Sunday, February 26, 2012

New take on old grains.

As a child growing up in an Asian family, rice was of course the staple grain (barley also a favorite of mine from a young age, though I was the only person in my family to ever eat it). Since then, my world of grains diversified...couscous, quinoa, polenta, etc. Having a broad selection of grains helps change up the dinner menu from day to day, and the best part is that a lot of grain-based recipes are the "dump in a pot and stir" type.

It's also amazing to me how one of the simplest grains (corn meal) can be transformed into a real show-stopper. Yesterday M and I attended a formal dinner at The Madison Club, and I had the best polenta I've had in my life.
Sorry the image is so dim!
Smooth, creamy, with just enough thickness and full of fantastic flavor. One of my classmates is actually a prep chef in the kitchens, so I'll definitely be asking him what secrets went into making that polenta!

And then there are probably hundreds of grains still out there that I've never tried. Last weekend I came across a few recipes featuring wheatberries. I love chewy textures, so I thought I'd try it. The spinach portobello wheatberry mock risotto simmering away on the stove smells AMAZING right rich and earthy and savory and MMMMM! can't wait to taste-test!!

Other recipes I hope to try eventually:


I followed the recipe from almost exactly, but I thought I'd post some thoughts and ideas for future renditions here. In looking at the photos and recipe, I initially expected:

1. A quick, throw-in-the-pot meal
2. Healthy
3. Savory, earthy
4. Smooth, thick texture with chewy grains (like tapioca, maybe)

The first 3 are true. It was so easy to chop up an onion, some mushrooms, and simmer it all down with some broth, chicken sausage, and spinach.

However, if you're expecting the wheatberries to be the star of the show, you will be mistaken. I used 6 rather than 8 cups of spinach, and still it seems like you're basically eating a creamed spinach salad w/ wheatberries as garnish and no cream. I also wouldn't make this dish without the chicken sausage -- you'll be missing out on big flavor and texture. Wheatberries are usually described as "chewy". But unless I didn't cook them long enough (some sources say an hour; the recipe only calls for 20 minutes; I cooked for about 35), I think it's a lot more like eating brown or wild rice (which both have hulls). While the hulls do make cooking wheatberries super easy (they don't break down in water, so you don't have to worry about sticking or burning or adding water), it's not my favorite texture. Also, plan to soak them for at least 8 hours -- it helps break down chemicals in the wheatberries so your body doesn't have such a tough time digesting. I would also wait to add the parmesan till the end, as a garnish.

So, in conclusion, a very healthy-tasting, earthy dish (onto which I piled PLENTY of grated parmesan...which probably made it a lot less healthy). I'll try steaming wheatberries next time to see if it changes the texture at all. Otherwise I think I'm going to look into regular risotto recipes!


Tried steaming in the rice cooker, and they did come out a little softer. Also, they taste pretty good in Fage Greek Yogurt (plain) and a drizzle of honey! Reminds me of the warm, sweet red or mung bean dessert 'soup' they sometimes serve at the end of Chinese meals.

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