Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Einkorn, Pea, and Mandarin Orange Salad

And the fun with ancient grains continues!

Einkorn is a grain I first heard about from my friend Maria Speck, the author of a wonderful book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. Her new book, Simply Ancient Grains, will be published next month. Einkorn is such a unique name that I figured it was some sort of exotic grain. But, in fact, it was much more familiar than I'd expected. It's a species of wheat that is truly ancient, in its cultivated state dating back over 10,000 years ago to archeological sites in southern Turkey. In grain form, it is essentially a wheat berry--something I've been cooking with for years.

As one of the earliest cultivated forms of wheat--along with emmer--it can survive in the poorest, dryest of soils. But it faded from popularity. Now it appears to be coming back, thanks to its health properties, which includes a higher percentage of proteins than modern red grains and higher levels of fat, phosphorus, potassium, and beta-carotine.

It also tastes really good. It has a sweet nutty flavor and a marvelously chewy texture, making it terrific for grain salads/sides, stuffing, and cereal. It can also be ground into a flour for baking.

Einkorn is not all that difficult to find. I bought a package (Jovial) at Whole Foods in La Jolla, but you can also find it easily online from a variety of producers and retailers.

Now some people suggest soaking einkorn berries overnight before cooking since the berries are hard and can take a long time to cook. I've never actually bothered with soaking wheat berries and haven't had a problem. But I thought I'd see if it made much difference in the cooking process. What does happen, of course, is that they expand as they soften and absorb the water.

For the Jovial brand of einkorn wheat berries, the instructions say to bring 3 cups of water to a rolling boil and add 1 1/2 cups of einkorn, then simmer on low for 30 to 35 minutes. So, what you have is, like rice, a 2-to-1 ratio of water to grain and much shorter cooking time than with regular wheat berries (my experience is that it takes closer to an hour). There was no mention of pre-soaking. With my soaked berries, the time was cut by perhaps five minutes because all the water had been absorbed. So, make of this what you will.

I tried the einkorn in two preparations. First I made a salad filled with citrus and dried figs, sugar snap peas, toasted walnuts, and garbanzo beans. I had cooked up 1 cup of dry einkorn and used 3/4 of that for the salad. The rest I saved for breakfast the following day. I added a little more water to the cooked einkorn, stirred it up, then heated it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. I transferred it to a bowl, added a bit of butter, maple syrup, and more toasted walnuts, along with a splash of milk. It was divine. Einkorn just absorbs any flavor you pair it with and serves it back to you in a nutty, chewy mouthful.

If you're intrigued by the commercial emergence of yet another cool ancient grain, give einkorn a try. And this salad, easy to make, is perfect for a late winter side dish.

Einkorn, Pea, and Mandarin Orange Salad
(printable recipe)

Serves 6

3/4 cup dry einkorn wheat berries

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot bulb, peeled and minced
1/2 cup fresh shelled sugar snap peas
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
6 dried figs, chopped
1/2 cup garbanzo beans
2 mandarin oranges, zested and peeled

3 tablespoons high-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
zest from above

1. Prepare einkorn according to directions on package.
2. While einkorn is simmering, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in saute pan. Add shallots and saute for about one minute. Add the peas and saute for another minute or two to warm. Stir in half the zest and remove from heat. Add to a medium size bowl.
3. Add the walnuts, figs, garbanzo beans, and mandarin orange sections. Be sure to remove as much of the fiberous string from the sections as possible.

4. Whisk together the three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the sherry vinegar, salt and pepper, and remaining zest. Taste and adjust seasonings.
5. When the einkorn has cooked, remove it from the heat and let it come to room temperature. Stir it up to separate the grains and let the steam escape.
6. Add the cooled einkorn to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. Add the dressing and mix well. Serve.

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