With a few exceptions, I know that I don’t eat nearly as many grains as I should.
While certain grains like oats and barley find their way into my meals on a somewhat regular basis, there is an astounding number of grains that I have never even seen, much less tasted.
And this is truly unfortunate.
The entire issue came to a head when I had the opportunity to read Lorna Sass’s Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way. I’ve had this cookbook for awhile and kept meaning to review it on my blog but I was so taken with reading it (usually in the evenings) that it was quite awhile before I began focussing on it as a blog post topic.
To be quite honest, I’m simply fascinated by how many grains there are out there and the fact that people have been eating them for thousands of years, if not longer.
Amaranth, Himalayan Red Rice, Teff, Farro, Triticale, Sorghum … the list goes on and on. How have I never tried any of these?
Since I love cookbooks that read like stories or novels, Sass’s book is right up my alley. It’s like a long and loving essay to one of the most beautiful gifts the world has to give us. Except that unlike the boring essays I wrote in university, this is an essay that I actually enjoy reading. And I get it.
I understand. There are incredible grains produced all over the world and they’re good for us and they can sustain us if only we’d open our eyes (and our pantries) to them.
I think my favourite part of Sass’s book is the opening chapter called Whole Grains 101. In five-and-a-half pages, Sass very directly, clearly and concisely explains what a whole grain is, how to choose and store grains, how to stock cooked grains so that they become a sort of “fast food” (except there about a kabillion times healthier than what we know as fast food) and she also explains her focus and plan for the chapters that lie ahead.
I was so impressed by this opening chapter because unlike other “teaching” cookbooks, which is sort of how I regard this one, you’re not bogged down by tonnes of information that you’re likely to never remember.
Don’t get me wrong. I like information. It’s good. Information about food is good. But when it takes thirty or forty pages to explain a type of food or a cooking technique, I’m sorry but I’m not going to hang around for the party.
What follows is a section on eighteen different families of grains. The section includes a description of the grain, nutritional information and instructions on the basic preparation of each grain. Everything is clearly stated without any frills. It’s just the plain truth about each grain.
The book is rounded out by several chapters of recipes that include salads, side dishes and desserts. There’s a photo section and an excellent section on mail-order sources for those grains that might not be readily available in your supermarket or local health food store.
I’ve had this book for quite awhile so it was time to do a review. Otherwise, I would have gladly read it cover to cover many more times. When deciding what to try, I simply ran out of time. I’m preparing for a vacation in August so I knew I had to cut to the chase.
For some reason I kept returning to amaranth. I just love that word and found myself intrigued by a very simple yet enticing recipe for something called Popped Amaranth Crunch. It’s a recipe for a very versatile addition to many dishes that is made of dry-cooked amaranth that’s popped in a pan (think popcorn but on a much tinier scale). The popped amaranth is complimented by pumpkin and cumin seeds and then mixed with dried oregano, chile powder and salt.
You can add it to salads or use it as a topping for other dishes like soups. And yes, if you’re like me you can even eat it out of hand. I used it mainly for salads and also as a last-minute topping on roasted fish. I can’t believe how addicted we’ve become.
The version I present to you today is slightly different in that I don’t particularly like cumin seeds and while I like chile powder, I find that it can be overpowering if I add this to salads. I’ve simplified it a bit and do hope you’ll give it a try.
If nothing else, I hope you pick up a copy of this incredibly informative cookbook. Whether you’re already an avowed grain eater or whether you just want to learn, it’s an excellent resource and addition to any cookbook library.
Popped Amaranth Crunch
Adapted from Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way by Lorna Sass.
Note: The original recipe makes about a cup or so of topping but I’ve doubled it as I found that we went through the original amount far too quickly. When making this, be sure to use a pot with high sides or the amaranth will pop all over the stove.
6 tbsps. amaranth
5 tbsps. raw pumpkin seeds (make sure they’re hulled)
2 tsp. chopped, fresh oregano (use 3/4 to 1 tsp. dried oregano if you don’t have fresh)
1/2 tsp. salt
Heat a large pot until the bottom is very hot to the touch. Add the amaranth and immediately begin stirring it. The amaranth will start popping and become white and bead-like.
When about one-third of the amaranth has popped (this will happen very quickly), add the pumpkin seeds and keep stirring to make sure nothing burns. Stir for an additional 30 seconds.
Remove the amaranth and pumpkin seeds to a bowl and immediately add the oregano and the salt. Stir and then let the amaranth crunch cool.
Once it’s cool, add it to any dish you like.
Store it in an airtight container for up to a month.