Yes, grains are already part of our recommended pantry list - rice and pasta are both staples of our cupboards. But we've been exploring other grains lately too. Let us introduce you to the first of our new loves: spelt berries.
What is spelt?
Spelt is a species of wheat that was a very important crop in ancient and medieval times, but now it is only commonly grown in Europe. It's been around in the United States since the 1890s, but it was replaced in the 20th century by bread wheat. According to Wikipedia, spelt actually requires fewer fertilizers, so the organic farming movement is making it more popular again, as is the health food industry.
As you can see from the photos it has a long pointed almond shape. The grains are fairly large and distinct, just about the same shape as large orzo pasta.
You can find spelt in whole grain berries like this, or also ground into flour. We bought ours from the bulk foods bins at Whole Foods Market.
Why should I consider eating spelt?
It's delicious!! Seriously. Spelt is not just a "good-for-you" grain. It has a sweet, nutty chewiness that tastes a little like barley but without barley's sliminess. The grains stay fluffy and distinct when cooked, nicely al dente.
It's not a gluten-free grain; it's moderately high in gluten since it is, after all, a type of wheat.
But it's high in protein and fiber and like other whole grains a great addition to your diet.
It's also quick and easy to cook. We like to cook it like risotto and throw in any seasonal things we have around - fresh greens, a little lemon juice, some goat cheese. We included spelt, in fact, in our delicious Meyer Lemon Grain Salad with Asparagus, Almonds and Goat Cheese.
Try substituting spelt for rice or pasta in a salad or with curry or greens.
• If you like it chewier and nuttier, like for salads, use 2 cups of water or stock for every cup of spelt berries. Cook the spelt like risotto, adding half a cup at a time and stirring after each addition until the liquid evaporates. They should be tender after about 30-40 minutes.
Where can I buy spelt berries?
You can find spelt berries in most bulk food sections of health stores and organic groceries.
• Buy spelt berries online, $3.09 for 28 ounces at Bob's Red Mill
(Images: Faith Hopler)