Great food requires great cooking with great ingredients. For produce, that means the freshest you can find and, if possible, organically grown. Grains are no different. Even though many of us are educated about the importance of where our meats and produce come from, we do not realize that our grains and flours should also be fresh and organic. Using the typical all-purpose flours is like eating bad produce that has been stripped of all its flavor and nutrition. Alternative grains have more flavor and variety, and can liven up ordinary dishes that usually need more sweeteners and spices, letting them take on a whole new dimension.
You reap many benefits by milling your own grains. For starters, most flours are stripped of the germ and bran layers, which contain protein, vitamins, and minerals. The flavor is removed as well in this process, since the oils in the germ are where the essential aromas and flavors are. Also, freshly milled grains taste better than whole-wheat flours you can purchase at the market. This is because the nutrients and aromas have a short shelf life after being ground. To get the optimal flavor and nutrition, grains should be milled and used within 24 hours. Here are some grains to consider using in your cooking and baking.
Barley. A sweet, earthy grain that has a malty, chewy texture. It is used to brew beer and can be ground into flour to add a malt flavor to baked goods.
Buckwheat. A nutty, earthy grain that is light and a little chewy. It is a gluten-free plant that is not wheat but is cooked like a grain. It has been used to make porridge and dumplings, soba noodles, and is great in flour form for making crepes.
Bulgur. A Middle Eastern grain that is nutty and wheaty with a coarse, chewy texture. Similar to pasta, bulgur cooks quickly. It is boiled, dried, and then cracked to remove the outer layer. It is used to make tabouli and pilaf, and can be added to soups and meatballs.
Corn. Corn is an American grain, sweet and usually coarse and toothsome. Corn can be eaten fresh off the cob, grilled, boiled, or can be dried and ground into cornmeal, polenta, or grits.
Millet. Very mild and nutty, millet can be fluffy or creamy, depending on how it’s cooked. A gluten-free grain, millet was used to make noodles in China, and more recently it is used to make porridge. It cooks quickly and is made into flour and used in alcoholic beverages.
Oats. Another Middle Eastern grain that’s sweet and nutty and cooks into a creamy, chewy consistency. Oats are most commonly made into porridge or toasted and added to muesli or baked goods. Oats come in instant, old-fashioned rolled, whole grain, and steel-cut varieties.
Rice. Sweet and mild white rice or rich and nutty brown rice can be either sticky and chewy or firm and tender. It is boiled or steamed and served as a side dish, simmered into a risotto, rolled to make sushi, or sweetened for desserts.
Rye. Of Eastern and Central European origin, rye is hearty and slightly spicy with a sticky, dense consistency. Rye flour is used in breads and used to make whisky.
Spelt. A nutty, sweet grain that is mild and chewy. Spelt flour is used to make pastas, breads, and other baked goods. To use in salads and soups, whole grains should be soaked overnight and then simmered until tender. Rolled spelt can be used like oats in baked goods. v
Fresh-Ground Corn Bread
If you can’t find ground corn, you can grind dried corn kernels in coffee grinder or grain mill. Grind twice to ensure a finely ground flour.
1 cup finely ground corn (from dried corn kernels)
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
1½ Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup milk or almond milk
¾ cup crème fraîche or soy cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter or butter substitute, melted
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat an 8”-square pan with nonstick spray. In a large bowl, combine corn, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk milk, crème fraîche, and eggs. Add to corn mixture and whisk till combined. Add butter and mix until incorporated.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until slightly golden and toothpick comes out clean, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool, 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cut into 2” squares. Serve with butter or honey.
Want to learn how to cook delicious gourmet meals right in your own kitchen? Take one-on-one cooking lessons or give a gift to an aspiring cook that you know. For more information, contact Take Home Chef personal chef services by calling 516-508-3663, writing to elke@TakeHomeChef.net, or visiting www.TakeHomeChef.net.