You may have noticed more “new” whole grain varieties popping up in your local grocery store next to the familiar refined white and wheat flours. Something of a grain renaissance is happening, and brands are starting to offer a wider variety of whole grains and unique flours, like khorasan wheat, einkorn and spelt. While these grains may seem new and unfamiliar, they have been around for thousands of years.
There are many reasons to embrace these ancient varieties of whole grains. “Before the advent of industrial agriculture, Americans enjoyed a wide range of regional flours milled from equally diverse wheats, which in turn could be used to make breads that were astonishingly flavorful and nutritious,” Ferris Jabr of the New York Times explains.
Jabr criticizes how the widely distributed flours and breads produced from modern industrial agriculture forfeits “pleasure and health” in exchange for “profit and expediency.”
Though Kamut and other similar grains do contain gluten, some people have found that these older varieties of wheat can be tolerated even if wheat cannot. Although wheat allergies are one of the most common allergies in the US, there is still a lot of mystery about what actually causes celiac disease and wheat sensitivities, so you have to work with your health care practitioner and see what works for your body. If you can eat wheat and gluten easily, then let’s get cooking!
A note about cooking whole grains: many of the recipes listed below call for the grain to be cooked just by boiling, although I and many other chefs would suggest that there is good reason to soak your grains overnight first. Not only does this save on cooking time, it can also help improve the digestibility of grains, as enzyme-inhibiting seed coatings are soaked off.
There is some disagreement about how effective or important this can be, but I have found that I always like the texture and flavor of soaked grains over quick cooked ones. Learn more about the benefits of soaking your grains (and seeds and beans) from Food Matters.
Let’s talk about Kamut!
Kamut is actually a trademarked name of Khorasan wheat, and contains the genetic diversity of ancient varieties of wheat. Historically this grain was grown in the Middle East, although it is not currently farmed as extensively. Most Kamut today comes from Montana, North Dakota, and central Canada.
Kamut can be used the same way you would use wheat berries, but it offers a slightly new twist on this common food, along with higher protein and vitamin content. Dr. Weil refers to Kamut as the “high energy wheat” because of its rich fatty acid composition. It is a larger grain than regular wheat berries, and has a chewy texture and nuttier flavor. You can find Kamut as whole grain, as flour, or as flakes to use as an alternative to oatmeal.
In this recipe I created, the hearty flavor and chewy texture of kamut pairs well with autumn veggies. I roasted some onions, red beets, golden beets, carrots, and kale stems and tossed it all together with a creamy tahini dressing. (Yup, you read that right– kale stems. Often the leafy greens are the only parts used with kale, but this recipe uses both the stems, chopped finely, and the leafy greens for a food waste-less meal).
Basic Cooking Directions for Kamut
Soak the kamut overnight in enough water to cover. In the morning, rinse and drain. Cover with fresh water and cook until soft, about 30-45 minutes. Grains will be chewy, toothsome, and have a naturally sweet, earthy flavor.
Autumn Jewels Salad with Creamy Tahini Dressing
1 bunch of lacinato (dinosaur) kale, washed
3 Tablespoons olive oil
½ cup thinly sliced onion
1 cup finely chopped beets, any color
½ cup finely chopped carrots
3 cups cooked kamut (see basic cooking directions above)
3 Tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
2 Tablespoons miso, any variety
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon agave, honey or maple syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
- Tear kale leaves from stems. Chop stems finely and set aside; chop leaves finely and set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium low heat until warm and fragrant. Add onions and let cook undisturbed for 10 minutes. Once onions have started browning, add beets, carrots and kale stems. Toss to coat, and let cook undisturbed for another five minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften. Test veggies for softness, and cook another five minutes if needed.
- Once veggies have finished cooking, toss into a large bowl with cooked kamut and chopped kale leaves. Toss to combine, letting the residual heat from the veggies to slightly wilt the kale.
- To make the Tahini Dressing: whisk together tahini, miso, vinegar, sweetener and salt, adding a few teaspoons of water as needed to make the dressing super smooth; you may need to add up to 3 Tablespoons of water to thin to desired texture.
- To serve, pour dressing over salad and toss, or serve dressing on the side. Salad can be chilled before serving, or serve at room temperature. If you are serving later, keep dressing separate to maintain the color of the greens.
Yield: about 5 cups salad, or 4-6 servings