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Maria Speck wants you to get comfortable with ancient grains. The food journalist and cookbook author has long advocated for ancient grains’ prominence in home cooks’ repertoires, showcasing the versatility (and health benefits) of grains like barley, farro, freekeh, and quinoa. 

Related Reading: This West African Grain Bowl Feeds All Kinds of Hunger

Her two cookbooks, “Simply Ancient Grains” and “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals,” highlight her devotion to and understanding of ancient grains. She illuminates how adaptable these old-world whole grain staples are, transforming otherwise unassuming mounds of polenta and wheat berries into Mediterranean and Northern Europe-inspired dishes you’ll want to eat everyday. 

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Take Maria’s recipe for Burgundy bulgur with blueberries and orange blossom water. The pink-stained bulgur is shot through with pomegranate juice, swirled with orange blossom water, and topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of blueberries. It’s almost like sweet oatmeal—minus the oats. Or test out one of Maria’s desserts, like her lemony millet pudding with caramelized grapes. A fluffed-up millet is combined with pudding (similar to rice pudding), dressed with white wine and limoncello, then crowned with grapes and ribbons of lemon zest (recipe here!).

If these ancient grains sound a bit too esoteric to you, Maria’s got you covered. Chowhound sat down with her for our podcast Table Talk to chat all things ancient grains. After hearing Maria’s deep knowledge and passion for grains, you’ll come away wanting to fill your pantry with kamut berries. And when that day comes, we’ll direct you to Maria’s recipe for kamut salad with oranges, leeks, and blue cheese (found below). The bright, tangy salad is built out of chewy grains, orange segments, and leeks, then tossed with chopped walnuts and raisins. We can guarantee it’s the kind of salad that’ll make anyone become an ancient grains convert.

Reprinted with permission from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2015 by Erin Kunkel.

Kamut Salad with Oranges, Leeks, and Blue Cheese Recipe

If there is one vegetable I would love to go sky-high on the trend barometer, it is the sturdy leek. To me, its elegant slender stalks are vegetable candy. My own appreciation for this humble vegetable started when I was growing up in Germany, where leeks, potatoes, and carrots were the trinity of cold long winter months when not much else was available. Even when just allowed to soften, leeks add an alluring sweetness to every dish that features them.

In this colorful winter salad, Kamut, an ancient wheat variety, provides superb chew—each bite interspersed with juicy oranges, crunchy walnuts, and pungent blue cheese. Use spelt, wheat berries, or gluten-free sorghum to vary. This salad makes for a satisfying yet light lunch, or serve it next to grilled chicken or steak.

Kamut Salad with Oranges, Leeks, and Blue Cheese

Serves: 4-6
  • 1 1⁄2 cups water
  • 3⁄4 cup Kamut berries, soaked overnight and drained, or about 2 cups cooked
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 small dried red chile (optional)
  • 1⁄4 cup golden raisins
  • 1 large orange, preferably organic
  • 2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed well, and cut into 3⁄4-inch segments (about 4 cups)
  • 1⁄2 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1⁄2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄3 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup mild crumbled blue cheese such as Stilton
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  1. Add the water, Kamut, bay leaf, and chile to a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until tender but slightly chewy, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to steam for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, if needed. Transfer to a large serving bowl, remove the spices, and spread to cool.
  2. Add the raisins to a small bowl and cover with hot water. Cut off a 2 by 1-inch strip of zest from the orange, removing any white pith, and set aside. Finely grate the remaining skin until you have 1 teaspoon zest and set aside. Peel the fruit, removing any pith, and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces to make about 3⁄4 cup (reserve the rest for another use).
  3. Add the leeks, broth, wine, and the zest strip to a large skillet and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the leeks are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain, remove the zest strip, and add the leeks to the bowl with the Kamut. Drain the raisins and add them to the bowl along with the orange pieces.
  4. In a small bowl, beat the lemon juice, grated orange zest, honey, salt, and pepper with a fork until smooth. Slowly beat in the olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified.
  5. To finish, pour the dressing over the salad, gently toss, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, gently toss again, and sprinkle with the walnuts and blue cheese. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Header image by Erin Kunkel.

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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