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Seeds to brighten up your meals

A recipe using buckwheat.
A recipe using buckwheat. / SUR
  • Nowadays we have access to many more cereals and grains. Here we show you how to cook them and enjoy their health benefits

Delicious, nutritious and versatile. Cereals have been an essential part of the human diet for more than 10,000 years. Back in time, many people found it difficult to access those which would best adapt to their environment, but nowadays we are lucky: specialist shops, herbalists and the ‘healthy eating’ sections of supermarkets stock a wide variety of cereals and grains so we can add a new touch to our meals and, at the same time, enjoy the benefits of eating whole grains, with all their fibre and nutrients.

Buckwheat

What is it?

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is not a cereal; it is the seed of a plant from the polygonaceous family. Light brown and pyramid-shaped, it is a very complete grain, rich in carbohydrates (3.4 per cent) and minerals. Buckwheat does not contain gluten, so these days it is now often used by bakers.

The taste

Its flavour is mild but characteristic and can resemble hazelnut. When cooked, the grain produces a slightly mucilaginous film, and although it retains its texture it is softer than other grains.

How to use it

It can be cooked like rice, using two parts water to one part grain. Its texture is suitable for fake risottos, because the film it produces accentuates the creaminess. It can also be used as a garnish or combined with vegetables.

Because it is soft, it can be ground to make flour (many shops also sell buckwheat flour). The French pancackes known as ‘galettes’ are made with this type of flour, as are soba noodles.

Millet

What is it?

Common millet (Panicum miliaceum) is a cereal with small seeds. There are different varieties, which are popular in Africa and Asia. It is a very nutritious cereal, with a high lecithin, protein and fibre content, as well as containing group B vitamins, magnesium and managanese.

The flavour

It has a sweet aroma. If left ‘al dente’ it tastes slightly astringent and its after-taste is similar to that of walnuts.

Seeds to brighten up your meals

How to use it

Because millet is small, it can even be eaten raw or toasted in muesli. When cooked ‘al dente’ (2.5 parts water to one part cereal) it can be used instead of couscous because it doesn’t contain gluten. When cooked for longer, or in more water (3-4 parts water to one part cereal), the grain breaks up and becomes sticky, so it is perfect to make porridge or certain types of batter. It can also be used in soups or tabbouleh-type salads.

Cornmeal

What is it?

Cornmeal is produced from the dried husked grain. It is sold nowadays as pre-cooked polenta (steamed and dried), which cooks almost immediately, unlike the raw variety which needs much longer cooking. It is one of the oldest basic human foods. In cooler Mediterranean areas, because of the way corn brought from America adapts to the environment, it was used instead of porridge in places like northern Italy, Portugal and Spain. In fact, its name comes from the Latin ‘puls’, meaning pottage.

The flavour

Polenta has a pleasant corn flavour which is quite neutral and slightly sweet.

How to cook it

These days nearly all polenta is sold pre-cooked, which makes it very easy to prepare at home. For a dense purée texture you need four parts of water to one part polenta. In general, once it starts to boil, it cooks very quickly, in about three minutes. For a more liquid consistency, you can add half a part more water. It can also be used to thicken soups. Polenta can be flavoured and softened with oil, butter, truffle oil, parmesan cheese, spices...

Seeds to brighten up your meals

The thickened polenta, once cooked, can be turned out into a dish and left to dry, then cut into portions and toasted in the pan or fried. If you want to do that, you need to use a non-stick frying pan and toast the polenta very well before turning it over, otherwise it will fall to pieces. Each brand or type has a different texture and the amount of water may vary; for example, you may find you need to use three parts water for one part grain, instead of four. Thick polenta can also be shaped like a volcano and filled in the centre with meat stew, as they do in northern Italy.

Barley

What is it?

Barley (Hordeum vulgaris) is the fifth most cultivated cereal in the world, and is especially used in beer, animal feed and flours, but it is also used as a grain. It is normally sold husked, and known as ‘pearl barley’. It is rich in slow-absorption carbohydrates and fibre (which is distributed throughout the whole of the grain).

The flavour

It is mild, slippery on the palate, and has texture. The taste is delicious, with sweet and nutty notes.

How to cook it

Pearl barley needs cooking for about 40 minutes with three parts water to one part grain. In a pressure cooker it cooks in 12 minutes, with 115 grammes of water for every 100 grammes of grain and a little oil in the cooker to stop it sticking. It can be used as a garnish, in salads, soups, stews and risottos. It contains gluten.

Spelt

What is it?

Spelt (Triticum spelta), also known as hulled wheat, is an ancient variety of wheat which was already being used in Iran about 7,000 years ago. It has always been highly appreciated and its nutritional properties have made it popular again, especially in the form of a flour. It is considered easier to digest than wheat, although its properties are similar. It contains gluten.

The flavour

Spelt has a hard shell, so when it is cooked it maintains its consistent texture and nutty flavour.

How to cook it

It takes a while to cook (one hour in an uncovered saucepan). In a pressure cooker, you would need 225 grammes of water for every 100 grammes of grain, and it will take about 20 minutes to cook. It works very well in stews with vegetables, and is ideal for stuffing vegetables.

The thickened polenta, once cooked, can be turned out into a dish and left to dry, then cut into portions and toasted in the pan or fried. If you want to do that, you need to use a non-stick frying pan and toast the polenta very well before turning it over, otherwise it will fall to pieces. Each brand or type has a different texture and the amount of water may vary; for example, you may find you need to use three parts water for one part grain, instead of four. Thick polenta can also be shaped like a volcano and filled in the centre with meat stew, as they do in northern Italy.