Glorious grains or pearls of confusion?


I must admit I love the idea that my family would eat loads of grains.  It sounds flash and it certainly gives the appearance that you are up with the latest in health and look after your body properly.  The reality is that it can often be intimidating to know what to do with all those different ‘health’ grains, so in fact they remain in their packets, or on the shelves down the health aisle of your supermarket.  The packets often don’t help with their insipid cooking technique: 2 cups of water to 1 cup of grain and you’re ready!!  Ready for what?  To eat water absorbed bird food?  I think NOT!

If you weren’t brought up in a family where your Mum’s bench was filled with bowls of soaking beans and grains, then it is a journey you need to get your head around.  I had a boyfriend once, whose Mum ran a completely vegetarian household.  She used to have bowls everywhere with grains and beans, soaking in water and would spend all weekend baking up the most incredible family filling vegetarian dishes.  I was always so happy to fossick about in her kitchen, getting in the way and trying to learn a little about this whole different way of eating.  At the time, I was living in a student flat in Melbourne and working for Tony Sassi at a Wine Bar and my food intake was loud and lustrous and definitively not ‘just’ vegetarian.  Sadly for his Mum, my boyfriend was rather taken with my world at the time too!!

Anyway, I digress.  Right now I have decided to try to add some new and interesting grains and beans into our home cooked meals.  It kind of came about after I conducted a Staff Team Building event in a school last week.  One of the their challenges was to ‘Name the Grain’ – and they had 10 little bowls of unknown meal, grain and seeds to identify.  Some of the teams surprised me.  They really knew even the gnarliest of those little unidentifiables from the supermarket bulk buy bins.  (Mmmm – lucky they didn’t give that to us on MasterChefNZ – not too sure how I would have fared myself.  It’s certainly safer to be on the other side!)

So, this week I am determined to get to know my gritty stuff and start to play around with it in my cooking.  I have cooked with quinoa before, but it just didn’t do it for me.  However, I have just cooked up a gorgeous organic blend of the stuff (multicoloured!) with a slurp of Simon Gault’s real deal Beef Stock.  Now that tastes fantastic.  Healthy, meaty and hearty.  I reckon I will be able to get away with that under a plump stuffed pancetta wrapped chicken breast for an evening meal!IMG_1245

Perusing the other packets of goodness I have purchased on a whim, I notice the farro.  I have already had a potter about with this and it is GOOD.  Perfect addition to a soup – and the kids totally loved it.  It kind of reminds me of pearl barley but Jamie Oliver explains “Farro is a grain similar to pearl barley, but it’s dried in such a way that instead of being fluffy and spongy it becomes chewy and nutty”.  Yup – that nails it!

Speaking of Pearl Barley I planned to make a gorgeous roasted vegetable, pearl barley salad for the families at Ronald McDonald House in Auckland a couple of weeks ago.

It was going to be amazing until I got there and realised I had actually left the pearl barley sitting on my bench at home.  Thankfully, the local Wintergarden Cafe in the Auckland Domain ran me up a tub full and even stopped by to help – awesome guys 🙂

Now the brans, barley, and flaxseed I just tipped into our pre purchased muesli.  I note to self that I should definitely be making my own muesli.  If this season’s MasterChef NZ winner can make his own every morning then we can too – right?!

Couscous and Israeli couscous are already staples in our home.  Just cook them up in some stock and add in some sauteed onion, celery, garlic and a lug of olive oil, a crack of sea salt and you have a tasty side.  Top it up with some mushrooms and you have your dinner 🙂  Split an eggplant in half, scoop out the filling and sautee it, mix with the couscous and return to the shell – healthy, flavour filled stuffed vegetable!

But what to do with those chia seeds?  Now they require a quick google – and this is the thing.  It is a life long learning process.  You should never give up on the things you don’t know, and it is so easy nowadays to acquire the knowledge!  Ahh – chia seeds can be munched on – so add them to your porridge, your homemade muesli that is now on the ‘to-do’ list and sprinkle them on top of your next batch of banana bread!

Bizarre that as I have been writing this an email has arrived in my inbox from a mother whose children cooked with me at a recent birthday party

“My kids cooked dinner last night and bread on the weekend. We are on a roll….AND I have just had the most insane bircher quinoa at Toru in Ponsonby.”

She must have been in my mind zone – and I must one day actually leave my own kitchen and go try some of that bircher quinoa!


Shh……Meantime – I just realised I can make my own!!

  • 3 x cups untoasted rolled oats
  • 1 x cup (cooked) quinoa
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup grated green apple
  • 1 cup water
  • handful of chia seeds
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