Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Irresistible Grains and Legumes from Conscious Cookery

Over the years the growth of the Hillcrest Farmers Market has continued to astound me. And when you tend to have your favorite vendors you sometimes unconsciously pass by people who it turns out have been there practically forever. So, this is something of an old is new discovery. With the reformatting of the market layout I came across Michelle Sadler and her Conscious Cookery booth, filled to the hilt with beans, lentils, rices, and other grains and legumes--even though she pointed out she's been low on stock.

A former cereal chemist for General Mills, Sadler has run Conscious Cookery for 11 years at the Hillcrest Farmers Market. And she's got a story to tell about every variety of grain, bean, and rice she sells. Want to try something new but can't decide? She'll point you in a novel direction.

She did that with me. I'm not a huge bean lover. I like them, but it would never appeal to me to make a pot for dinner. She set out to change my mind and sent me home with a bag of Good Mother Stallard beans. I love hulled barley, so she upped the ante with vibrant Purple Prairie barley. Then my eye was caught by a bag of flat rice in a basket. I'd seen something like this at a couple of Indian markets, but those were huge bags. This one, at 12 ounces, was manageable enough for me to try out.

Sadler gave me cooking advice for each purchase, and also wanted me to know that she had a number of items coming to the market and online by the end of October, including assorted heirloom beans from California, Colorado, and Idaho family farmers,  a huge variety of certified organic lentils--from Black Beluga and du Puy to Spanish Pardina, and Persian Crimson--along with bean blends, a crazy quilt assortment of rices (short and medium grain brown nrice, Akitakomachi brown rice from Northern California, Bhutanese Red Rice, Mekong Flower Rice... well this list goes on and on. Craving Bolivian kaniwa or Colorado-grown millet? She'll have it. Same with Idaho-grown einkorn, Amish-grown popcorn, purple gem popcorn, certified organic teas, and a variety of herbs and spices.

But let's get down to my purchases because I was blown away by each.

First there were the Good Mother Stallard beans. Now I love a good bean soup. But never have I understood enjoying beans as a meal. Until I made these Good Mother Stallard beans.

To prepare them, I pulled out my VitaClay rice/slow cooker and rinsed a cup of the beans before putting them in the cooker's clay pot. Then I added half a chopped white onion, two diced carrots, a cut up purple potato, three smashed garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and four cups of water. That's it. I set them to cook for four hours and when the timer went off, tentatively gave myself a spoonful to taste.

There was a lot of hype going into that pot along with the beans. But, the hype yielded to the real deal. Call me a convert, but when cooked these spectacularly colorful African beans expand in size and flavor. They become marble-sized meaty powerhouses robust earthy flavors. In fact, the bean liquor was so good I saved that, too. I had a small bowlful of beans for a late lunch and my plan with the rest is to find some good turkey or chicken sausage, slice it  up and sauté with kale, then add the beans and some of the bean liquor, and have myself an easy and delightful one-dish dinner.

The purple theme continued into the evening. Once the beans were cooked, I cleaned the clay pot and turned to the Purple Prairie barley. This heirloom variety originates from the Himalayas and in flavor takes basic hulled barley a step further and totally aces out pearled barley. But let's back up a moment for a brief explanation. Like many grains barley has an outer hull considered indigestible, requiring processing for removal. Pearled barley is the grain with the hull removed and the remaining grain polished--or "pearled"--which also removes much of its nutrients. Hulled barley removes the hull, but with little processing so more of the nutrients are maintained. It's considered a true whole grain.

Purple Prairie barley is touted for its high quantities of protein--something like 15 percent--and its uber-rich flavor. Most recipes will call for overnight soaking, and certainly it takes longer to cook than pearled barley. With the VitaClay, I cooked half a cup of the barley with two cups of water and ran it once on the brown rice setting and once on the regular rice setting. I think it took just about an hour to  cook with an additional 10 minutes warming. By then all the liquid had been absorbed. And, yes, the flavor is as advertised. Hearty and nutty, it made for a great side dish. I envision adding some toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley, chopped tomatoes, and a little red onion to the rest to transform it into a great little salad.

Finally, there's the unusual rolled brown rice. These flakes are made by parboiling short grain brown rice, then rolling it flat. Then it's dried and rolled again to break up into flakes. At this point it can be used as cereal, a soup thickener, or even part of a recipe for granola. Sadler suggested soaking it in  water for about 20 minutes and then cooking for five to 10 minutes. For my experiment, I measured out a quarter cup of the rice into a cereal bowl. Then I added enough water to cover and let it sit for the 20 minutes. By then most of the water had been absorbed. I then put it in the microwave for a minute, added some milk and maple syrup and had a delicious bowl of hot cereal.

The rolled brown rice has a fairly neutral flavor. You might want to combine it with oats for a hot cereal if it doesn't wow you. Sadler recommends it as a good baby cereal, but I think adults will enjoy it, too.

You can find Sadler every week at the Hillcrest Farmers Market or order from her website.

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