Category Archives: Rice and Grains

Israeli Cous Cous Salad and A Generosity of Spirit

with cheese and slicer 625 sqI was visiting with my nephew and his girlfriend last month and she asked me a question that kind of shocked me and got me thinking. She has been following my blog for a while now and she wondered if I gave out the real recipes, or if I held back and left out an ingredient or a crucial step in the recipe. Huh??

I assured her that I always gave the legitimate recipe and included every step, plus probably a few extra (sometimes my recipes run long!), to ensure success. As we chatted a bit longer I understood where her question was coming from. She was born in Venezuela and the culture in her family was to guard their recipes very carefully. Perhaps the idea of secret family recipes stems from one generation wanting to pass something valuable down to the next. After all , many imigrant families came to North America with nothing of material value. All they had were these recipes from the “old country” to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

This secretive behaviour is the antithesis of how food bloggers operate. I have been blogging since 2009 and have come to discover that most of us approach food blogging with a generosity of spirit. We are a giving bunch, willing to share our knowledge and expertise. There is actually a code of ethics for food bloggers. Acknowledging sources and linking to others that provided inspiration is part of the modus operandi. We are a passionate bunch, but humble as well, fessing up to our flaws and our less than perfect results.

I have found my tribe and I feel blessed to be a part of this generous fraternity of food bloggers. 

This salad was inspired by a similar recipe in the July 2014 issue of Bon Appetit.

While ripe, warm-from-the-vine summer tomatoes are still a few months away, roasting or grilling tomatoes can bring out the sweetness in any tomato. Begin by coating some grape or cherry tomatoes and corn with a few glugs of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. A few fresh rosemary sprigs will perfume the whole lot. ready for roastingIsraeli couscous is 2-3 times larger than the traditional North African couscous. While both are made from semolina and wheat flour, Israeli couscous is toasted while the North African variety is simply dried. The toasting gives it a nutty taste and chewier texture. I like to give it an additional toasting in a bit of olive oil, before cooking it in water. toasting cous cousI decided to serve it on a bed of mixed lettuces (arugula, belgian endive, radicchio and pea shoots), but you could also serve it without. Some toasted sliced almonds add great crunch and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese add a wonderful salty accent. I added some pickled shallots because I love the bright acidity that pickling brings to the party.close up

Click here to print recipe for Israeli Couscous Salad.

In the spirit of generosity, here are some of my favourite food bloggers!
Caroline of The Patterned Plate.
Steph of Raspberri Cupcakes.
Bobbi of Bob Vivant.
Hannah of Honey and Jam. (she has a new cookbook coming out very soon!)
Tara and Maria’s cookin’ and shootin’.
Kellie of Le Zoe Musings.
Wendy of The Monday Box.
Joy of Joy the Baker.
Ashley of Not without Salt. (Her beautiful new cookbook just came out!)
Lindsey of Dolly and Oatmeal.
Rosie of Sweetapolita. (Check out her gorgeous new cookbook.)
Belinda of The Moonblush Baker.
Phyllis of dash and bella.
Jessie of CakeSpy.
Thalia of butter and brioche.
Molly of My Name is Yeh.
Tara of Seven Spoons. (See her lovely new cookbook)




Winter Farro Salad

in bowl fAlthough I have posted about farro herehere, here, here and here, I am of the opinion that you can never have enough good farro recipes. I just adore this nutty versatile grain. I discovered this winter version in the November 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. Associate Food Editor Claire Saffitz had a similar version at the NYC restaurant Charlie Bird. They simmered the farro in apple cider to infuse it with a lovely tart-sweet cidercooked farroThe cooled farro is tossed with crunchy julienned apples and celeriac.celeriacYou have to believe that the first guy to come across one of these gnarly roots was in an extremely weakened and ravenous state. It would have taken quite a leap of faith for someone to come across this in the wild and decide that eating it was a sound idea. 

This knobby root is Celeriac (also known as celery root). I have often come across them in the supermarket, but had no idea how and where to use it. However, in January, when fresh local stuffs is in short supply, you need to go outside your comfort zone and embrace the ugly! Celeriac has a mild delicate taste, rather like a cross between celery and parsley. Beneath that grody exterior lies a heart of snowy white goodness. 

Taming this beast is not difficult. Slice off the top and bottom so it sits flat on the cutting board. Slice around the sides and hack off the brown outer skin. Julienne it for raw salads or cube it for simmering in soup. If you are using it raw in a salad, store it in water with a splash of lemon juice after cutting to prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown.  Drain and mix into salad just before serving.peeling celeriac

cutting celeriac into julienneSalty black olives and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese are added as a welcome balance to the cider sweetened farro. Italian parsley leaves provide a verdant fresh punch. I added some pickled red onions because I love how pickling tames their bite. A final garnish of toasted pine nuts and this salad is ready for it’s closeup!serving bowl 3 625 sq

 Click here to print recipe for Winter Farro Salad.

Greek Farro Salad

composed 625 sq 1aSavvy contemporary chefs have a secret ingredient in their cuinary tool box. If you remember this treat from your childhood, you might guess what this mystery ingredient is.Lik-m-aid packagesLik-m-aid, a sweet-sour treat was eaten by licking your finger, sticking it into the little envelope and coating your wet finger with the crystal-like powder inside. Then you would lick your finger to eat the tart-sweet goodness. It came in several fruit flavours; lemon, lime, strawberry, raspberry, grape and orange, but a quick look at the ingredient list (dextrose and citric acid) revealed that this treat contained no actual fruit. Today Lik-m-aid is sold under the name of Fun Dip and it comes with a candy dipping stick so modern kids do not have to use their fingers. I hope that kids today appreciate how good they have it. fun DipChefs in the know are using citric acid to create pucker-inducing flavours that consumers are starting to embrace. Sour is no longer a four letter word.  Sour beers are gaining in popularity, and the pickling craze is not about to die down any time soon. I fully expect Carla Hall to introduce “Can you Pickle it?” based on her wildly amusing (well, amusing certainly to my sisters and I ) game, “Can you Blend it?

Citric acid occurs naturally in lemons, limes and other citrus fruits. It is also manufactured in a dry powder form by adding a special mould to glucose and letting it ferment. The dry powdered stuff is the one that chefs are using to elevate flavours and bring harmony and balance to a finished dish. It is easily available in small bags at most bulk food or health food stores. Food writer Shawna Wagman calls it the “fairy dust of flavour amplification.”

Here in Ottawa, Chef Kevin Mathieson, founder of Art is In Bakery, is creating magic with it. He sprinkles a touch of citric acid and confectioners sugar on citrus peel or wild Quebec blueberries and lets it dry out for a week. Then he grinds it all up in a coffee grinder and adds it to jellies for filling house-made chocolate truffles and marmalade that gets thickly spread on their buttermilk multi-seed bread for Sunday brunch.

The Food Section of the April 9 2014 Globe and Mail featured a recipe for a Greek salad dressing using citric acid. Chef Carlotte Langley learned to make this from the  French-Lebanese mom of the very first chef she worked for. I decided to creat a Farro Greek Salad to showcase this fantastic dressing. Tart and full of bright zingy flavour it plays very well with the nutty, chewy farro and all the fresh crunchy vegetables. mise en place 2 I usually just cook farro in boiling water, but I learned a great method over at Food52. I added half a red onion, a clove of garlic, parsley and salt to the water to infuse the farro with more flavour. flavouring farroI am not a huge fan of raw red onion, so I thinly sliced and pickled it. A short 20 minute bath in red wine vinegar, water, salt and sugar are all that’s needed to tame the harshness.pickling onions

Click here to print recipe for Greek Farro Salad.

composed 3

Check out what Lindsay over at Love and Olive Oil made using citric acid! 



Shove Over Quinoa. There’s a Freakin’ Awesome New Grain in Town!

ready to eat 4 625 sqLast month, while travelling in Israel, I was served a mixed grains risotto. When I asked the chef what assortment of grains he used, he listed spelt, bulgur and freekeh. Because of his Israeli accent I thought I misheard the last grain and asked him to repeat it. It sounded like he was saying freaking. Finally, he wrote it down for me. FREEKEH.boxHe explained that Freekeh is made from young durum wheat. The wheat is harvested while the grains are still young and soft and green. Next, the grains are piled up into big hills and allowed to dry out in the sun. Now, here’s where it gets bizarre. After they are dried, they set fire to the piles and actually burn them! In the burning process they are careful to only let the straw and chaff burn but not the seeds. The high moisture content of the seeds prevents them from burning. Finally, the burned wheat kernels are rubbed to remove the charred bits and ensure that the flavour, texture and colour are perfect.

It turns out that freekeh is nothing new. Its roots can be traced back over 2000 years, to Biblical times. Just like chocolate chip cookies, champagne, potato chips and popsicles, freekeh was also born serendipitously.

Once upon a time, some 2000 years ago, unrest in the Middle East was still brewing. A tiny Middle-East village was attacked and their field of green wheat was set on fire. These villagers were quite resourceful, and rather than chuck the whole lot, they rubbed off the burnt chaff to see if they could salvage the inner seed. They cooked it up and were thrilled to discover that the charred grain was good. In fact, it was delicious! They called it “farikeh” (from the root work farik) which means rubbing in Arabic. Slightly smoky, earthy and nutty in flavour with a firm chewy texture, they were instantly smitten.

Freekeh has been a mainstay in Middle Eastern cuisines ever since. North Americans are just now discovering and loving it. Aside from the great taste and texture, freekeh is a nutritional powerhouse. It has 4 times the fibre of brown rice, more protein than mature wheat and is an excellent source of probiotics. Rich in iron, zinc, potassium and calcium, I am predicting that freekeh will soon dethrone quinoa and become the new “it” super-grain. Well, I am hoping it will! My feelings about quinoa are no secret.

I was very excited to start creating with freekeh once I got home from my trip. I was sure I was going to have to order freekeh on-line, since I was convinced that it had not made its way to Ottawa yet. But I was pleasantly surprised to find boxes of it on the shelf of Bulk Barn. I also noticed that Wal-Mart is carrying it as well!

With the markets overflowing with gorgeous tomatoes and corn, I got to work. 1 cup of freekeh will absorb about 2 ½ cups of liquid. I added about ½ teaspoon of salt to the water. The firm texture and nutty, slightly smoky flavour of freekeh was a perfect compliment to the sweet corn, tart tomatoes and salty olives and feta.corntomatoesThe firm texture and nutty, slightly smoky flavour of freekeh was a perfect compliment to the sweet corn, tart tomatoes and salty olives and feta.

pitting olives 1pitting olives 2

I made a lemon-garlic vinaigrette to dress the salad with. I am thrilled with my new Mason jar lids. I discovered them lids on delish general store, a Vancouver web site. Made of plastic, they allow you to shake and pour the dressing without getting that gunky residue and rusting that ultimately occurs with metal Mason jar lids. I always found it irritating that when you screwed the lid back on, the dressing leaked down the sides of the jar. (Note to my husband: add that one to my long list of things that irritate me!) No leaking and dripping. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you so happy.jarsFor photographing, I sliced up the feta, but feel free to crumble it into your salad. I took a small bite to taste for seasoning. The balance of texture and flavours was in perfect harmony. Chewy, nutty, and slightly smoky freekeh, sweet crunchy corn, creamy salty feta, briny olives, fresh sweet-tart tomatoes and a bite of heat from some diced jalapeno and a fresh note with some basil from the garden. The whole thing was topped off with a lemon garlic dressing. It was freaking perfection.ready to eat 3 625 sqYou could add a can of white beans or chickpeas for extra protein. My sister says that chickpeas make everything better. Toasted pine nuts added just before serving would also add a great little crunch. This fall I am going to make it with diced roasted squash, cauliflower and raisins and a pinch of cumin.

Click here to print recipe for Freekeh Salad with Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette.

I think freekeh would be a wonderful substitute for barley in mushroom barley soup. It would be yummy stuffed into peppers or squash, or cooked pilaf style with dried cherries and pistachios! The possibilities are endless. Let me know what you create with it.

Springtime Farro Salad and Delusion

625 sqI wish this was the blog post that told you how much I have always hated quinoa, that is until I tried “this” salad. Then I would go on to swear that even if you too are a quinoa hater, this one recipe will change all that and you may now join the righteous and good quinoa lovers of the world. But sadly, this is not the case. I have tried this salad, this one, and that one too. I have not tried it all these ways, but I do believe I have given it a fair shake, and I just don’t like it. It tastes like like a toxic combination of sand and gravel to me. I can’t deal with those tiny grains. They just mush all together in my mouth. There is no chew to them.

The first time I tried quinoa, no one told me that Mother Nature, in all her infinite wisdom, created a bitter coating of saponins over each grain so that the birds would not eat it all up. It needs to be rinsed before cooking. Apparently I am not on Mother Nature’s mailing list so we ended up having to throw dinner in the garbage that night.

I really do want to like quinoa. It has been given the prestigious title of “Superfood”, given it’s incredibly high nutritional value. It is a source of complete protein, a good source of fibre, phosphorous, magnesium, iron and calcium. I just can’t stand it, so I do the next best thing to eating it. I choose a different grain to substitute in all those salads and delude myself into thinking that it has just as much nutritional value as quinoa. Hey, it works for me. I am excellent at deluding myself about all kinds of things.

Lately my grain of choice has been farro. I have written about farro here and here.

I know it’s almost summer, but the Farmer’s Market, where I live, has not gotten the memo yet. Radishes, spring onions and mint are about the only local veggies to have bravely popped their heads out of the recently frozen earth. So a Springtime Salad it is. This gorgeous salad is the creation of Eric Vellend, food editor at Canadian House and Home magazine. You could substitute barley, wheat berries or even, dare I say it, quinoa. Hey I won’t judge.radishes

green onionsI adore the hefty chew that farro brings to this dish. The sugar snap peas, barely blanched add sweetness and crunch. The radishes and green onion add a balancing bitterness and sharp bite to the nutty farro. Mint and lemon add the final notes of freshness.sugar snaps

spooning saladClick here to print recipe for Springtime Farro Salad.