with herbs that includes toasted almonds.

Any sort of chopped vegetable, including cucumbers, and garbanzo beans are good additions to bulgur bowls.

Grains: Freekeh

Freekeh

Blue Apron introduced me to freekeh. I tried Blue Apron off and on for a year or so. Why? Just to learn some new things, I guess. And it was so cute and convenient to get little packages of herbs and sometimes unusual and hard to find ingredients. Plus, they sent just the right amount of food for two people, so no leftovers. Last year, when I learned that “freekeh” was in the next week’s Blue Apron shipment, I got all excited. Something new! And I remember the meal being pretty good. Why did I end up stopping the Blue Apron service? Too much packaging to recycle.

Freekeh, like farro, is an “ancient grain”. Freekeh is sometimes spelled frikeh or called farik. It is a wheat – green durum wheat. The “green” denotes that it is picked early. Traditionally, freekeh is first roasted, and then cracked or crushed to make it into smaller pieces. So freekeh is still a whole grain with nothing removed, but it is in small pieces. It is also sold “uncracked”, but I haven’t tried that type yet. I found cracked freekeh, Bob’s Red Mill brand, in a local store. The package claims freekeh to be “the traditional grain of the Middle East”, and states that it is still used in Middle Eastern and northern African cuisines. For more information, I like Two Healthy Kitchens discussion of the history of freekeh.

Below is my photo of uncooked, cracked freekeh. The size of the pieces varies quite a bit. Note how some of the pieces are slightly green.

freekehFor a size comparison, freekeh next to medium brown rice:

freekeh and brown rice

Taste

Freekeh has a nutty taste – the roasting probably brings out this flavor. It’s also pleasantly chewy.

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry has 170 calories, 8 g fiber, 7 g protein, some calcium, iron, magnesium, and a lot of manganese.

Glycemic Index: 43 if whole, 55 if cracked.

Two Healthy Kitchens has links to several sites with more information on the nutrition of freekeh.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup cracked freekeh 2 1/2 cups (boiling) 20 minutes 5 minutes draining might not be necessary

1 cup dry yields about 3 cups cooked. I added a bit of salt to the cooking water. When I cooked it here in Colorado (about 5500 in altitude), it was cooked perfectly when I used the method above. After the 20 minutes cooking and the 5 minutes standing, there was barely any water left to drain off.

Cooked freekeh:

cooked freekeh

Recipes

Freekeh is pretty much like farro in usage: as a substitute for rice and in hot and cold salads. I don’t think it would be good in soups, at least not the cracked freekeh. Since cracked freekeh is already roasted, toasting it is not really necessary to bring out the flavor.

The Bob’s Red Mill package suggests serving freekeh as a salad with garbanzo beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, dressed with an herb pesto made from mint, lemon zest and juice, pine nuts, and olive oil. (Lemon Mint Freekeh Salad, more freekeh recipes on the same site.)

Using my own ingredients, I tried Blue Apron’s “Orange Chicken Thighs with Cherry Salsa and Green Wheat Freekeh Salad“. The warm freekeh salad is made by adding cooked freekeh, arugula, and almonds to the orange sauce used to cook the chicken. I liked it a lot, but hubby wasn’t as enthusiastic.

Online recipes:

Grains: Farro

I am a fan of grains, and not only for baking bread. I remember seeing “wheat berries” in a recipe years ago, and searched for them in stores just out of curiosity. Now I have so many types of grains in my pantry that I get confused as to what they are and how to cook them and what recipes to use them in. So I am putting that information here in one place, one grain at a time.

Introduction

We all know what a grain is, right? It’s the wheat that makes up our bread, the oats in our breakfast cereal, the corn in our corn bread, the rice in our risotto. A grain is usually the edible fruit of grasses, although grains can be harvested from other plant families, as we shall see.

A grain is made up of an endosperm, germ, and bran. “Whole grains” are the natural form of the grain, containing all three, and have carbohydrates, fats, oils, protein, and vitamins and minerals. Our food industry refines most of our grains, removing the bran and the germ, leaving products that are mostly carbohydrates. But that’s what we love! White flour combined with sugar (pure carbohydrate) and fats make our delicious cakes and pie crusts and muffins and cookies. I am as guilty in my love of these foods as most Americans.

But ever since my early twenties, I have tried to get myself trained to like whole grains. And this is a continuation of that training, and of a search for healthy grains.

One way to judge how “healthy” or “whole” a grain is by its glycemic index. (I say these words in “quotes” because various healthy food theories come and go.) Many of the grains or grain products in this section have a low glycemic index (GI), and low is good. I discussed glycemic index in my post on The Glucose Revolution Pocket Guide to Losing Weight, a 2000 book. Briefly, these are foods that take a long time to release their glucose into the bloodstream, keeping you feeling full longer, and decreasing glucose spikes and thus the risk of diabetes. The GI scale is from 1 to 100, with 100 being pure sugar, and any value under 55 considered good. Today, I find that I can usually google a food and glycemic index, e.g., “farro glycemic index”, and a value will pop up at the top of the search results. If I can’t find it by that method, I go to:

Now, let’s get to the first of the grains I studied: farro.

Farro

Farro is a type of wheat, or grass, but different from the common US cultivated species of wheat. It is called an “ancient grain”, or an “heirloom grain”. Ancient grains were first used thousands of years ago, and the seeds passed down over the generations. Are they all more nutritious than our current whole wheat? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But they are certainly different in flavor and texture. And it’s fun knowing the grain you are eating has been passed down carefully, generation to generation, as a tradition.

This is uncooked farro:

uncooked farroHere it is next to grains of medium brown rice, to show you the size:

farro and rice

According to Wikipedia, farro is the term for a species of wheat that includes spelt, einkorn, and emmer. These grains are called “hulled wheat”, or wheat that cannot be threshed (threshing removes a grain from the husks). “Farro” is often used to describe these three different grains, without specification. The Healthline website explains the confusion.

The farros that I bought locally did not specify whether they are spelt, einkorn, or emmer. So far, I have found Bob’s Red Mill farro in local whole food and regular markets, and Trader Joe’s carries a “10 minute farro”.  This grain project of mine is a work-in-progress, and I’ll update as I learn more about the specific make-up of available farro.

Ancient grains

Farro is what is called an “ancient grain”. This term even has its own Wikipedia entry. Bob’s Red Mills calls farro “the traditional grain of the Mediterranean” and “a hearty grain that was a mainstay of the daily diet in ancient Rome” and the “mother of all wheat”. It is still a favorite grain in Italian cooking – although I did not notice it in any of my Italian cookbooks.

Emiko Davies’ blog has a great entry on farro, including its use in certain regions of Italy, its nutritional benefits, and a recipe.

Farro, like all grains, can be milled into flour. I found “emmer flour” online but haven’t tried it (emmer is of the 3 species of wheat that are all called farro). King Arthur flour has an ancient grains flour, but it has no farro in it. King Arthur Flour sells an ancient grain blend, of amaranth, millet, and sorghum, but it has no farro in it.

Taste

What does farro taste like? Like a nutty and chewy wheat grain. It is similar to wheat berries, and chewier and tastier than bulgur. I’d say, it tastes great! I even got my hubby to like it. He is happy with it as a substitute for rice.

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry has 200 calories (value from the Bob’s Red Mill package). I cooked 1 cup dry farro – after cooking it had a volume of 2 3/4 cup. So, if I have a pile of cooked farro and want to eat 200 calories, that’s .69 cup or just under 3/4 cup cooked.

1/4 cup dry farro has 37 grams total carbohydrate and 7 grams protein and 7 grams dietary fiber. No vitamins A or C; 2% daily calcium and 10% daily iron.

The glycemic index is 40, called “medium” GI. As a comparison, whole wheat berries have a GI of 41. White flour has a GI of 85. Old-fashioned oatmeal has a GI of 58.

The Healthline website has a good discussion of the nutrition of farro.

Proponents of ancient grains (like farro) claim that they are high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and claim that they have more health benefits than modern grains. If you compare ancient grains with today’s grains, you would have to compare the whole grain. Perhaps they are more nutritious, but I’d have to see a study that compares “apples with apples”, or “whole grains with whole grains”.

Cooking

Put farro in cold water and bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer according to the recommended time in the table below. I like to add about 1/2 teaspoon salt for 1 cup of dry grain. The grain will use up most but not all of the water.

water time simmering time standing
1 cup regular farro 3 cups 30 minutes not given drain off any water
1 cup 10 min farro 2 cups 10 minutes 5 minutes drain off any water

I cooked regular farro about 25 minutes in already boiling water and drained it immediately, then covered until I was ready to use it. That worked great too.

Other notes:

  • You can toast the dry farro before cooking to bring out a nuttier flavor, and you can add seasonings to the cooking liquid or use stock instead of water.
  • One source suggested soaking 1 cup farro in the refrigerator overnight, draining, add back 3 cups water, simmer 10 minutes, then drain excess liquid.
  • Bob’s Red Mill suggests pre-rinsing.
  • Do not overcook farro, it’s good a little crunchy.
  • 1 cup cooks to 2 3/4 cups, so dish up 3/4 cup for 200 calories.

Here is my cooked farro:

cooked farro

Recipes

How do I use farro in my daily cooking? I use it instead of rice, under a saucy pork paprika or a stir fry. I add it to soup, like beef and vegetable soup. I like cooked farro the next day, in a cold salad mixed with olive oil, a bit of vinegar or lemon juice, a little sharp cheese, nuts, miscellaneous raw veggies, and any fresh herbs I have around.

I first tried making farro yeast bread: I added 1/2 cup cooked farro to My Daily Bread. It tasted really good, especially as toast, but it did not rise well and it was super moist and well, heavy. My second try was a success. First, I put 1/2 cup dry farro in a food processor and ran it until it was flour-like. This took about 10 minutes, and it still had a few grainy bits in it. It weighed 3 ounces, so for the rest of the My Daily Bread flour mixture I weighed out 9 ounces. I put the buttermilk in my breadmaker, then let it sit a couple hours, hoping to soften the farro bits. Then, I added the rest of the ingredients and turned the breadmaker on. It turned out perfect! More flavor than my usual “my daily bread”.

This if from a farro package: Saute chopped onions and garlic a couple minutes, then add uncooked farro and cook another couple minutes. The mixture should smell delightfully nutty and fragrant. Then add chicken or vegetable stock and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the farro is done but still chewy. You can add mushrooms and peas during last 15 minutes of the cooking time. Just before serving, stir in some butter and top with a little Parmesan cheese. (Recipe on the farro package.)

Online:

250 Cookbooks: Two Hundred Toasts

Cookbook #250: Two Hundred Toasts, Mlle. Mixer, New York City, Osborn Printing Co., Los Angeles, Ca, 1905.

Two Hundred Toasts cookbook

Let’s toast! To life, love, and the end of this “250 Cookbooks” blog! I began this section of my cooking blog back in October 2012 – here is my introduction. Now it’s June 2018. It’s been a long journey.

Two Hundred Toasts is the oldest of my “cookbooks”. It is actually a book of “toasts”, as in words said with the clinking of glasses. But I entered it in the database, and here we are.

1905. This book is 113 years old today. Is it worth a lot of money? A search revealed that I could purchase other publication years (1906 and 1917) for just $50. It is worth a lot more than that to me. It belonged to my grandmother – my mother’s mother – and I can remember many, many family dinners that began with a toast. And ended with one of Grandmother’s fantastic desserts. She always said “I only eat dinner to get dessert”, although she never gained weight, and she also enjoyed her cocktails. And her sherry, but that’s another story. My mother grew up on their large orange grove ranch in Southern California, where she ran free and loved her horse and went to school in Covina. Her older brother was friends with my father, they all went to school together, and that’s how my parents met and eventually fell in love and married and had the three of us.

I’m going to do something a little different with Two Hundred Toasts. There are no recipes in this book, so I have no recipe to cook. But the book is a delight, so I’ll scan in all the pages for us all to enjoy.

Here are the title and facing pages.

Next comes the first page of toasts, “Parisian Tosts”. Oops, a misspell. The first of many, I find. Mlle. Mixer is French (the front cover says “New York, Paris) so English must be her second language, or she was a bad typist. Google Books has digitized the 1906 version of this book. It’s different from my 1905 edition: all of the misspellings have been corrected. My edition is sort of endearing, typos and all. No spell checkers in 1905!

This size of scan makes it hard for us to read. I’ll leave the following one “as is” because I want to illustrate the facing page with the “Osborn Printing Co.” on it. But after these first two pages, I’ll scan them in as half-pages.

My favorite of the above toasts? The last, especially the line “Till your little shoes and my big boots are under the bed together”.

Here’s the next page. I like “When a man says he has a wife, he menas [sic] that a wife has him.”

“Since man is dust, it would appear, ‘Twere well to water him with beer.”

“Be good and you will be lonesome.”

Oh my! Such an attitude: “To Woman: the bitter half of man” and “Call no man unhappy till he’s married.”

“To our America: The best land in the world – let them that don’t like it, leave it.”

“Among the things that good wine brings, what is better than laughter that rings in a revery and makes better friends of you and me!” I like the one about champagne too.

“Good liquor, I stoutly maintain, gives learning a better discerning!”

“Tis easy enough to be pleasant, when life goes by with a song; but the man worth while is the man who will smile when everything goes dead wrong.”

“Here’s health to the girl who will drink when she can, and health to the girl who can dance the can-can.”“Here’s to champagne, the drink divine, that makes us forget our troubles; it’s made of a dollar’s worth of wine, and three dollars worth of bubbles.”

“Since she’s not here to drink her part, I’ll drink her share with all my heart.”“May Dame Fortune ever smile upon you but never her daughter, Miss fortune.” And also: “Here’s to the chaperone – may she learn from Cupid. Just enough blindness – to be sweetly stupid.”

“To Home: – The place we are treated best and grumble most.”

Number 88 is a racial slur, but I guess it wasn’t in 1905. We might not have come a long way here in America, but at least we have come a little ways.

“Here’s to the light that lies in a woman’s eyes; And lies! And lies! And lies!”

“Woman: The fairest work of the great Author. The edition is large and no man should be without a copy.” And “May the best days you have ever seen be worse than your worst to come.”“Drink beer and forget your sorrow; if the thought comes back, drink more to morrow.” I also like number 100, about the servant and her wages.

“While beer brings gladness, don’t forget that water only makes you wet.”

“The health of those we love best – ourselves.”

The classic: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have love at all.”

“Our absent friends, although out of sight, we recognize them with our glasses.”“Woman: Gentle, patient, self-denying. Without her man would be a savage and the earth a desert.”“Fill the bowl with flowing wine, and while your lips are wet, press their fragrance unto mine, and forget!!!!”“Here’s to our wives and sweethearts; may they never meet.”

“Let’s have wine, women, mirth and laughter, sermons and soda water the day after.”

“It is not rank, nor birth, nor state, it’s git-up-and-git that makes men great.”

May we live as long as we want to, and want to as long as we live.”“Don’t do nothing for nobody what don’t do nothing for you.”I like number 167, that ends: “We shall not pass this way again.”“You can fool all the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time!”“When going up the hill of prosperity, may you never meet any friend coming down.”“To the old, long life and treasure. To the young, all health and pleasure.”“Here’s to virtue as the world sees it: A constant struggle against human nature.” And “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine, unless I too have a sip of the wine.”“Honor, wealth, fame may desert us, but thirst is eternal.”“Here’s to you in water, here’s to you in wine, here’s to your sweetheart, not forgetting mine.”“Love is sweet, but oh! how bitter to love a girl, and then not git her.”And so we come to the end of Two Hundred Toasts by Mlle. Mixer. I hope you found a few toasts that you liked.

250 Cookbooks: Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide

Cookbook #249: Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide, a Best Recipe Classic, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, Brookline, MA, 2005.

The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and BarbecueMy second-to-last cookbook in this 250 Cookbooks blog! Hard to believe this 5-year project is coming to an end.

Cook’s Illustrated guide cookbooks are always among my favorites. Besides Grilling and Barbecue, I also have Cover and Bake and Best International Recipe. I’ve discussed the style of Cook’s Illustrated recipes in my previous posts on those two books. Briefly, you don’t just get a recipe, you get pages of discussion about how that recipe was developed – what they tried that did and did not work. Further information about ingredients and techniques is presented in boxes or side notes. I find that a Cook’s Illustrated recipe might take a bit more concentration to follow than common recipes, but the recipes always work for me. These guide books are all big, heavy, hardback, white-covered tomes.

I have eight “grilling” cookbooks, but this is one of my two “go-to” books for barbecue – the other is Weber’s Real Grilling. Weber’s Real Grilling is specific to gas grills, while Cook’s Illustrated Grilling and Barbecue gives for each recipe methods for both charcoal grilling and gas grilling. We have a gas grill, and I have no desire to cook with charcoal. The gas grill is just too easy! I’ll just say “I’m sorry” to those purists who think charcoal is the only way to grill!

Grilling and Barbecue begins with introductory sections on “Outdoor Cooking 101″ and Equipment and Tools for Outdoor Cooking”. They are quite useful and complete.

The first chapter is “Beef”. Strip and rib steaks, porterhouse and T-bone steaks, filets mignons, steak tips, flank steaks, London broil, hamburgers, prime rib, beef tenderloin, veal chops, beef ribs, and beef brisket are each discussed in detail, describing how to get the most out of each cut of beef. Specific recipes, sauces, salsas, marinades, and rubs are suggested, some of which appear in later chapters in the book.

The section on in the Beef chapter on “Does Branding Matter?” catches my eye. It begins: “To guarantee quality, more and more people are looking beyond the confines of their local supermarket butcher case and buying their steaks through mail order sources. These outlets promise all-star beef with a price tag to match”. I read on with interest, since I have tried mail order steaks in the past. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated did a thorough study of both local supermarket and mail order steaks. The steak that won first place in their taste tests is a mail order brand that cost $68/pound (Lobel’s Wagyu, or Kobe-style steak from Oakleigh Ranch in Australia). “We found that money can buy you happiness, if happiness for you is the best steak you ever ate”. But the “good news” is that you don’t have to spend a small fortune “or pay for shipping” to get a great steak. Coleman Natural steak, available at some supermarkets, is only $14 a pound and came in second in their taste tests. (Note the publication date of this book: 2005. We know prices have changed since then.)

Pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and other birds, fish, shellfish, vegetables, and pizza and bruschetta chapters follow in the same detail and style as the beef chapter. Sides and salads, rubs and sauces round out the book.

I think a study “kebabs” would be a good illustration of “Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide“. Sure, I’ve made pork, beef, and chicken kebabs so often I rarely use a recipe, but the meat often comes out dry and chewy, or under-cooked, or unflavorful, and the onions and peppers and other vegetables burned or falling apart. I usually make kebabs the same way, no matter what type of meat I use. Just load up the skewers, brush with a sauce, and put them on the grill – that’s my method. But I decide to use this blog as an opportunity to study how to make really good kebabs. So I turn to the pages and lengthy kebab discussions in this tome – about 4 big pages on average for each type of kebab. Below is what I learn.

First, pork. The problem with pork kebabs is that the pork tastes bland and often dries out on the grill. Cook’s Illustrated tried different cuts of pork, and chose pork loin because it has a full flavor, is tender, and an “appealing resistance when you bite into it”. On their early tries, the pork loin dried out on the grill. To overcome this, they tried both brining and marinating, and chose the marinade method because it not only kept the meat “moist and juicy”, but it added “richness of flavor that was lacking in the lean pork loin”. Also, the oil in the marinade improved the pork’s texture and added other flavors to the meat. Not only that, but cutting the pork loin into 1 1/4 inch cubes and “butterflying” them improved the flavor of this rather neutral meat. To butterfly, each cube is cut almost through at the center before marinating, and then folded back together to skewer as a whole cube. On the gas grill, these cubes cooked best over a “more moderate level of heat” than beef, the grill is covered, and the kebabs are turned a quarter-turn every 2 1/2 minutes for about 9-10 minutes total. Cooking the pork to 145˚ was found to be ideal. A study of fruits and vegetables to accompany the pork on the skewers led them to recommend fresh pineapple in 1-inch chunks, bell poppers in 1-inch pieces, and red onion in 3/4-inch pieces.

Beef kebabs went through a similar study. Results: use top blade (flatiron) steaks or sirloin.  Butterfly 1 1/4-inch beef cubes and marinate in a non-acidic olive oil based herb mixture, use the same vegetable and fruits as in pork cubes, grill over direct high heat, cover down, turning one-quarter turn every 1 3/4 minutes, until meat is browned, about 7-8 minutes total.

Finally, chicken kebabs. Use chicken thighs cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks and marinate in a olive oil and salt, non-acidic marinade. Cook’s Illustrated found “early on” that it was clear that cooking chicken and vegetables together on kebabs “enhances the flavor of both”. After a lengthy study, they chose zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, bell peppers, small shallots, apples, peaches, pears, and fresh pineapple as appropriate for chicken kebabs. (Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t deem potatoes good for kebabs because they require pre-cooking.) They have a handy table that designates the size to cut each recommended fruit and vegetable and whether or not that fruit or vegetable should be marinated. For grilling, they recommend two skewers per kebab, to facilitate turning them without the chicken and vegetables spinning. Grilling should be done on medium high, uncovered, turning one-quarter turn every 2 minutes, until lightly browned, about 9 minutes total.

I am inspired! I’ll carefully follow their instructions and make all these different types of kebabs this summer. Then I can expand to their recipes for fish and shrimp kebabs.

Am I going to make kabobs for this blog? No! Instead, I want to cook a pork tenderloin for the two of us. This is a cut of pork that I use a lot – it’s tender, lean, often on sale, and a perfect portion for two people (with a little left over for the next day’s lunch). I usually simply sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over direct medium high heat, turning about four times. Grilling and Barbecue says to brine the pork tenderloin, use a wet rub, and cook over high heat 3 minutes per side.

For copyright protection, I am not scanning in this recipe. Below is my adaptation of the original in Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Orange, Sage, and Garlic
serves 2

Pork tenderloin and brine

  • 1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • water

Wet spice rub

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • salt to taste

Remove the “silver skin” from the pork tenderloin: simply slide a sharp knife under this thin piece of tendon on the outside of the tenderloin.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in several cups of water in a shallow bowl. Add the tenderloin and refrigerate about 1 hour. While the pork brines, prepare the wet spice rub – simply mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

Remove the tenderloin from the brining solution, rinse, and dry with paper towels. Rub the wet spice rub into the tenderloin.

Heat a gas grill by turning all the burners to high and with the grill covered. Then, open the gas grill and scrape the cooking grate clean with a grill brush. With the burners still on high, lay the wet-rub-coated pork tenderloin carefully on the grill. Close the cover. Turn about every three minutes so that all four “sides” of the tenderloin are browned. Using a quick-read thermometer, check that the meat is at 145˚. If not, cook until it is.

Serve!

Grilled Pork TenderloinYum! This was perfect! Moist and flavorful with great grill marks. I served it with a green salad and corn on the cob for a light, healthy, tasty meal.

Thank you, Cook’s Illustrated, for another great recipe.

250 Cookbooks: Pillsbury’s Bake Off Dessert Cook Book

Cookbook #248: Pillsbury’s Bake Off Dessert Cook Book, The Pillsbury Company, USA, 1968, 2nd printing, 1971.

Pillsbury Bake Off Dessert cook bookPillsbury’s Bake Off Dessert Cook Book is the last and grandest of my Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbooks. All of the others are small booklets but this one is hard-cover bound and 144 pages long. It includes recipes from “Eighteen years of Pillsbury Bake Offs”, updated with “short-cuts and the use of convenience food ingredients where possible”. (I discuss Pillsbury Bake-off cookbooks/recipe magazines more thoroughly in my blog post covering the 1964 Bake-Off Cookbook.)

This is one of Mother’s cookbooks, but she has no written notes in it. Two places in the book are marked with small scraps of paper (pages 123 and 127). I’m kind of surprised at this, because she was such a Bake-off Cookbook fan. And I was hoping for a few more memorable notes from her, as I get to the last of her cookbooks in this 250 Cookbooks blog.

The first chapter is “Desserts Warm From The Oven”. Hmmm, sounds right up my alley. Peach Melba Special looks good: peaches and red raspberries with ginger topped with batter and baked. How about Applecots, apple halves stuffed with apricots and wrapped in dough and baked. Or Caramel Apple Pudding, a “pudding cake” with 1 1/2 cups fresh apples and 1/2 cup chopped almonds. What’s a pudding cake? It’s a cake made by placing a wet or dry batter in a pan, adding a boiling water sauce on top, and baking in the oven. Pudding cakes are one of my favorite desserts! Why? They are simple, often contain fruit, and are served hot with ice cream. Homey goodness.

I found two more recipes I like in the Desserts Warm From The Oven chapter. Apple Peanut Spoon Dessert calls for 4 cups of apples and has peanut butter in the topping. Baked Apple Cuplets are peeled whole apples topped with a cake-like batter and baked in custard cups.

The next chapter is “Family Dessert Favorites”. I like the Quick Banana Buns, an unusual banana dessert made from dough laced with mashed bananas cooked as buns, then filled with sliced bananas and whipped cream.

The final three chapters are “Pies, Pies, And More Pies”, “Make-Ahead Pies and Desserts”, and “Conversation Piece Pies And Desserts”. Hey – no chapters for pies and cookies! There are a few cake-type recipes in the other “Dessert” chapters, but that is all.

Mother was great at making pies, and I am surprised she marked none of the pie recipes. I think almost all of the pie recipes Pillsbury’s Bake Off Dessert Cook Book sound great. I just don’t make pies often because they are so full of calories. (And if I want to make a pie, I use one of my mother’s recipes.)

Many, but not all, of the recipes in Pillsbury’s Bake Off Dessert Cook Book call for “short-cut” ingredients, such as refrigerated rolls, canned pie filling, cake mixes, and canned fruits. For instance, one recipe calls for “peanut butter refrigerated quick caramel rolls with nuts”. I doubt these could be found in markets today – fifty years since the publication of this book. (Besides, I prefer to cook from scratch.)

It’s not until page 136 that I find the recipe I want to make for this blog: “Cherry Honeys”.

Why do I like this? Because it has fruit and honey in it, and I can cut calories by using Cool Whip® instead of whipping cream. Sour cream and coconut are folded into the whipped cream – an unusual and tasty-sounding twist. The serving sizes are small and designated so we can stay on our “diet” and still have these. Of course, I’ll make my own pie crust instead of purchasing pie crust mix. Plus, they should look really cute and pretty!

And I have to admit, I get to buy something new to make these: tart pans. I have quiche pans of many sizes, custard cups, many sizes of ramekins, small and large donut pans, bun pans, bundt pans, small and large spring form pans, cake pans, popover pans, lava cake pans, muffin pans – but NO mini tart pans!

Cherry Honeys
makes 6

  • crust for single-crust pie
  • 1 can (16 ounces) pitted dark sweet cherries
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream (or use a light whipped cream alternative)
  • 1/2 cup flaked coconut
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each into a circle to fit 4-inch tart pans. Fit them into the pans, forming a standing rim, and flute the edges.

Bake at 450˚ for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool.

Drain the cherries and save the juice. Add the cornstarch to the juice and mix well, then add the honey and orange peel. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is thick and clear. Remove from heat and add the cherries and lemon juice. Cool.

Beat the whipping cream until thick, then fold in the coconut, sour cream, and sugar.

Just before serving, spoon the cherry filling into the tart shells and garnish with the whipped cream mixture.

Cherry HoneysThese were excellent. Except for the crust, they aren’t terribly rich. The next night, I made another batch of the cherry mixture and served them with ice cream. Yum!

 

250 Cookbooks: Curried Favors

Cookbook #247: Curried Favors, Family Recipes from South India, Maya Kaimal, Abbreville Press Publishers, NY, London, 1996. (Paperback edition.)

Curried Flavors cook book

Curried Favors is a beautiful cookbook. I picked it up at a Peppercorn display sometime in, well, probably the 2000s. It intrigued me, so I bought it. The 2000s was a period of time when I was learning about foreign cuisines from home-cook classes at the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder. And I remember a visit to India’s Grocery in Boulder, where the owner told me how to make a curry: put a mixture of fresh spices and oil in a hot pan until they pop, then add vegetables and maybe meat, cook quickly, add a liquid, simmer a few minutes, and serve. That simple! I was entranced – at the time I had a totally different idea about Indian curries. (My old idea was any dish with store-bought ground curry powder.)

Today, I open Curried Favors and the first thing I note on the inside jacket is “Winner 1997 Julia Child First Book Award”. Julia again! The New York Times calls it “An artful and intimate cookbook.” It’s also an IACP cookbook awards winner. Well. I am happy to spend some more time with this book – it’s been a couple years since I adventured into its pages.

And it is an adventure. Maya Kaimal’s words and photos take the reader on a journey to southern India and the flavorful curries and other dishes found in this area.

The introduction to Curried Favors begins:

“If my South Indian father hadn’t found himself in a Kansas wheat field thirty years ago, this book would never have been written. Because he was doing atmospheric research on the American prairie, miles from any restaurants, he tried his hand at cooking. Being a scientist gave my father an advantage in cooking – he liked to experiment, and he wrote everything down so he could duplicate his results.”

In Maya Kaimal’s home, dinners alternated between her American mother’s “forays” into Julia Child and her father’s “latest experiments” with Indian cooking. At one point, her father was approached by “the owner of a cookware store in Boulder, Colorado, to see if he’d teach a course on Indian cooking”. (My guess is that that store was the Peppercorn.) He accepted, and taught the “popular class” for four years.

“Kerala [a state Southern India] is an interesting and unique culinary pocket, its cuisine shaped by climate, geography, and religion.” Coconuts, fish, shellfish, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and rice are abundant. Its location on the old trade routes brought new spices and foods to the ports and to the cuisine. Kerala is predominantly HIndu, but also has large Christian and Muslim populations. Christians eat all types of meat, some Hindus are vegetarian and some eat chicken, fish and lamb, but not beef; Muslims don’t eat pork. Each cultural group brings unique culinary contributions to the cuisine of this area.

My hubby hates curries. So when I cook from this book, I have to say “we are having a stir fry tonight”, and keep the “C” word out of it. He also cringes at anything colored turmeric or saffron yellow. He simply has an aversion to Indian foods. And yellow main dishes. But I consider the recipes I have tried from this book explosive in flavor, hot and spicy and bright.

Kaimal tells us that “curry powder” is not a simple spice, and “curry” does not define a particular dish. Instead, a curry is a dish of meat, fish, eggs, and/or vegetables cooked with a mixture of aromatic spices. Packaged “curry powder” is not called for in any of the recipes in this book.

As usual, I searched “Maya Kaimal” on the internet. She wrote one book after “Curried Flavors”. In 2003, she and her husband started a business, Maya Kaimal, selling Indian sauces, spices, and chips. Check out the website, because a lot of her recipes on posted on it.

The best way to show the gist, spiciness, and simplicity of the recipes in this book is to cook an example. I choose one that I have tried before, Chicken with Coconut Milk.

I plan to cut the recipe in half and leave out the turmeric, and use less cayenne. I have everything for this recipe in my pantry and or my freezer except the coconut milk and a fresh hot chili (a quick trip to a store solved those issues). I will use bay leaves instead of curry (or kari) leaves. (I know where to find curry leaves in downtown Boulder, but don’t have any in my pantry right now.} I also increased the amount of coconut milk. Below is my adaptation of the above recipe.

Chicken Coconut Curry
serves 2

Meat:

  • 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut in 1/2-inch chunks

Spice mixture (or rub):

  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • pinch cinnamon (1/16 teaspoon)
  • pinch cloves (1/16 teaspoon)

Combine the spices and rub into the chicken. Let stand 1 hour.

The rest of the curry:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 large bay leaf, broken in half
  • 1 cup onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small green chili, cut in half lengthwise, or use half of a serrano chili
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, freshly ground
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (unsweetened, but not “lite”)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • dash fresh lemon juice

Here are (most) of the ingredients I will use in the rub and spice mixture:

Chicken Coconut Curry ingredientsWhen the chicken has rested in its rub (refrigerated) for at least an hour, set a frying pan on medium high heat and add the oil, mustard seeds, and bay leaf. Cover. Heat until the mustard seeds pop. Uncover and add the onion and cook and stir until the onion is browning nicely. Add the garlic, ginger, green chili, and ground fennel seeds and cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Add the prepared chicken and cook and stir for about 5 minutes. Add the salt and half the coconut milk and the water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes. Add the rest of the coconut milk and the lemon juice and bring back to a boil, then serve. (I took the hot chili and the bay leaves out before serving.)

I served our curry over brown rice.

Chicken Coconut CurryI love this curry. I like the whole cooking process, too. The aromas as it cooks! The flavors as I eat it! But hubby? Well, he ate it all. But when asked, he said something like “yeah, it was dinner”. Guess I didn’t slip this curry by him. Maybe it isn’t just the yellow color that he does not like about curries. His loss.

ChappathiI also made chappathi from another recipe in this book. These are small flatbreads cooked on a stove-top, similar to tortillas, but made from durum wheat flour (“atta” flour) and water (and a little salt) – that’s all. I had some durum wheat flour in my pantry because of forays into pasta cooking. To make the chappathi, you mix and knead together flour and water, cut into equal-sized pieces, roll each to a circle, and cook briefly on a hot griddle. It’s kind of like making tortillas or crepes or pita breads. Mine came out pretty good. Here’s the rolled out dough:

Chappathi Dough

And the final chappathi:

ChappathiTaste? Not a lot, but I thought they were interesting. They sure are cute.