Foreword by Nancy Silverton
Cooking From This Book
Equipment, Tools, and Gadgets
Meet Your Grains
Also by Carolynn Carreño
This book is for the dedicated individuals out there who find the time to cook for themselves and their families and friends. Because despite what many people say, the food, and how and with what it’s made, does matter.
My friend Carolynn Carreño has written three of my cookbooks and many others for chefs and food personalities around the country. She has always captured my voice and vision with clarity and elegance, and now, at long last, Carolynn has penned her very own cookbook, Bowls of Plenty, a wonderful collection that could not be published at a better time. The popularity of bowls is obvious. Drive down any Main Street, USA, visit any airport terminal or food court, and you’ll see Bowl This and Bowl That. I know these bowls are supposed to be healthy, but since I cook and eat with only one thing in mind—flavor—I’m happy (but not surprised) to see that Carolynn’s book is aimed at making sure these healthful, wholesome bowls will be as good tasting as they are good for you.
So “Bowls of Plenty” is the ideal concept for Carolynn’s first cookbook, as she was an advocate of “bowling” long before eating healthy-delicious was all the rage. More than a dozen years ago, when we were first thrown together by our mutual agent to work on my book Twist of the Wrist (I was to develop the recipes and she was to write it) Carolynn was already singing the praises of healthy grain bowls, eating them at her favorite LA restaurant and snacking on crispy quinoa before I even knew what quinoa was.
Likewise, when Carolynn would tell me of her cooking adventures, it seemed like it always started with a bowl. A bowl of oatmeal, a bowl of rice, or a bowl of farro tossed with veggies and vinaigrette into a creative salad. Almost every time we collaborated on the phone, I would have to share Carolynn’s attention—she would be stirring a pot of lentils or toasting almonds or interrupting my directions with a question such as how does my kitchen manager, Sal, make our staff lunch rice taste so good.
Although she is not a professional chef, the amount of information and technique Carolynn has gleaned by writing so many cookbooks—about a butcher, about baker, about a deli owner, about me—makes her uniquely qualified to write her own cookbook. This is evident in the clarity and detail of each recipe in Bowls of Plenty, and in the style and flavor combinations of the bowls themselves. Yes, she has the information of a professional, but Carolynn is ultimately a home cook: someone who cooks in a relatively small kitchen, without loads of time or a staff to help her. When we are working on my recipes, she frequently scolds me, reminding me that the cookbooks are for home cooks, not professionals, and that I have to adjust this or that so that someone doesn’t kill herself trying to make a recipe. This has made my own books more user-friendly, and the same philosophy makes Bowls of Plenty the ultimate home cook’s book.
Quite early on in our relationship, I came to realize Carolynn had a finely tuned palate and excellent taste. Many times when a dish didn’t quite sing, Carolynn’s adjustments to the recipe put it over the top. It was obvious I was not dealing with a just cookbook writer, but someone who had a great love for and knowledge of food. Over the years, I’ve also come to depend upon her as my right hand at dozens of parties at my homes in Los Angeles and in Umbria. I don’t need to look over Carolynn’s shoulder to see if she’s doing something right. I know she is.
Carolynn can be very chatty, in a sweet way, like a kid so eager to tell you about something they learned at school. And this enthusiasm comes through in the small stories that proceed the recipes in Bowls. Check out “Grandmother Birdie’s Oatmeal Cocktail” and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
In days of yore, whole grains were thought of almost like vitamins, something that was good for you, but dull and without pleasure. Carolynn Carreño’s Bowls of Plenty: Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Whole-Grain Meals destroys that notion. This book proves that in the right hands, whole-grain bowls can be absolutely delicious, full of texture, vibrant, fun, colorful, and imaginative. Oh yeah, and healthy. She did me proud.
About a dozen years ago, I was dining at a Boston seafood restaurant owned by a renowned New England chef, when the server asked me, “How do you stay so skinny eating like this?” (Not that I am so skinny, but I do try to be so healthy.) The server was setting down several plastic baskets of fried food as she said it—it was that kind of seafood place. I was with my then editor at Saveur magazine, Colman Andrews, and he answered for me: “When she’s not out, eating like this, she’s home eating brown rice and broccoli.”
It was true.
Colman said it with not a little bit of scorn, playfully trying to shame me. At the time, eating healthy was still frowned upon in the “gourmet” world. Eating everything, a hard-and-fast policy of not holding back, was the sign of a true epicurean warrior. Who would have thought that just a decade later we would be an entire nation of health-conscious foodies, and that bowls like those I was enjoying within the walls of my New York City apartment, wherein whole grains provides the virtuous base to tastier stuff piled on top, would be served everywhere, from national fast food chains to the most precious farm-to-table restaurants? This book is a collection of recipes for just such bowls, from the most humble and easy to prepare, to some that are a little more involved, and more decadent.
I like to think I come to the world of whole grains honestly. I grew up in the 1970s in Southern California, with a pseudo-hippie mother who drove a van with wall-to-wall shag carpet and made macramé plant hangers and stained glass windows in her spare time. Although she wasn’t much for cooking, she billed herself as a “health nut,” and wouldn’t let us eat anything white. We would sooner have found a monkey in the house than a loaf of Wonder Bread. “It’s just white flour and water,” she would say. “No nutritional value!” Instead, she stocked the pantry with Oroweat Honey Wheat Berry bread, which was packed with chewy wheat berries and sunflower seeds (and is to this day my favorite base for avocado toast or to make French toast), and when my sister, Christy, and I would lobby for Froot Loops or Cap’n Crunch cereal, she would tell us, “You might as well eat a Hershey’s bar for breakfast!” Well, okay… But except during s’mores season, those were off-limits, too. Instead, into the cart would go boxes of Quaker 100% Natural Granola, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, and jars of wheat germ, all of which, despite their hefty sugar content, made the cut because they looked natural. Venturing out into the world, when I was sixteen, I got my first job, filling the bulk bins at a natural food store. So although Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice, complete with the cook’s crutch of that era, “the flavor packet,” was the only grain found in my house, and about as “whole grain” as that Hershey’s bar, I was aware at an early age of the existence of foods like amaranth, barley, millet, and quinoa.
I started cooking whole grains myself about fifteen years ago, around the same time I started writing about food, which was long before words and phrases like “detox” and “eating clean” became part of our national culinary vocabulary. I did it for one simple reason: I wanted to feel good. Magazine assignments for Saveur, Bon Appétit, and Gourmet had me wandering the markets of Mexico City eating all manner of braised meats stuffed into corn tortillas and bound by melted cheese; or traveling through the Mississippi Delta subsisting on such local staples as lard-fried fruit hand pies, fried chicken livers, and lemon icebox pie. Back home in New York City, I was out several nights a week at the hottest new restaurants or food industry events, where I might sit down to a dinner that consisted of a series of rich, intricate morsels, each seeming harmless as I lifted a Chinese soup spoon to my lips, or popped a bite into my mouth, but lethal when there were twenty more such bites after that one. Even the freshest farmers’ market vegetables were cooked in such a way as to absorb as much butterfat as the laws of physics would allow. After these nights, I would wake up with a food hangover. I felt tired. My mind was foggy. My stomach was bloated. And so it was that I retreated to a private life of brown rice and cruciferous vegetables, until the next night of foie gras this and truffled that. This was my style of yo-yo dieting.
Today, even though I can be found steaming brown rice or quinoa at least three times a week, I am a flavor-first cook. I come from a “gourmet” point of view, not a “health food” point of view. (In a nutshell, I eat blueberries because they taste good, not for the antioxidants they contain.) I’ve written cookbooks with and cooked in the kitchens of some of the most esteemed chefs in the country. And I have had the great privilege of eating in great restaurants, from barbecue joints in Alabama, Memphis, and Texas to the best restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Italy, Mexico, and beyond. These experiences have informed my expectations. When I prepare a meal, I know how good that thing has the potential to taste and that’s how I want mine to taste. I want my food to be so good that someone might actually write home about it. Which is all to say that I am not a “health food nut.” I am a food nut. Granted, I am a food nut who wants to take care of my one and only body, and big bowls piled with grains, vegetables, beans, and small portions of animal protein are the way I have learned to do that. This book is a collection of those bowls, recipes that reflect the balance that I’ve learned to strike between wanting delicious food, and wanting to feel good—on a daily basis.
Although I never would have believed that my personal mechanism for coping with overly rich food would become a national phenomenon, now that it has, it seems almost obvious, or at least inevitable. The grain bowl is a reflection of our current attitude toward food. Yes, we’re a nation of pork belly–obsessed food snobs, but we are also a nation that worships at the altar of healthy, and that believes there is virtue, salvation, eternal youth, and maybe even everlasting life in eating nutritious foods.
The grain bowl manages to straddle both that near religious passion we have for eating well and the great American desire to have it all—particularly if what we’re having tastes terrific. In the grain bowl, and in the recipes in this book, we are literally able to have our cake and eat healthy, too.
COOKING FROM THIS BOOK
This book is broken up into four chapters. Breakfast Bowls includes sweet and savory grain bowls and whole-grain porridges; Salad Bowls are big bowls of grain salads loaded with vegetables and tossed with dressing; Main Bowls are meant to be main dishes; and Dessert Bowls are grains in sugary incarnations.
I thought about breaking up the Main Bowls into those with meat and those without, but decided against it, because bowls, being assembled of various components, are flexible. That’s the beauty of bowls. With few—and I mean few—exceptions, you can make any bowl in this book vegetarian, and of course you can add animal protein to any vegetarian bowl—although the vegetarian bowls are so flavorful and substantial, you may not even want to. Many of the bowls are vegan, but they’re also so full of flavor that even a die-hard meat eater won’t notice the missing meat until they’re halfway through the bowl.
Mix ’n’ Match
In addition to the composed bowls that make up the Main Bowls chapter, I also encourage you to create your own custom bowls by mixing-and-matching from the various components—grains, proteins, vegetables, and condiments—in that chapter. But keep in mind that making a bowl is like going to a salad bar; if you put some thought into it and show some restraint, you’ll end up with a better-tasting (and probably better-looking) bowl. To help you create the best combinations of ingredients, I’ve included four build-your-own spreads: Build Your Own Asian Bowl, Build Your Own Farmers’ Market–Inspired Bowl, Build Your Own Middle Eastern Bowl, and Build Your Own Mexican Bowl. Choose any combination within each list and you’re guaranteed a delicious result.
Entertaining with Grain Bowls
Having a dinner party? Construct a grain bowl buffet from among the build-your-own spreads. Choose one or two grains (make one gluten-free), one animal protein and one vegetarian option, a couple (or more) vegetables, and a few condiments. This way, you’ll be catering to all your friends’ and family’s dietary needs and peculiarities, which is awfully nice of you, without actually having to hear about it, which, let’s face it, is not that interesting.
When people ask me if I’m a chef, my usual response is, “I am a professional home cook.” My recipes aren’t chef recipes. Chef recipes often have ingredients lists so long it’s as if they thought you lived in the grocery store, and they have so many steps that you’d need a battalion of prep cooks to get to the finish line. My recipes apply everything I’ve learned from chefs about how to make food as delicious as absolutely possible, but when I cook, I try to make things as easy as humanly possible.
What’s more, the majority of people I spend time with on a regular basis are not in the food business. They’re just regular people wanting to put healthy food on the table for themselves and their families on an ordinary weeknight, trying to figure out what foods to take to work to stay healthy and not break the bank, and hosting the occasional dinner party. I get texts nearly every day from friends and family members asking me what to make that night for dinner, what to substitute when they can’t find an ingredient, what to serve for a party, or what kind of side dish to serve with whatever they’re planning to cook. I wrote these recipes with those friends and family and their needs in mind.
Mario Batali said it best when he said that the quality and deliciousness of your meal is already decided when you get home from shopping for that meal. What he means by that is, you can’t make delicious food with less-than-delicious ingredients. So with Mario’s words in mind, here are my thoughts on shopping:
Produce: I am a big proponent of buying local, seasonal produce, which means produce sold at farmers’ markets. In-season produce is infinitely tastier than out-of-season produce because foods that are out of season are most often grown in faraway places, picked before they ripen, and shipped to their final destinations. Farmers’ markets only sell seasonal fruit and vegetables because the farmers in the area grew those things, picked them or plucked them or pulled them from the ground at the time they are the most flavorful, packed them in crates, put them in a truck, drove them to the city, and set them out on a table to sell, like a kid with a lemonade stand. Old school, I know. Isn’t it great?
Also, produce grown by small farmers is generally grown with flavor in mind. Farmers grow the tomatoes and green beans and lettuces and strawberries that have existed throughout time, and that taste like themselves. Industrially grown stuff, the stuff trucked and flown in from afar, is grown for money. These farmers manipulate crops so they can produce as much as possible, for as little money as possible, which they can sell for as much as possible. If these companies could make dead leaves look like a peach and sell it for $2 a pound, they would. But they can’t. So instead they sell something that looks like a peach but tastes like dead leaves. Add to those reasons, you’ll probably have a nice time shopping for the produce because farmers’ markets are pleasant places to be. You never regret going. It’s like taking an ocean swim or an evening walk. It sometimes takes some self-prodding, but you’re always glad you did.
Even though I think that buying local and seasonal is the way to go, I’m not going to insist that there is no substitution—I’ve tried to lead that particular horse to water before and I know it doesn’t work. Still, I do hope you’ll start thinking the way the best cooks—home cooks and professionals—do: “Oh! It’s asparagus season. Let me make something with asparagus!” I know that quality produce can sometimes be more expensive than shopping at most grocery stores, but you can also find good deals at farmers’ markets, and here’s why: Have you ever planted a tomato plant? You get about two thousand tomatoes, and they all ripen in the same week. You have to make friends with your entire zip code to get rid of them. Well, the same holds true for farmers. My friend Andy Arons, who owns a chain of gourmet grocery stores in Manhattan called Gourmet Garage, put it simply: “There’s an inverse relationship between price and flavor.” When blueberries are the most flavorful for a few weeks at the beginning of summer, he explains, they’re at their lowest price. Why? Because blueberry farmers have tons of them, and they want to get rid of them. In the winter, blueberries are more expensive because they’re being flown in from South America. And they don’t taste like blueberries because in order to survive the journey from another continent, the berries have to be picked before they ripen, which means before the sugars and flavors in the fruit develop. No amount of time in a box or on a plane or sitting on your kitchen counter will ever change this fact. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the particular item you want is more expensive at the farmers’ market than at the grocery store. Ask yourself this: Do you spend more money on what you put on your body, or in your body? And which do you think you should spend more money on? My point exactly.
Seafood: These days, when you go to the grocery store, you can be confronted with as many as four or five types of salmon alone. It’s hard, I know. So how to know what to choose? My friend, the chef Jonathan Waxman, told me, “Never eat flying fish. If you’re in California,” he said, “eat fish from the Pacific. If you’re in New York, eat fish from the Atlantic. It’s so simple.” If you have a seafood market near you, or a fishmonger at your farmers’ market, shop there. Ask the people who work there about the fish they’re selling or what might be the best substitute for a fish called for in a recipe. And if you really want to know more, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s very informative, user-friendly “seafood watch” page.
Pork: I have never seen the logic in saying that eating the meat of fish and chicken is good and eating the meat of steer, lamb, and pigs is, in that order bad to worse, so I consider the current pork- (and in particular, bacon-) embracing movement a step forward for the American culinary point of view. I especially believe that eating pork is a good thing when the pork you eat comes from heritage breeds of pigs, the most widely available of which is Kurobuta (aka Berkshire). In the 1970s, the commercial pork industry, as part of its “other white meat” campaign, which is one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time, began breeding the fat out of pork until eventually, and to this day, a conventionally raised pork loin had the same fat content as a skinless, boneless chicken breast. (Can we please pause to take a moment to imagine a pig with the same fat content as a small, feathery, walking bird?) Unfortunately, that pork also has the same amount of flavor as a chicken breast, which is somewhere near none. Heritage breeds, on the other hand, refer to original, heirloom breeds of pigs, meaning they were not genetically altered to be chicken-like; they grow up to be as they always were and as pigs are meant to be: fatty and flavorful. These pigs are also humanely raised on small farms; industrial farms don’t go in for these less profitable breeds. When you cook heritage pork, you’ll notice a difference in the color: it’s darker and pinker and definitely not the other white meat. It’s also considerably moister and more flavorful. You can find Kurobuta (and sometimes other heritage breeds) at quality butcher shops, high-end grocery stores with a good meat selection, and from online sources. It’s more expensive than conventionally raised pork, but if you’re going to eat animals, eat animals that had a happy, healthy life.
Lamb: I was not lamb’s biggest fan until I wrote a book with celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda and discovered that the reason I didn’t like lamb was that I was eating the wrong lamb. I needed to eat American lamb, which he told me with no lack of confidence or national pride, is the best lamb in the world. Some is labeled “Sonoma lamb,” some “Colorado lamb,” but as long as the lamb is flying the stars and stripes, you’re pretty much guaranteed it’ll be tender with a mild, appealing flavor. The lamb that has the strong, gamey, goat-like flavor that I (and a lot of you) associate with lamb (and with our dislike of it), is imported from Australia and New Zealand. It’s the lamb you find at standard grocery stores, discount grocery stores, and club stores. The inferior quality explains why it’s half the price of American lamb, even though it traveled halfway around the planet. Since I am closer on the financial spectrum to a not-quite-starving artist than a free-spending mogul, I, too, have to worry about the price of groceries. My solution, where lamb is concerned, is to buy lamb less frequently and serve smaller portions. Half the lamb, half the price. Foodie math.
Beef: I don’t love the taste of grass-fed beef; it’s too bland and dry for me and I’d rather not eat beef than eat beef that I don’t love. If you do love it, rock on. Proponents of grass-fed beef claim it’s better for the planet and for you. But I love the great, bloody steak flavor of good ol’ juicy, marbled American beef. How to justify eating this on a planet in distress? First, it’s my understanding (again, per butcher Pat LaFrieda—I mean, what do I know about meat?) that even conventionally raised cattle are not fed grains their entire life. They eat grass for the first 85 percent of their life and are switched to grains in the last 15 percent, or four to five months. With that in mind, grass-fed beef is not oh so holier. So I eat the beef that tastes good to me. Also, I only, and I mean exclusively, buy beef from a good source. I’m lucky to have a wonderful butcher near where I live; not a modern butcher, hatched from the young butchering craze, but an old-school take-a-number shop serviced by a bunch of friendly guys who know my name and everything, it seems, there is to know about meat. They sell the highest quality prime meat, and they don’t sell any meat containing hormones or antibiotics. I also buy my bacon there, and, if you must know, ground chicken, bones and all, for my adorable, GMO- and antibiotic-free miniature Labradoodle, Rufus.
Chicken: Have you ever been to a conventional chicken farm? Or seen one in a documentary? Google it now. You’ll never look at chicken the same way again. You’ll see: the chickens are crowded into pens. They live a life where they never, never, roam free. At many farms, they aren’t even allowed sunlight or fresh air. They are bred to have such large breasts that mostly they just sit, or rather, squat, around. And they’re squatting in a bed of feces, which is often not cleaned for years, which explains why chicken farms are the worst smelling places on planet earth. Why, it’s enough to make you look for free-range chicken, isn’t it? Look for chicken that is GMO-free, and free of antibiotics. Mary’s Chicken is a good, safe bet, and widely available. Chicken at farmers’ markets is expensive; if you’re willing to fork over the money, you’ll be rewarded with flavor and good karma.
Eggs: There are certain things that really are better when bought at a farmers’ market, and eggs are one of them. Farm-fresh eggs have so much flavor that once you start eating them, you won’t know what that other egg-shaped thing you’ve been eating all your life was. And the color! The yolks are a bright, goldenrod yellow. For perfectly cooked eggs, see Eggs Every Which Way (here). And as any grain bowl-er knows, a fried egg on a bowl of grains, especially grains that are spiced up and dressed with other ingredients, is dinner, and a perfectly boiled egg can turn any combination into a beauty bowl. Don’t you think the egg should be great?
EQUIPMENT, TOOLS, AND GADGETS
The late, great food writer Laurie Colwin once wrote something to the effect of, “I feel sorry for anybody who picks up a cookbook only to find a list of equipment you need to buy in order to cook from it.” This isn’t that. What this is, instead, is a randomly organized list of those tools and gadgets and vessels that I constantly reach for. Because here’s the thing. I often find myself cooking at other people’s houses, and more often than not, they have such a haphazard collection of tools and cooking equipment, and I think, No wonder you don’t like to cook. Cooking without the right tools can be so uncomfortable and frustrating. The items on this list, many of which are very inexpensive, make cooking easier and more fun for me, and I’m including them here in case it will make cooking more fun for you, too.
1. Microplane: Throw away your garlic presses, everyone. They don’t work that well. Cleaning the minuscule garlic bits out of the tiny holes is virtually impossible. And besides, the Microplane, which is a kitchen tool that originated as a tool-tool (a rasp) makes such easy work of grating garlic. It works for grating ginger, too. And for grating cheese over a dish. But the garlic thing—it’s going to change your life. In these recipes, I call for number of cloves rather than measurements because I like to grate the garlic directly into whatever vessel I’m adding it to; besides, who wants to spend their time stuffing grated garlic into a teeny spoon?
2. Scissors: These are invaluable in the kitchen, for opening packages, cutting off carrot tops, and most essentially, snipping herbs. I have a Wustoff pair, but my favorite scissors are a red handled pair I paid $4 for at the Asian grocer.
3. Mandoline: For thinly slicing and shaving vegetables. You need one if you’re going to make shaved raw vegetable salads, such as Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Spelt, Walnuts, and Pecorino (here). They also come in handy for cutting vegetables into delicate matchsticks and/or dicing very small. The good news is, inexpensive plastic mandolines are widely available.
4. Mini food processor: For pureeing chipotle chiles, grinding nuts, making pesto, and grating chunks of hard cheese, such as Parmesan or Pecorino. They’re inexpensive, easy to use, and lightweight. I have two.
5. Vitamix or another stellar blender: For whirring up sauces, hummus, pesto, and other purees. I inherited one used, so it’s not very pretty. Nevertheless, it opened up my cooking world.
6. Cast-iron griddle or grill pan: I’m madly in love with my long, rectangular Lodge cast-iron griddle/grill. It fits over two burners, and it is a griddle on one side and a grill pan with grill grates on the other. The grill side allows me to grill even when I don’t feel like going outside and lighting a fire. I use the griddle side for making pancakes, warming tortillas, and searing meats. The griddle, being flat, provides more surface area, which means more brown deliciousness. It cost me $60 at Sur La Table and it has already paid for itself as far as I’m concerned.
7. Baking sheets: I suggest you have a lot of these, and preferably not nonstick. I recommend sheet pans, which are thick, with sides about ¾ inch tall. Thin-gauge cookie sheets buckle in the oven. Thick ones, and those that develop patina over time, will give you more color on your vegetables. I buy them in packs of two at Sur La Table. I most often use the half sheet pan size (18 by 13 inches) for tasks like roasting vegetables, but I also have quarter sheet pans (9 by 13 inches) for small jobs like toasting nuts. The nice thing about these is that they stack, so you can keep a lot of them in a small space, which is essential since my kitchen is smaller than your average walk-in closet.
8. Bowls: Having plenty of mixing and prep bowls on hand makes life so much easier. I like sets of small bowls for holding prepped quantities of little things like herbs and garlic, and I have an extensive set of stainless-steel bowls for tossing grains and salads. I buy them at kitchen supply stores. They’re not expensive, light, and don’t break. And they nest, so they only take as much space as your largest bowl.
9. Fish spatula: A so-called fish spatula is made of metal and is thin and flexible, so you can really get under something and turn it without leaving the nice browned part behind in the pan. For me, it’s not just for fish anymore. It’s the only spatula (other than a rubber spatula) I will ever need.
10. Dutch oven: Heavy, large pots for braising and making beans and soup. I love my Staub pots for their sheer beauty but I also have a giant, vintage Le Creuset that I inherited from my dad and two less expensive Mario Batali by Dansk pots from Bed Bath & Beyond. Honestly, they all work the same, and I use them all, all the time.
11. Rubber spatulas: Essential in dessert making, for scraping the good stuff off the sides of the bowls, and also for cleaning out blenders, making scrambled eggs and stir-fries, stirring sauces and porridges (many rubber spatulas are heatproof), and folding salad ingredients together without any smashing and breaking. I have several, and when I’m cooking a big meal, I use every one.
12. Food-handling gloves: Using your hands to toss salads and perform other jobs in the kitchen is, in my opinion, an essential and enjoyable part of cooking. Gloves are for those who want to get down and dirty in the kitchen but without the dirty.
13. Tongs: For turning things, like vegetables, in a skillet or on a baking sheet. When you want to really achieve that perfect caramelization that makes food look and taste delicious, shaking or stirring can only do so much. You have to take the 45 seconds it requires to turn every last mushroom, each Brussels sprout, or each shrimp. Tongs are the only way to get the job done.
14. Pots and pans: I’m an All-Clad girl. I have a collection of the least expensive line in New York, and one set of the classic, mid-priced line in California; and I can tell the difference by the weight of the pans, but barely. One of the things I like about doing the matchy-matchy thing with my pots and pans, besides the fact that it satisfies my slight OCD leanings, is that the lids to same-width pots are interchangeable. Here are the pieces that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t want to, live without: A straight-sided skillet with a lid is my go-to for no-fail, fluffy, and perfectly cooked grains. I use a smallish (2-quart) saucepan, which I call my oatmeal pan, almost daily for making porridge. I use my 3-quart All-Clad saucier, which looks like a stainless-steel bowl with two handles and a lid, for making porridge when I want more room, for cooking soup, larger batches of saucy things, and sautéing just about anything. I invested in a proper All-Clad stockpot only recently; it makes clean and easy work of cooking chicken or vegetable stock because it means not having to turn over a giant pot to strain out bones or vegetables; instead, those things go in an insert, like pasta in a pasta cooker, and you lift them out in one quick, easy motion. I once stood firmly and stubbornly in the anti-nonstick pan camp. Then, in the last couple of years, I bought one for cooking eggs and fish. It’s been life altering. I now cook many more eggs and much more fish, both in much less oil than I would have had to in another pan.
15. Wire whisk: Essential for whipping, stirring, mashing, and, of course, whisking.
16. Knives: I’m sorry to disappoint you by telling you this, but you don’t need a knife block. And you don’t need a set. I know that the knife block knife set is part and parcel of the American dream, but they take up valuable counter space, and you won’t use half of them. Serious professional cooks buy one knife that they love. Then they buy another knife that they love. And then another… The knives don’t even match, if you can imagine! You only really need two knives: a big knife, called a chef’s knife, and a small paring knife. I love my Shun chef’s knife, which was a gift from Sara Foster, a wonderful cook with whom I have written two cookbooks. And my Global vegetable cleaver, which was a gift from me to myself. And I rely heavily on my inexpensive, plastic-handled Victorinox paring knife, which I got from Nina Maconnell’s wonderful weekend pop-up shop at Chino Ranch. Buy what feels good in your hand. Most important: Keep your knives sharp. That long round thing that makes you feel like a samurai using it? That’s called a honing steel. Its job is to realign the edge of the blade, which does make it a little sharper. But real knife sharpening requires special skills. Unless you have them, take your knife to a knife sharpener. (There is no shame in not sharpening your own knives. Knife sharpeners make regular rounds to restaurant kitchens, sharpening the knives of chefs.)
17. Plastic U-shaped vegetable peelers: These are so superior to the straight ones that I grew up using, and they’re only about five bucks apiece. My favorites are Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peelers, which come in a revolving variety of bright colors. I buy them in packs of three, and I often give them as gifts.
18. Recycled jam jars, deli containers, and plastic zip-top bags: To store all that delicious homemade food you’ll be cooking from this book. Cooking up big batches of grains, beans, and condiments to mix and match for last-minute meal preparation is the secret to home-cooking success.
19. Strainer: I have one that fits across my sink, which, in a small kitchen, is life altering. I use it for rinsing vegetables, beans, and grains. Then I have a set of handheld fine-mesh strainers. In a grain bowl world, you will need the large one for rinsing and draining grains. Keep it handy.
20. Mexican elbow: That’s a new term for me, not used (that I know of) in Mexico, where actual Mexican elbows are everywhere. I’m referring to that hinged gadget in which you put a half a lime for squeezing the juice (I call it a lime squeezer). I have one for lemons, too. Very handy, but positively indispensable when juicing large amounts of lemons or limes, such as for making vinaigrettes or micheladas, beer and lime juice cocktails, when all’s said and done.
MEET YOUR GRAINS
What Is a Whole Grain?
A whole grain is a grain consisting of three parts: the bran (the fiber-rich outermost layer), the germ (the small core that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and healthy fats), and the endosperm. Together, the bran and germ contain about a quarter of a grain’s protein. Refined grains are stripped of those outer layers so that just the endosperm remains. Thus, the grain goes from being a healthy carb, to just a carb, still offering protein (and calories), but little else.
Whole grains have been a staple in the human diet for thousands of years; only in the last hundred years have refined, processed grains (white rice, pearl barley, all-purpose flour) become the norm. The 1873 invention of the roller mill allowed for the efficient separation of the bran and germ from the endosperm. This was initially done to improve the grain’s shelf life. Exporters liked the longer shelf life. Consumers liked the taste. And refined grains and flours became the thing.
Health Benefits of Whole Grains
There are countless health benefits of eating whole grains as opposed to refined grains—and no downside. Whole grains are digested more slowly than refined grains, keeping insulin and blood sugar levels down. Eating whole grains also contributes to a lower mortality rate, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, reduced risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, reduced blood pressure, reduced risk of stroke, and reduced risk of cancer, especially cancers of the digestive system.
So now that you see that whole grains are your friend, following is a list of grains (and a few seeds, such as quinoa, that live life as grains), including for each grain a definition and description, information on how to cook it, and best uses for that grain. What I don’t do is tell you that this grain is higher in protein and that one has more antioxidants, because I don’t believe in eating foods just for the specific nutrients they contain. Instead, I believe you should eat a diet rich in real food—foods that come from the ground and are still in the state in which they were grown—including whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, with animal proteins in side dish portions. I don’t think eating healthy needs or should be any more complicated.
Amaranth is a gluten-free seed that is cooked and treated as a grain; it tastes a bit like corn that has been boiled for too long. Cooked, amaranth turns gelatinous and gummy (no bueno), so I use it in places where that texture can be hidden, such as in a porridge. If you want the corny flavor of amaranth without the texture, substitute ¼ cup amaranth in place of the quinoa in any quinoa recipe. You can also pop amaranth in a skillet, which gives it a mild, toasty flavor. Amaranth is commonly prepared this way in its native land, Mexico, where it’s subsequently used to make candy—think sesame brittle, only an amaranth version—and it’s often added to granola and other crunchy snacks. I don’t rinse amaranth before cooking it. It’s too small and would fall through the holes of any strainer I own. While I’m here, I should tell you that amaranth is also a leafy green vegetable; the seeds come from the flowers of the plant. You may find it at Indian or Middle Eastern markets or farmers’ markets. If you do, buy it and cook it up with garlic and olive oil, as if it were spinach.
Makes about 3 cups
Hulled barley is a whole grain, and contains gluten. It has an earthy flavor and chewy texture. The word “hulled” can be misleading; this means the tough outer hull has been removed, but the hull is removed from all grains before eating them, unless you’re a bird—think about the hull of a sunflower seed. Pearl barley is barley that has been polished, or stripped of the bran. It cooks in half the time, but what’s the purpose of eating barley if it’s not nutritious?
Refrigerate cooked barley and use it to make salads such as Broccolini and Sprout Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing (here); plop a spoonful on top of a cup of yogurt with a spoonful of jam and granola; or make a quick savory breakfast yogurt with fresh herbs (such as parsley, oregano, mint, marjoram, basil, and/or chives) and harissa or Sriracha. It will last for a week.
1 cup hulled or pearl barley, rinsed
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the barley and salt and return the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the barley is tender, about 50 minutes for hulled barley, 25 minutes for pearl barley. Drain the barley and serve, or transfer to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
Makes about 3½ cups
The most common type of black rice is a medium-grain rice often referred to by the brand name Forbidden Rice. It turns dark purple when cooked and has a sweet, nutty unique flavor that makes Coconut Black and Wild Rice Pudding (here) special. You can also use black rice to make Ginger Scallion Rice (here), or in place of brown rice to serve with any Asian-leaning dish.
Black rice will keep for a week in the refrigerator. Heat leftovers with coconut milk to make a quick last-minute hot cereal; spoon it atop coconut yogurt and top with tropical fruit; or stir-fry it with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and green veggies. All rice is gluten free.
1 cup black rice, rinsed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the rice, salt, and 3 cups water in a large straight-sided sauté pan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer the rice for 20 to 30 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff gently with a fork. Serve, or transfer the rice to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
BROWN RICE (LONG-GRAIN)
Makes about 3½ cups
Long-grain rice (which includes basmati, an aromatic Indian rice, and jasmine, an aromatic Thai rice) is thin and when cooked correctly, the grains don’t stick together. Being able to cook up a good pot of long-grain brown rice is essential to your grain bowl future, because brown rice is the heart and soul of the grain bowl world. At least, it is to mine. Brown rice became my gateway food to good health and what is known today as “clean” eating. Every time I eat a bowl of freshly steamed rice, whether it’s topped with curry, stir-fry, black beans, or poached salmon, I am reminded how much I enjoy eating it, and how great I feel after eating it. In a sense, it is the reason for this book. Thanks, brown rice.
The best way I’ve found to cook brown rice, which I now apply to any grains that are steamed (cooked with the lid on), is in a skillet with straight sides. This gives you more surface area than the more commonly used saucepan. More surface area means the rice turns out fluffier. It also helps the rice cook more evenly and faster. I rinse all grains before cooking them, but it’s particularly important to rinse brown rice. In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has reported that brown rice contains traces of arsenic. (From the Department of: If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another.) Rinsing the rice can help reduce the levels of arsenic by as much as 30 percent.
Cooked brown rice will keep, refrigerated, for up to a week. With a little creativity and the recipes that lie ahead, having that cooked rice at your fingertips can make the difference between nothing to eat and dinner on the table. Use the cooked grains to make Quick and Easy Breakfast Fried Quinoa (here) or Red Rice Pad Thai (here; it’s okay if the rice isn’t red). Cooked rice is also used as a g-free binder for Pomegranate-Glazed Lamb Meatballs (here). So make more than you think you’ll need. All rice is gluten free.
1 cup long-grain brown rice, rinsed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the rice, salt, and 2 cups water in a large straight-sided sauté pan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer the rice for 20 to 30 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff gently with a fork. Serve, or transfer the rice to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
BROWN RICE (SHORT-GRAIN)
Makes about 3 cups
Short-grain brown rice is shorter than long-grain rice, and almost round in shape. When cooked, the grains get soft and clump together. I like to use it when making things where soft and clumpy are positive characteristics, like for making Slow-Cooked Brown Rice and Quinoa Porridge (here) and Sorghum Risotto Primavera with Bacon and Burrata (here). All rice is gluten free.
1 cup brown rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the rice, salt, and 1¾ cups water in a large straight-sided sauté pan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer the rice for about 45 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to give the rice a tumble before serving. Serve the rice or transfer to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
In the gluten-phobic world in which we live, buckwheat needs to think about rebranding itself, because, despite its name, it is not wheat, and it is gluten-free. Buckwheat groats (which are technically seeds), have an unusual shape—sort of like pyramids, or minuscule teeth and an earthy flavor and a crunchy, nugget-like texture. I don’t love buckwheat cooked. It reminds me of something you’d eat in a cold Russian winter when you didn’t have a lot of options. I love it toasted, however. And when it’s toasted with sweetener as it is in Rosemary Buckwheat Crunch (here), I am obsessed. In the hot cereal aisle, you’ll also see buckwheat that has been milled to the size of Cream of Wheat, which makes a hearty, earthy-tasting breakfast porridge. Or use it as a base for a breakfast rice bowl or as a more nutritious, higher-in-fiber alternative to the cornmeal in Millet Polenta (here).
Makes about 3 cups
Bulgur, traditional to Middle Eastern cooking, is hard wheat (so it contains gluten) that has been boiled, dried, and cracked. Because it is precooked, it takes only 10 minutes to prepare. The cracked quality gives it an interesting, almost porous texture that really absorbs the flavors around it. Most people know bulgur for its role in tabbouleh, but it’s a very versatile grain and can be used to make porridge (cook it with almond milk and cinnamon and serve with toasted almonds); instead of spelt to make the Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Spelt, Walnuts, and Pecorino (here); or in place of the farro in Summer Corn Farrotto with Brown Butter and Burst Sweet Tomatoes (here); or as a base for any grain bowl, particularly those with a Mediterranean vibe. As you can see, I’m a fan of bulgur.
1 cup bulgur, rinsed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the bulgur and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and gently boil the bulgur, uncovered, until it is tender but not mushy, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the bulgur and serve, or transfer to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
Makes about 3 cups
Farro is an Italian word for specific varieties of wheat grains also known as einkorn (farro piccolo), emmer (farro medio), and spelt (farro grande). All are chewy and hearty, similar to barley. Farro medio, an ancient, unhybridized grain also called “true farro,” is what I am referring to when I call for farro in these recipes. All farro varieties can be used interchangeably, and hulled barley and wheat berries, which have the same chewy characteristics as farro, can be used in their place. The majority of farro you will find, and what I call for in these recipes, is semi-pearled, which means the bran has been removed. If you manage to find and buy whole farro, which is available only at very few specialty stores and online sources, note that it will take about twice the time to cook. Some people swear by toasting farro before boiling it. I can go either way, but honestly, I don’t think I can tell the difference in the flavor. Farro is not gluten-free although many believe that unadulterated grains such as farro are easier to digest for the gluten challenged.
Farro is a handy grain to have around to toss into salads, such as the Umbrian Farro and Bean Salad with Celery Leaf Pesto and Mozzarella (here), or in place of the rice in Italian Antipasto Rice Salad (here), to make a dessert of Dark Chocolate Farro Goop with Toasted Walnuts Steamed Cream (here), to add to a finished soup or stew, or to make a quick breakfast, spooned over yogurt with honey and fresh or dried figs.
1 cup farro, rinsed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
If you are toasting the farro, adjust the oven racks so one is in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, if you have it, and spread the farro out over the baking sheet. Toast the farro in the oven for 10 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice during that time so it toasts evenly.
Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the salt and farro, reduce to maintain a gentle boil, and cook, uncovered, until the farro is tender but still chewy, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain the farro and serve, or transfer to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
Makes about 3 cups
Freekeh is an Arab grain product made from durum wheat grains. The grains are harvested while they are still green, then sun-dried, roasted, and polished. In the Middle East, freekeh is sold whole or cracked, but in the United States, you’ll only find it cracked. It looks like green bulgur and has an intense smoky flavor from the roasting. Because it derives from wheat, freekeh does contain gluten, but some speculate that the treatment of the grains denatures the gluten, making it more easily tolerated by those sensitive to gluten. I love the green color and roasted flavor of freekeh in the Pomegranate Tabbouleh (here); it would also be delicious in place of millet in the Rainbow Carrot Salad with Millet, Feta, and Lemon Yogurt Dressing (here). I wouldn’t recommend it for a sweet porridge, but beyond that, let your freekeh imagination run wild.
1 cup freekeh, rinsed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the freekeh and salt, reduce the heat to medium-high, and gently boil the freekeh, uncovered, until it is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the freekeh and serve, or transfer to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
Makes about 1½ cups
You think quinoa’s small? Kaniwa, a high-protein, gluten-free seed native to the Andes mountains in Bolivia and Peru, is about half quinoa’s size. Cooked, kaniwa is crunchy, with the pop-in-your-mouth texture like the tiny fish eggs that coat a cut sushi roll. Kaniwa is even more nutrient dense than quinoa and comes in only one color: reddish brown. Use it in place of any of the other grains in the Four Grain “Nutella” Porridge (here). Or cook it on its own and combine it with other gluten-free grains, such as the quinoa in Red Beet and Quinoa Salad (here) or the Sambal Tofu Quinoa Bowl (here). Kaniwa is too small to rinse in any strainer I own; plus, unlike its cousin, quinoa, kaniwa does not have saponins on the exterior, which is what makes rinsing quinoa so important.
½ cup kaniwa
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the kaniwa, salt, and 1½ cups water in a small saucepan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and gently simmer the kaniwa for 20 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the kaniwa rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff gently with a fork. Serve, or transfer the kaniwa to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
Makes about 2 cups
Commonly sold under the trademarked name Kamut, Khorasan wheat is an ancient variety about twice the length of standard American wheat. The name comes from the region in Iran where the grains supposedly originate; Khorasan wheat has also been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. All to say that while it may be new to you, it is not new. Khorasan wheat takes over an hour to cook. The benefits? It has a rich flavor and wonderful, super chewy texture, is 30 percent higher in protein than modern American wheat, and is an unadulterated crop, which means it’s free of genetic modification and other abuse, though it does contain gluten.
1 cup Khorasan wheat (Kamut), rinsed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the Khorasan wheat and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and gently boil the grains, uncovered, until they are tender but still chewy, 60 to 70 minutes. Drain and serve, or transfer the grains to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking them to use in a salad.
Makes about 4 cups
Millet is a gluten-free grain (technically a seed) that most of us have known, even if not by name, for its role as the main ingredient in birdseed. Millet is a good source of protein, fiber, and other nutrients, and has been a staple in India and Africa for thousands of years; it has gained popularity here in the last decade, as more and more Americans strayed away from gluten. Cooked, millet can get gooey and gummy, which doesn’t matter when it is cooked into a porridge, such as Four Grain “Nutella” Porridge (here) or Coconut Millet Porridge (here). But I have also perfected a method for cooking millet that results in grains that are fluffy and not sticky at all, like the whole-grain version of couscous. And you don’t have to boil millet to eat it; you can also eat millet raw or toasted; I make Toasted Millet Frozen Custard (here) and I’ve also been known to throw it into chocolate chip cookie dough and Sweet and Salty Granola (here).
1 cup hulled millet, rinsed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Adjust the oven racks so one is in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bring 1¾ cups water to a boil in a large ovenproof sauté pan (FYI: most sauté pans are ovenproof, even those with rubber handles) over high heat. Add the millet and salt, and return the liquid to a boil. Turn off the heat and put the lid on the pan. Put the pan in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the millet has absorbed all the liquid. Remove the millet from the oven and let it sit, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes; uncover and fluff gently with a fork. Serve or transfer to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking the millet to use in a salad.
Oats are a gluten-free grain native to Europe; their distinct, toasty flavor comes from the fact that the grains are roasted after being harvested. Oats come in a variety of forms: whole grains, which are called whole oat groats, steel-cut (also called Irish oats or Scottish oats), rolled oats, and quick-cook oats. You don’t see whole oat groats often; they can be used in place of any chewy grain such as the farro in Spiced Apple Breakfast Farro (here), Summer Corn Farrotto Sweet (here), or Dark Chocolate Farro Goop (here). Steel-cut oats, whole oats that have been chopped into two or three pieces, are used to make porridge. Rolled oats have been steamed and then passed through a roller to flatten them. Quick-cooked oats (aka “instant oats”) are rolled oats that have been chopped up for quicker cooking. All have the same nutritional value, though instant oats have a higher glycemic index because the body processes them more quickly. Oats have more fiber than any other grain and are considered among the healthiest grains; they have a unique status in that companies may claim on the packaging that eating oats can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Makes about 3½ cups
Native to Peru, quinoa is the gluten-free seed of a plant, related to beets and Swiss chard (go figure!). Quinoa has had a meteoric rise in popularity over the last decade because it has a delicious, mild flavor, is packed with nutrients, and is a great source of protein. When cooked correctly, it has a light, fluffy, and totally appealing texture. Quinoa is coated with saponins, phytochemicals that can impart a bitter taste to cooked quinoa, so while some manufacturers remove this outer layer, it’s still wise to rinse quinoa before cooking it. Quinoa grains can be white, red, or black. They taste the same, so which color you pick is a matter of style.
I almost always have cooked quinoa in the refrigerator. I mix it with a little sugar and cinnamon and serve it as a quick, healthy breakfast cereal with goji berries and raw cashews, or I use it to make Quick and Easy Breakfast Fried Quinoa (here).
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the quinoa, salt, and 2 cups water in a large sauté pan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer the quinoa until the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff gently with a fork. Serve, or transfer the quinoa to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
Makes about 3½ cups
Red rice is a long-grain rice from Southeast Asia. It is similar in texture and taste to brown rice but the exterior, or bran, of the rice is red, which is what gives the rice its unique color. There are many types of red rice, including heirloom Bhutanese rice, Himalayan red rice, and Thai red rice, sometimes sold as “red cargo rice,” referring to the fact that it was shipped in cargo containers and packaged at its point of destination. The cooking time given here is for red cargo rice. Refer to the cooking times on the package if you are using a different variety of red rice. All rice is gluten-free.
1 cup red rice, rinsed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the rice, salt, and 1¾ cups water in a large sauté pan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and cover. Simmer the rice until the water has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff gently with a fork. Serve, or transfer the rice to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
Makes about 2 cups
Rye, a grain common to Russia and eastern European countries, is related to barley and wheat and, like those grains, contains gluten. The rye grain comes in many forms: Rye berries, whole rye grains, look like long, slender wheat berries. They can be used in place of wheat berries or other chewy grains, including farro, spelt, and Khorasan wheat. Cracked rye is the equivalent of cracked wheat, or bulgur; cook cracked rye as if it were bulgur. Rye flakes look like large rolled oats, but with a darker, grayish hue and an earthier flavor. Use them in any recipe that calls for rolled oats, such as to make a quick breakfast cereal, or in place of or in combination with rolled oats in Sweet and Salty Granola (here) or Whole-Grain Crisp Topping (here).
1 cup rye berries, rinsed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the rye berries and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and gently boil the rye berries, uncovered, until they are tender but still chewy, 60 to 70 minutes. Drain the rye berries and serve, or transfer to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking them to use in a salad.
Makes about 2 cups
Sorghum, a round, gluten-free grain, is a staple grain in Africa and India. It has a mild flavor, so it reminds me of little round pasta such as Israeli couscous, but with loads of nutritional value. Sorghum takes a long time to cook, and seems to be impossible to overcook, so it’s the perfect grain to toss into soup. Soaking the grains overnight helps to reduce their cooking time. It has a chewy texture, so it’s the ideal g-free substitute for other chewy grains such farro, spelt, and wheat berries
1 cup sorghum, preferably soaked overnight and drained
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Bring 2 quarts water to a boil over high heat. Add the sorghum and salt, reduce the heat to medium-high, and gently boil the sorghum, uncovered, until tender, about 50 minutes. (If you did not soak the sorghum, keep cooking until they are tender, adding more water as necessary; it might take 70 minutes or more.) Drain and serve, or transfer the sorghum to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you are cooking it to use in a salad.
Makes about 2 cups
Spelt, known in Italy as farro piccolo, is an ancient European grain related to wheat. Yes, it has gluten, but unlike common American wheat, spelt has not been subjected to the abuses of agribusiness, such as cross-breeding and genetic modification. Some sources believe that those intolerant of wheat may have an easier time digesting spelt and other ancient grains. Spelt is chewy, with a nutty, earthy flavor; it’s great in salads, such as the Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Spelt, Walnuts, and Pecorino (here), spooned into soups, or served with yogurt or milk as a quick-and-easy breakfast cereal. Spelt takes more than an hour to cook, so if you’re strapped for time, use wheat berries or farro, which take a bit less time, in its place. Soaking it for an hour or up to overnight before cooking will reduce the cooking time slightly.
1 cup spelt, rinsed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the spelt and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and gently boil the spelt, uncovered, until it is tender but still chewy, 60 to 70 minutes. Drain and serve, or transfer the spelt to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you are cooking it to use in a salad.
Teff is a tiny ancient grain and a staple in Ethiopian cuisine; teff flour is used to make the Ethiopian bread injera. The grains, which come in brown and white (though brown is more common), are gluten-free and high in other nutrients, including iron. Some have dubbed teff the “new quinoa,” but I’m not buying it. Where quinoa cooks up fluffy with a mild, easy-to-like flavor, teff is gummy, gluey, and has an unusual taste. I experimented a lot with teff before I found three ways to use it that were without a doubt as delicious as they were healthy. Teff is one of four grains in Four Grain “Nutella” Porridge (here). I use it to make a polenta-like base for Mole Teff and Chicken (here); and I used the miniscule grains as one might use polenta to make a Flourless Chocolate Teff Cake (here). It was only in retrospect that I realized all three uses contained chocolate, which complements or masks the vaguely chocolaty flavor of teff. I don’t rinse teff before I cook it. It’s too small. It would be like rinsing a poppy seed, and could only end in frustration.
Makes about 2 cups
Wheat berries are just that: the whole kernels of wheat, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Before farro and Khorasan wheat came back into our lives, wheat berries were the only grain of that type that you would see in a salad. I use them to make a Deconstructed Italian Easter Pie (here), wherein the berries, suspended in honey, are spooned over whipped goat cheese. And I stir leftover wheat berries into ricotta or yogurt for breakfast or dessert; I got this idea from an obscure Sicilian dessert that consists of cooked wheat berries stirred into a bowl of lightly sweetened ricotta and topped with shaved dark chocolate. I strongly suggest you cook yourself some wheat berries, pick up a tub of ricotta, and get on this right now.
1 cup wheat berries, rinsed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the wheat berries and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and gently boil the wheat berries, uncovered, until they are tender but still chewy, 50 to 60 minutes. Drain the wheat berries and serve, or transfer to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking them to use in a salad.
Makes about 3 cups
Wild rice, an ancient cereal grain native to North America, is not actually rice—it’s a grain variety all its own. It is high in protein, fiber, and other nutrients. When cooked properly (i.e., not overcooked), it is firm and chewy, and the long, slender grains keep their pretty, structured shape. It’s a good gluten-free option in recipes calling for any of the gluten-containing grains, such as in the Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Spelt, Walnuts, and Pecorino (here) or the Farmers’ Market Bowl (here). It is especially delicious with roasted vegetables and other foods with a fall or winter vibe.
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the wild rice, salt, and 2½ cups water in a large sauté pan over high heat. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and gently simmer until the grains are tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the wild rice rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff gently with a fork. Serve, or transfer the wild rice to a wide bowl or baking sheet to cool to room temperature if you’re cooking it to use in a salad.
I’m an early riser, and I can’t start the day without breakfast. I’m also a rut eater, so what I’m eating today is probably what I’m going to eat tomorrow, and it’s very possible I will eat the same thing the day after that. The ruts change from time to time. Oatmeal is my fallback rut, but, variety being the spice and all that, over the years I’ve made porridge of just about every grain imaginable. You’ll find my most successful experiments here—and if you’re not an early morning person, you’ll be happy to know they can, each and every one of them, be made in advance. You’ll also find savory breakfast options here: rice bowls with an egg on them, breakfast fried quinoa, and other delicious healthy meals. If you have cooked grains on hand, and I suggest you do, you can pull these breakfasts together in minutes. And remember these words: breakfast anytime.
GRANDMOTHER BIRDIE’S OATMEAL COCKTAIL with Raisins and Salty Sunflower Seeds
QUICK AND EASY BREAKFAST FRIED QUINOA
RICE BOWL WITH POACHED EGG, Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, and Feta
JAPANESE BREAKFAST with Spinach, Salmon, and Sweet Miso Dressing
FOUR GRAIN “NUTELLA” PORRIDGE with Toasted Hazelnuts and Jam
SLOW-COOKED BROWN RICE AND QUINOA PORRIDGE
ROSEMARY BUCKWHEAT CRUNCH with Fresh Ricotta
SPICED APPLE BREAKFAST FARRO with Yogurt Cream
PASTRAMI AND RYE BERRY HASH with Mustard Greens and Pickled Mustard Seeds
SWEET AND SALTY GRANOLA with Toasted Coconut and Pecans
ASIAN BREAKFAST PORRIDGE with Turkey Meatballs
COCONUT MILLET PORRIDGE with Bananas and Poppy Seeds
QUINOA HUEVOS RANCHEROS BOWL
GRANDMOTHER BIRDIE’S OATMEAL COCKTAIL
with Raisins and Salty Sunflower Seeds
My grandmother Birdie, whose oatmeal this is modeled after, was way ahead of her time in terms of women’s liberation. For starters, she worked, when the vast majority of women didn’t. And she didn’t cook, except for one thing: oatmeal. She called her version “oatmeal cocktail,” which made it feel special. And indeed it was special. Birdie stirred tons of brown sugar or honey into her oatmeal, and put a big plop of butter, which melted into glistening golden pools, on top. It was so sweet and decadent, it was like an oatmeal cookie in a bowl. But the best thing about that oatmeal was the salted sunflower seeds, which were strewn throughout like little crunchy salt vessels. I add even more salt, in the form of rock-like gray or pink salt, or flaky sea salt, at the end, because my love of sweet and salty knows no bounds.
When it comes to cooking oats in milk or water, I compromise: I use half milk, so the oatmeal turns out rich and creamy, and half water, just to cut the decadence quotient by half. Do what I do, or use all of one or the other. You could also use a dairy-free milk alternative.
2 cups milk (I like whole cow’s milk here, but use what you like), plus more as needed
1 cinnamon stick, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup raisins, golden or black
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup hulled roasted salted sunflower seeds
Gray or pink (rock-like) sea salt or flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel (optional)
Combine the milk and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Add the cinnamon and kosher salt and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Stir in the oats and return the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook gently for 30 minutes, until the oats are tender. Add the raisins and simmer for 5 minutes more to plump them up. Fish out and discard the cinnamon stick if you used it.
Dish out the oatmeal into four bowls and add 1 tablespoon of butter to each dish while the oatmeal is piping hot. Sprinkle the brown sugar, sunflower seeds, and salt over the top, pour a little bit of cold milk around the edges of the bowl, and dig in.
COLD HOT CEREAL
When I make oatmeal, I always make enough for four, even if I only need one or two servings. I refrigerate the leftovers and then either reheat the cereal in a saucepan with a little water or milk, or, better yet, eat the cereal cold. Have you ever had cold hot cereal? I didn’t think so. In the summer, I make hot oatmeal just so that I can refrigerate it and eat it cold. It’s so delicious and so much healthier than any other, and I mean any other, cold cereal out there. If you’re feeling fancy, toss some berries or dried fruit on top of your cold hot cereal, or cut up some soft in-season fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, or figs, and throw them on. Drizzle with honey, maple syrup, or agave syrup, scatter some kind of nuts or seeds over the top, and pour milk around the edges. You’ll never cook a single serving of oatmeal again.
QUICK AND EASY BREAKFAST FRIED QUINOA
If I have a go-to breakfast, it’s this fried quinoa, which can really be a fried any-grain. The grains and greens are cooked in the fat rendered from the bacon, so it’s a one-dish wonder, and it takes about 15 minutes to make, including dishwashing time. I am not an indiscriminate Sriracha user, but the Sriracha scribbled on top really makes this breakfast.
To make it vegan, or if you simply aren’t a bacon eater, don’t add the bacon, and cook the scramble in olive or canola oil. This recipe is for four but it’s something I throw together often when I’m feeding only myself. Just scale it down.
4 thick slices bacon
1 bunch collard greens (or kale or chard)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups cooked quinoa (or brown rice; from 1 cup uncooked grains, here or here)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Cook the bacon in a large (preferably nonstick) skillet over medium heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon is brown but not crispy, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the bacon. Transfer the bacon to a bed of paper towels to cool; thinly slice crosswise.
Stack three or four collard leaves at a time and roll them lengthwise into a tight log. Cut across the log to thinly slice the leaves, stopping when you get to the stems, and discard the stems.
Increase the heat to medium-high, add the collards, and sprinkle with salt. Cook the greens for about 1 minute, folding them with tongs so they cook evenly. Dump the quinoa into the pan, fold the grains in with the greens, and cook to warm the quinoa through. Lower the heat to medium-low and move the greens and grains to one side of the skillet to create space in the pan. Pour the eggs into the space you created in the pan and cook for about 1 minute until they look like soft scrambled eggs. Fold the greens and grains in with the eggs and turn off the heat. Add the bacon back to the pan and fold them in with the rest of the mess. Scribble Sriracha on top of the whole story, and serve with more Sriracha on the side.
RICE BOWL WITH POACHED EGG,
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, and Feta
Breakfast rice bowls such as this have taken over Los Angeles in the last half decade. People are obsessed with them. And for good reason: they’re satisfying and healthy, and there’s just something about spooning rice and runny eggs from a bowl and into your mouth that makes you feel all wrapped up and warm; it’s like a free hug. The tomatoes called for here roast for hours to concentrate their sweetness, so if you haven’t already made them or don’t have several hours before hunger strikes, substitute sun-dried tomatoes or sliced fresh tomatoes. Looking for some variety in your life? Try the same toppings on a bowl of savory buckwheat breakfast porridge (see Buckwheat, here; or Millet Polenta, here).
1 cup long-grain brown rice (or quinoa), cooked (see here and here; about 3½ cups cooked grains)
4 poached eggs (see here)
8 halves of Slow-Roasted Tomatoes (recipe follows; or 8 sun-dried tomatoes, or 2 fresh in-season tomatoes, or 2 avocados, halved, pitted, and peeled)
2 to 3 ounces feta (¼ to ½ cup crumbled)
A big handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley and/or chives
Mound the grains into four bowls. Slide one poached egg on each bowl and nestle the tomatoes beside it. Crumble the feta over the top and use scissors to snip the herbs over the bowl.
Serves 4 to 6; makes 12 tomato halves
Slow-roasted tomatoes are like tomato candy. Cooking them this way, in a warm oven for a long time, extracts the water from tomatoes, which concentrates their flavor; slow roasting can make even an average, out-of-season tomato taste pretty darned good. These tomatoes, leftover farro or wild rice, and a dollop of yogurt is my idea of a perfect healthy working lunch. I usually make a double batch so I have these delicious little gems to eat in various ways throughout the week.
6 Roma (plum) tomatoes, stemmed and halved lengthwise
6 garlic cloves, smashed
Handful of fresh thyme sprigs (6 to 10)
¼ cup olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
Adjust the oven racks so one is in the middle position and preheat the oven to 300ºF.
Toss the tomatoes, garlic, thyme sprigs, olive oil, and salt in a medium baking dish (a pie dish works great for this). Turn the tomatoe halves cut-side up and roast until the tomatoes are browned and beginning to collapse, about 2 hours.
Let the tomatoes cool slightly before serving them. Store the tomatoes in a flat airtight container for up to 1 week and bring them to room temperature before serving.