The Splendid Grain

Robust Recipes for Grains with Vegetables, Fish, Poultry, Meat & Fruit, by Rebecca Wood. 394 pages, photographs, paper 10the splendid grain by rebecca wood cover x 8 x 1.1 inches, $22.95 list price.

Winner of both the Julia Child (IACP) and James Beard Cookbook Awards. The Splendid Grain is an elegant masterpiece and the benchmark grain cookbook.

With 250 luscious recipes, it amazes cooks with grain’s power to remarkably transform the taste and texture of food. This comprehensive book features both common and exotic grains.

Now more than ever Americans are looking for delicious ways to integrate extra-ordinarily healthful whole grains into their lives without having to change their lifestyles. The Splendid Grain shows you how whole grains can replace or be added to recipes to not only kick up the nutritional value of every meal but to add essential flavor and flair. Herein oats form the nutty, sweet crust of fried chicken; piquant quinoa heightens and absorbs the savory juices of gingered lamb; and hearty buckwheat flour becomes a sweet, delicate, Parisian-inspired crepe.

The Splendid Grain reinvents every meal using grains to broaden, deepen, and expand every cook’s repertoire. Here too are far-ranging recipes that draw on authentic tastes from around the world. Since no feast would be complete without its indulgences, The Splendid Grain utilizes grains to exquisitely sweet advantage.

A revolution is quietly taking place in restaurants and in our kitchens, where we are cooking with more unusual grains like quinoa, millet, and wheat berries in addition to the more familiar rice, buckwheat, and corn. The Splendid Grain provides irresistible recipes for these grains and also introduces the next frontiers in grain cooking: tef and sorghum from North Africa, Job’s tears from Asia, and mesquite and amaranth from America.

Wood’s expertise on the natural and native history of grains, their medicinal and nutritional properties, and her exhaustive knowledge of selection, storage, and cooking methods make the Splendid Grain not only a remarkable cookbook but an essential resource. The Splendid Grain expands the possibilities for high-octane healthful eating with glorious food for every appetite.

Author Rebecca Wood, a leading expert on grain cookery since the 1970s, portrays the distinct personality of fifteen different grains. Knowing their stories helps the reader develop a culinary relationship with each. Wood’s recipes then feature each grain at its standout best.

The Splendid Grain is an invaluable resource for everyone wanting basic—and innovative—grain recipes. It enables you to bring extraordinarily healthful grains into your life without changing your lifestyle.

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From the Introduction

I’ve always loved grains. As a child I spent hours lolling in meadows and on lawns, plucking blades of grass and nibbling on their tender stems—a simple beginning to what has become a lifelong passion. I was raised in Ogden, Utah, but my heart and joy was with my grandparents in Tremonton, a small farming community in northern Utah. Weekends, school holidays, and summer found me in the warm and welcoming embrace of these loving people. Grandpa had long since turned his farm over to his son, but would, each day, drive out to see how the crops were faring. How I loved those rides in his big, green Buick through section after section of neighboring farmland out to our farm. “Now, look-a-here at the Hanson’s barley. Look close and you’ll see, compared to ours, theirs isn’t up as well. We got ours in before them heavy spring rains.” He’d tell me what each crop needed, how to know when to sow and when to reap. He instilled in me a love of the earth and its bounty that still propels me. When the corn was ripe, Grandpa would drive us out to those fields that had sweet corn planted along the border of the field (livestock) corn. His rheumatism kept him in the car but he’d send me out carrying a gunny sack with instructions to fill it as best I could. Being alone in a corn field is a truly awesome experience. It really does get as high as an elephant’s eye and is almost as overpowering. Once, when I was six or seven, I got lost in the maze of a towering forest of corn stalks. Only the sound of Grandpa’s forceful honking led me in the direction of the car. The memory still evokes not only a sense of awe but a sense of the vital energy of the earth.

Along with the bounty of the farm, our table was laden with the fruits of foraging and hunting. Mushrooms from the meadows, asparagus from the roadside, wild game, birds and brook trout and, always, my mother’s fresh baked breads and desserts. Our cellar was filled in row upon row of preserves, home-canned fruit, grape juice and apricot nectar. My parents and grandparents had great respect for our food. It was to be enjoyed and celebrated, abundantly shared but never, ever to be wasted.

My introduction to grains other than those grown in my Utah surroundings came when, in the mid sixties, as a fresh-faced college graduate, I headed farther west. I found myself, unknowingly, right in the midst of a cultural revolution. I had a job at the University of California Medical Center and my first apartment on Haight Street. Quite unsure of myself and almost overwhelmingly petrified, I wandered through the streets of flower children dressed in my very uptight and homemade business suit. My fear began to dissipate when I realized that all those young hippies seemed to be having more fun than I. Determined to find out why, I mustered up my courage to ask. A lanky hippie call Howdy, as in “Howdy, my name’s Howdy,” told me the trick was to get high and stay high. Innocently I inquired “How?” The answer came, laconically, “Eat brown rice.”

I’d never heard of brown rice but Howdy directed me to the local source. I sped off to this hole-in-the-wall “natural” food store and bought a pound of brown rice. I immediately went home and proceeded to burn my first pot.

Soon hooked on brown rice despite that initiating, I moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to study Zen macrobiotic cookery with Michio and Aveline Kushi. Far more important than a knowledge of whole grains and how to cook them was the respect of the whole cooking process and of life itself that I acquired. As Aveline used to say, “A careful cook doesn’t spill a single drop of water on the floor.”

Over the thirty years since then, I’ve fed myself and my chosen family of friends and then my own loving family with whole grains. I’ve made bread once a week, enjoying forming and shaping the loaf, smelling the baking aromas and, most of all, sharing the loaf. Grains, more than any other food, invite this molding of a meal through your own energy and intent with the gift of sharing with others.

Why do I specify whole grains and whole grain products rather than refined grains? The answer is simple. A grain is more delicious when intact, rather than when polished, pearled, degermed, or refined. I subscribe to food pundit M.F.K. Fisher’s observation in her classic, The Art of Eating, “All of them, whether tender or hard, thick skinned or thin, die when they are peeled . . . even as you or I.” However, there are times when whole grains will take a back seat to those that have been processed. In the intense heat of the Albuquerque summer, brown rice is just too warming and heavy for me so I cook with the lighter and blander white rice. I will also frequently combine white flour, for its lightness, with whole grain flour for its flavor, when baking cakes or other airy pastries. When your diet is well balanced and includes plenty of whole grains and fresh vegetables and fruits, you can certainly use processed grains to add variety to your menu.

Imagine planting some white rice and some brown rice. The grains with their germ and bran removed will rot. The intact grains will flourish. The germ contains the spark of life and the bran gives shape, form and order to the kernel. Both germ and bran are concentrated sources of nutrients. When we consume any food, that food becomes us and we become imbued with its energetic properties. That’s exactly why whole grains make us feel good and provide us with boundless energy.

“I’m a big fan of Rebecca’s and think of her with every grain I make.” —Kate Heyhoe, Executive Editor, Global Gourmet

“Rebecca Wood’s The Splendid Grain will inspire all cooks to explore the wide world of grains—it is an absolutely splendid book.” —Charlie Palmer, chef/owner, Aureole; chef/co-owner, The Lenox Room and Alva, New York

The Splendid Grain is a much-needed encyclopedia of innovative grain recipes and lore—practical, useful, and stimulating.” — Dean Fearing, chef, The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas

Publishers Weekly
This generous volume expands on other grains cookbooks by embracing such unusual grains as sorghum and mesquite and by offering an exhaustive collection of recipes for the grains it covers. Wood (Quinoa: The Supergrain) organizes the grains by origin (e.g. rye and oats fall under “Native European Grains”). Each grain discussed comes with a history and basic cooking and storage instructions. The section on wheat includes an impressive list of unusual and lesser-known flours (including Kamut and bolted flours) and a riff on pasta. Recipes like Yellow and Purple Bean Tabbouleh (with hazelnuts), Barley Poppy Bagels and Vietnamese Spring Rolls offer new takes on ethnic favorites. Others, such as Chinese Greens with Quinoa and Peanuts, Mango and Wild Rice Salad and Greens and Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce combine flavors in unusual ways. Breakfast choices are particularly strong, encompassing Buckwheat Waffles with Peach Butter and Oat Groat Pancakes. Short notes give tips on techniques (for example, how to french cut string beans) and commonsense substitutions for exotica like buffalo meat.

Booklist, American Library Association
Health-conscious eaters value grains in their diets for their low-fat, high-fiber merits. In the quest for new flavors, grains once unknown or obscure have begun appearing on restaurant menus and in gourmet cooking. Wood’s latest cookbook sums up the current state of grain cookery and presents dozens of recipes featuring grain as a principal component. Wood includes familiar corn, wheat, rice, and barley, as well as newly available ancient grains, such as amaranth, kamut, and quinoa. Those who normally bypass cookbooks such as this one, assuming that they are for vegetarians only, will be pleasantly surprised to find that Wood readily uses meats in conjunction with grains to create dishes attractive to palates not exclusively vegetarian. Wood sorts recipes by the grains’ continent of origin, and she records both historical and cultural backgrounds for each grain. Cooks without access to a natural foods store can use Wood’s catalog of mail-order sources. —Mark Knoblauch

Chicago Tribune
A grains cookbook doesn’t have to be too heavy on vegetarian dishes. The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood demonstrates the ability of grains to complement meat, fish and poultry. The book breaks down grains into “bio-regions” such as Native American, Asian, Near Easter, European and African. (One of the more exotic listings is Job’s Tears, similar to barley. Unhulled, it has been used for prayer beads and necklaces.)

The 200-plus recipes are as diverse as the regions covered, providing ideas for breakfast (buckwheat pumpkin muffins), lunch (grilled turkey and short-grain brown rice salad) and dinner (gingered lamb and quinoa in phyllo). There also are recipes for many native breads (crunchy millet, coarse-grain sourdough rye, Ethiopian injera). A mail-order guide points you toward hard-to-find grains. —Bob Condor

Christian Science Monitor
No one knows better than Rebecca Wood how popular grains have become in recent years. Each chapter in her new cookbook, The Splendid Grain, begins with a brief history of a featured grain, taps the mystique of lost cultures and foreign lands, then follows with tips on cooking, storing, and even growing them. As rich as the text is in these introductions, the recipes work in the modern kitchen.

Quinoa, a savory South American kernel used by the Inca for many centuries before Spanish conquistadors banned its cultivation, makes a surprise appearance in a dessert that Ms. Wood calls Quinoa Butterscotch Brownies. To such staples as oats, rye, wheat, and rice, Wood adds Old World exotica like tef and sorghum. Although some dishes are complex, refreshingly simple recipes such as That Corn Dish bring the panobly of grains within delicious reach. —Evan F. Mallett

Copley News Service
Don’t think you need a grain guide? You haven’t met Rebecca Wood. She has put a spin on grains like no one before. Almost 400 pages are packed with everything anyone would ever want to know about grains divided by the regions from which they come.

Sections include Native American Grains, with chapters on wild rice, corn, mesquite, amaranth and quinoa; Native Asian Grains, featuring buckwheat, millet, rice and Job’s tears; Native Near Easter Grains, highlighting barley and wheat; Native European Grains focusing on rye and oats; and Native African Grains, detailing sorghum and tef.

After informative introductions about the grains and how best to prepare them, get ready for a wild ride. Wood—also author of Quinoa: the Supergrain and The Whole Foods Encyclopedia—has created some stunning recipes. The book’s subtitle rightly bills them as Robust, Inspired Recipes for Grains with Vegetables, Fish, Poultry, Meat and Fruit.

Curried Corn and Coconut Soup is a subtle symphony. Gingered Lamb and Quinoa in Phyllo is exquisite. Millet Madeleines with Crème Fraiche and Caviar is a rich treat. Barley, Fennel and Beet Salad is just the right innovative blend of ingredients.

Ditto for Couscous Marmalade Torte, which makes a wonderful dessert or coffeecake. The recipe is sugar- and fat-free, contains no eggs and takes just 15 minutes to prepare. The only difference is, Wood has been making the recipe—one of her family’s favorites—for more than 20 years. —Lisa Messinger

Where was I when The Splendid Grain won the James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Julia Child Cookbook Award? Usually I am waiting with bated breath to see who wins these awards and I have read and digested all the cookbooks in the running. It is like the Academy Awards for the cookbook world. The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood did win the award and deserved it. It is filled with text that engages and recipes that have kept us cooking since I first discovered it about three years after it came out.

My only excuse for not having found it earlier is that I had one year old twins who never slept and all I did was nurse, look about with bleary eyes and try to make noodles for the fifth night running. I guess The Splendid Grain would have been of no use to me then. I would have cried when I read it. All these recipes for bagels made with barley flour and Strawberry Blue Corn Waffles that I could not cook because I was on the floor baby-proofing the outlets or cleaning up oatmeal from the baseboards.

I read an article on bread by Laurie Colwin back before I had children. Wisdom wasted on the uninitiated. In it Laurie Colwin said that she found a bread cookbook when her daughter was young and she read it as fiction because that is what bread baking is to people with babies. This is not just to let me off the hook for missing a great cookbook when it came out but to say buy it even if you have no kitchen because it makes such a good read.

The recipes in The Splendid Grain are easier than they appear. I made bagels with my three kids and a few assorted extras over on play dates. We made the dough in a few minutes and then let it rise while we kept the dog from scaring one child and we forgot about the dough all together by the time the dog was on a leash and the child pacified. When we came back to the dough it had a strange gray color from the barley flour but this was a plus for the under seven set.

Making the bagel shapes was easy enough for three year olds. Boiling was fun and baking easy and we were done. The dozen were gone immediately. I had one that I split with my husband. They were an eerie Halloween gray but had a complex taste from the barley. I forgot about them in my rush to try the next recipe from The Splendid Grain. I was informed at school a few days later that my son’s friend, the one who is scared of the dog, was never coming over again if I did not stop upstaging her mom by doing things like making these great homemade bagels. I guess they did not forget about the bagels for a while.

We made waffles, and breakfast cakes; winter squash potage was the hit of a Hanukkah party for which we promised to make Matzoh Ball soup but I just couldn’t leave old Rebecca Wood to do it. No one missed the Matzoh Balls, and I make excellent Matzoh Balls. We had cornmeal mush instead of oatmeal. Real Vietnamese Spring Rolls are the plan for dinner tonight. She makes it look so easy. On the still-to-try list is a Rye and Cauliflower Casserole and Quinoa Soup Saigon Style.

The Apricot Millet Breakfast Cake is what brought the book to my attention. I would like to thank my friend Jeanie for the cake I finished before I could share it with the kids as intended. Jeanie was a chef and cake baker extraordinaire before kids. I trust her food judgment and envy her huge Hobart mixer and professional range. She gave us a piece of this cake as I was picking my son up from a play date. Jeanie showed me “The Splendid Grain.” “You’ve seen this, right?” I hadn’t. I wanted to borrow it but she wouldn’t let it go—a sentiment I appreciated.

So I went out and bought the book. That was about six weeks ago. I slept with it next to my bed. Read all the fascinating information about each kind of grain and read the recipes, as Laurie Colwin taught me, as a good novel and not a cookbook. Then I started making grocery lists for all Rebecca Wood weeks. This has continued for at least a month and no one has stopped eating long enough to thank me. But I want to thank Jeanie publicly. This gift of The Splendid Grain does not raise her in my esteem, it simply reminds me of how highly she is held (even though she would not lend me her copy).

You do need to add a salad or some steamed vegetable to the all Splendid Grain menu. But no protein need be added as she has every combination of chicken, prawns, tofu, you name it in the recipes. It is just a little light on salads or some kind of green stuff.

I have a mind to call Rebecca Wood and thank her for this book. She researched so thoroughly and cooked so plentifully for us, her readers. Rebecca Wood covered it all. Ancient food from the Americas to a Norwegian friend’s mother’s recipes. From macrobiotics to blinis with caviar and Christmas Hen. Normally I am wary of someone trying to cover the whole world and every grain. Things tend to get diluted and hodge-podgy. Not so in The Splendid Grain. Each recipe is crisp and novel.

I am grateful. It is the week after Christmas as I am writing and Hanukkah has passed into the winter. I have been made aware this year of how the traditions I find around me all stress this time of year as a time to bring light and warmth into your heart in this darkest time of the year. Rebecca Wood’s book feels like a warm hearth to me, and a good friend cooking for you. I am grateful that I am out of the dark woods of parenting early childhood. I am grateful to Jeanie for bringing this book and a lot more into my life. The Splendid Grain came to me through a warm friend and I have shared it with my friends over the winter. I am grateful for the feeling of warmth and the book that has helped inspire me to share it. —Michelle Brode

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