“I’m not an amazing cook but I can follow a recipe!” – (Rachel McAdams)

Last week, I told you about all the great health benefits of ancient grains and the reasons why they should become a part of a healthy diet. However, even with the best reasons in the world, the only real way they will become a staple in my pantry is if they taste good. I thought I would put these grains to the test, and tell you about it.

Over the week-end, my humble kitchen was transformed into a test kitchen, ready to try out a couple recipes based on grains: A Spelt risotto with wild mushrooms, and some delicious roast apricot, almond and quinoa cakes.

The risotto had the flavor and smoothness of a rice based mushroom risotto, however the grain remains quite firm, adding a more textural element to the dish, as well as a subtle nutty flavor.

As for the cakes, I really liked the idea of trying out the quinoa in a sweet recipe and it worked a treat. The nuttiness of the grain complements the citrus flavors and the small translucent grains add a subtle crunch to these cakes, perfect for dessert or an indulgent morning coffee break the next day.

SPELT RISOTTO WITH WILD MUSHROOMS

(adapted from this recipe)

serves 4, about 1 hour.

Ingredients

– 2 French shallots (small red-ish onions which have a more delicate flavor than normal onions), sliced thinly.

– Olive oil

– 1 leek, while part only, sliced thickly

– A few sprigs of thyme

– 200 g spelt, rinsed thoroughly

– 150 g wild mushrooms mixture, dried or fresh, chopped roughly

– 70 g pancetta, chopped roughly (leave out for a vegetarian risotto)

– 200 ml dry white wine

– 1 l chicken or vegetable stock, heated to simmering

– 1/3 cup creme fraiche (if you can’t find creme fraiche, thickened cream is also fine)

– handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped roughly

– a generous lump of grated parmesan

– 1 lemon, halved

Directions

Heat some olive oil in a large pan, add the shallots and leek and stir until they start to soften. Add the sprigs of thyme and stir. Stir in the spelt until coated in oil. Stir in the mushroom until they start to color. Stir in the pancetta and fry until well colored. Exposing the grains to the heat will open them up and help absorb the stock better.

Add the white wine and let it bubble until it evaporates. Turn the heat down and add on ladleful of the simmering stock. Let the spelt absorb the stock before adding any more. Keep adding stock one ladleful at a time until grain is al dente (soft but with a slight crunch).

Once the grain is al dente and there is still some sauce around it, around 40-45 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the cream, parsley and parmesan, giving it that beautiful creamy texture.

Add a squeeze of lemon, spoon into shallow bowls and top with a little parsley and parmesan shavings.

If you need to make this dish a couple days in advance, stop once the grain is al dente, refrigerate and when ready, reheat and finish off by adding the cream, parsley and parmesan when ready to serve. This will give the grain a little extra time to soften and absorb the flavors of the dish.

ROAST APRICOT, ALMOND AND QUINOA CAKES

(adapted from this recipe)

Makes 8 cakes, about 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients

– 550 g, (2 1/2 cups) raw caster sugar

– 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped

– 16 small apricots, halved, or if not available, 16 dried apricots

– 60 ml dessert wine

– Juice and rind of 1 orange and 1/2 lemon

– 1/2 cup white quinoa, rinsed thoroughly (see note)

– 4 eggs

– 200 gm butter, melted and cooled

– 260 gm plain flour

– 1 tsp baking powder

– 60 gm flaked almonds, plus extra for scattering

Directions

Preheat oven to 200C. Scatter half the sugar and vanilla seeds in the base of a roasting pan (large enough to fit the apricots in one layer). Press apricots cut side down into sugar, then turn over and arrange in roasting dish. Drizzle dessert wine and citrus juice, scatter with citrus rind and place in oven. Roast until apricots are golden and tender, about 20 to 25 minutes, spooning over juices a few times if fresh apricots are getting dry. Transfer half the apricots and 40 ml pan juices to a food processor, blend to a puree and set aside. Set remaining apricots and syrup aside as well.

Meanwhile, bring quinoa, vanilla bean and 250 ml water to the boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat, simmer until liquid evaporates and quinoa is tender (it retains a crunchy texture when cooked), about 12-15 minutes. Drain any remaining water, spread onto a tray to cool and dry, about 15-20 minutes. Discard vanilla bean.

Preheat oven to 180C. whisk eggs and remaining sugar in an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, 6-8 minutes. Add butter and whisk to combine. Add flour and baking powder, stir to combine. Stir in apricot puree, almonds and quinoa. Spoon mixture into 8 buttered and floured 200 ml metal dariole moulds. Only fill the moulds to 3/4 and tap on the bench to smooth out mixture. Scatter with extra almonds and bake in oven until golden and centers are springy when lightly pressed. Cool in tins for 10 minutes, turn onto a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with roast apricots, a drizzle of syrup and a big dollop of yoghurt or vanilla ice-cream.

Note: Quinoa must be rinsed thoroughly in clear water to remove a natural coating on the grain which gives a bitter taste when cooked.

Note: If the syrup is too thick to drizzle, reheat it briefly in the oven until it turns liquid again. Add citrus juice if still too thick which might happen if you are using dried apricots rather than fresh.

And if you are in the mood for more, here are some more recipes you might feel like trying out:

Baked Farro risotto

Baked quinoa patties

Black quinoa with coconut, mango and kaffir lime syrup

Farro and roasted butternut squash

Peruvian chupe

Quinoa skillet bread

Spelt and cannellini beans with escarole

Toasted grains with labne and herbs

Warm and nutty cinnamon quinoa breakfast

And why not share your own recipes or questions with us and the other readers?

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