Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Amazing Grains
Must be close to twenty years ago, I borrowed a book called Amazing Grains from the library to learn more about cooking grains but I can't recall ever cooking anything from it. Recently, I found the volume in the Friends of the Orange County Library used book store, and couldn't resist the temptation to buy it. The book is an overwhelming resource for anyone who wants a thorough education in preparing various grains. . .and it's a nice addition to my eclectic collection of books on food.
While I discourage anyone from using 'quick' grains, things like Minute Rice or Instant Oatmeal, which have been denuded of most of their nutritional benefits and have lost all their flavor leaving them a close match to boiled cardboard, I, like most everyone, want all the benefits of eating grains with a minimum of preparation but at the same time, have them yield maximum flavor. This means using unadulterated grains and planning on some soaking time as part of the preparation.
As 21st century Americans, grains are not a common staple of our everyday diet. Sure we eat some processed grains in bread and cereal but rarely do we plan a meal around millet, barley, quinoa, etc. It seems so old fashioned, doesn't it?
Summer is a great time of the year to start experimenting with grains. I know we think of grains as something to add to soups -- like mushroom/barley soup and we prefer soup as cold weather food, but barley is a perfect grain for a salad paired with garden fresh vegetables. Substitute cooked barley (not instant barley, please) for the pasta in one of your favorite pasta salads or just toss a cupful into a regular dinner salad. Or be adventurous and build a meal around the freshest vegetables, herbs and barley as I did recently.
I compromised and bought a pound of pearled barley. While this doesn't require pre-soaking, I did soak it for a couple of hours before cooking and found it cooked up much more quickly than the 45 minutes suggested in the cooking instructions on the bag. By the way, the bag I bought, store brand from my favorite supermarket, includes another interesting salad recipe to expand your repetoire.
Florida sweet corn and vine ripened tomatoes along with fresh basil from the patio and some young green onions joined the cooked barley with oil, vinegar and seasoning. Isn't it great when something so good for you can taste so wonderful? Here's the recipe I adapted from the New York Times.
Corn and Barley Salad
1 cup pearled barley
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (I used 6 ears of sugar and honey corn)
1 cup of diced red tomatoes
4 - 5 young green onions, sliced, green and white parts
2 - 3 TBS fresh chopped basil leaves (or oregano)
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 TBS wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
3 TBS fresh goat cheese (optional)
Cook barley according to package instructions. Prepare veggies, cut corn from cob if using fresh. Whisk together oil and vinegar, basil or oregano and green onions in large bowl. When barley is cooked (drain any excess water) return to pot and add corn. Mix well. Add barley mixture and tomatoes to large bowl and mix gently. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of greens of your choice with a few dollops of goat cheese, if desired.
With a meal this simple to prepare there's plenty of time to catch up on your reading. I didn't do much to improve my mind this week but I was thoroughly entertained with a couple of Peter Abrahams' novels. I started with The Tutor while I waited for the newly released End of Story to arrive. Both are good entertainment. Abrahams' talent for suspense novels is layered with intriguing detail. This is a very bright man, who must do a lot of research.
Following up with Robert Parker's new release, Blue Screen, was sadly disappointing. Sunny Randall sounds like Spenser in high heels. When the plot doesn't interest you and you can't muster any sympathy for the characters, it's time to quit. Despite my formula for giving up on a book, I wallowed along for 86 pages before giving it the toss.
Hope everyone has a happy and safe Fourth of July. We need to all take a moment and contemplate exactly what we are celebrating on this Independence Day. We each have an obligation to ensure we remain independent. A quick scan of headlines indicates we are not far away from figments of Orwell's imagination. Is Big Brother watching you?
Until next time...keep on cooking.

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