Last week a few of us from Oldways had the great pleasure to join some fellow food and nutrition folks for an intimate celebration in honor of Maria Speck’s new book, Simply Ancient Grains.  Maria is a longtime friend of Oldways, a culinary advisor to our Whole Grains Council and someone we greatly admire, so we were thrilled to join in, offer our support, and sample some of her sumptuous dishes!

The beauty of this celebration is that it was a potluck, so not only did we have the opportunity to talk with Maria about her new book, we were able to cook recipes from the book and taste even more of them!

Maria’s passion for whole grains is clear the moment you meet her; she cherishes them and wants to share her enthusiasm and knowledge with all who will listen.

  Her book is just an extension of this passion.  The care that is put into each and every one of her recipes is apparent along with the extra advice she offers her readers.  Each recipe has something she calls ‘fine points’ that offer serving suggestions, alternate grains, general cooking tips, and much more.  You feel as though she is right there, cooking along with you, offering her insights to help you create your own masterpieces.  In addition, for those less familiar with these ancient grains, have no fear, Maria is here!  The book begins with practical information to better understand the subtleties, versatility, and traits of each ancient grain.

The potluck included Maria’s Freekeh Salad with Caramelized Cauliflower and Tuna, Bulgur with Chard and Saffron-Infused Yogurt, Lemony Millet Pudding with Caramelized Grapes, Oatmeal Butternut Pancakes with Browned Buttered Nuts, and Simple Maple Pudding with Farro Piccolo.

We can’t say enough about the lovely afternoon, her new book, and the delightful dishes we had the pleasure of eating.  We contributed two recipes from the book to the spread and today we share these recipes with you — As Maria would say, these dishes were so good we wanted to dance on the table!

One note speaks to the versatility of grains and our recipes below:  The two recipes we made from Maria’s book called for millet and bulgur.  But after what we have named the “Great Grain Swap,” where we accidently took home the grain we bought for each other’s recipes, we simply adjusted our plan and swapped the grain in the recipe we made.  Still delicious and what cooking is all about!

Bulgur with Chard and Saffron-infused Yogurt
When I entertain, I always want to get away with a stunning yet stupendously easy main course. This is one of them. If you’ve tried bulgur only in tabbouleh, this one-pot meal is just as enjoyable. Pouring the deep orange saffron-infused yogurt on top of the bulgur, flecked with colorful rainbow chard, always makes me pause in my tracks. Don’t hesitate to use freshly pressed garlic—any harshness is mellowed by the yogurt, bringing all the flavors together.

This is a versatile dish. Enjoy it as a terrific light vegetarian meal or serve it next to roast chicken, grilled lamb chops, salmon, or trout. It also makes a lovely side for a potluck or picnic (keep the yogurt and almonds separate until ready to serve). And it doubles beautifully.



Scant 1⁄4 teaspoon loosely packed saffron threads
1 tablespoon hot water
1 bunch  (12 ounces) chard, preferably Swiss rainbow
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3⁄4 cup chopped green onions, white and dark green parts (about 3)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup medium-coarse bulgur
1 ¾ cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly  ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
1⁄2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or 1⁄8 teaspoon dried red chile flakes, or more as needed (optional)
1 cup whole milk yogurt or low-fat yogurt
1⁄4 cup toasted sliced almonds


Add the saffron to a small bowl and cover with the hot water. Set aside for about
15 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the chard stems and chop them into 1⁄4-inch pieces; roll the leaves into a tight bundle and cut into 1⁄2-inch ribbons; if the leaves are large, cut the ribbons crosswise a few times as well.

Heat a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in the oil and wait until it’s shimmering. Add the green onions, the chard stems, and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions wilt and the stems soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the bulgur until all grains are coated, and cook, stirring often and watching closely until the grains smell toasty and the bottom of the pot turns dry, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth (it will splatter!), the remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender with a bit of a chew, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the chard leaves and remove the pot from the heat. Set aside for 3 to 5 minutes for the leaves to wilt.

Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper. Season to taste with Aleppo pepper, salt, and pepper.

To finish, add the yogurt to a small bowl. Stir the saffron-infused water into the yogurt and beat well to create a smooth, golden cream. When ready to serve, spoon the bulgur mixture onto a large rimmed serving plate and pour the saffron yogurt on top. Sprinkle with the almonds and serve at once.

Lemony Millet Pudding with Caramelized Grapes

Creamy desserts are a perfect foil to showcase millet—they provide enough cover to hide the small grain from plain view yet plenty of appeal to highlight its delicate, toothsome texture. This nimble lemon-infused dessert, similar to rice pudding, is a case in point. Aromatic white wine syrup caramelizes the grapes and ties the ingredients together, showing off this comforting ancient grain.



1 cup water
1⁄2 cup millet
2⁄3 cup whole or low-fat milk
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of fine sea salt

3⁄4 cup dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio, or apple juice
1⁄4 cup honey
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
2 cups halved seedless grapes, preferably red or purple (about 10 ounces), plus about 1⁄4 cup (2 ounces) for garnish
3 whole cloves or a pinch of ground cloves
1 (4 by 1⁄2-inch) strip lemon zest, white pith removed
1 1⁄2 cups whole milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons limoncello or apple juice, or more as needed
1 1⁄2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus a little more for garnish


To prepare the millet, add the water and the millet to a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in the milk, vanilla, and salt. Return to a simmer, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool for about 25 minutes.


While the millet is cooling, make the pudding. Add the wine, honey, sugar, grapes, cloves, and the zest strip to a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium- high heat, stirring gently a few times for the sugars to dissolve, then cook at a lively simmer for about 2 minutes to just soften the grapes.

Gently tip the grapes into a sieve, placed over a medium bowl to retain the liquid. Return the liquid, including the cloves and the zest, to the pot and bring to a boil. Cook at a vigorous simmer, adjusting the heat as needed, until the syrup starts to caramelize and turns a deep amber color, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes.

To finish the pudding, be sure that both the millet and the syrup are not more than slightly warm to the touch. Remove the zest strip and the cloves from the syrup (you will have about 1⁄2 cup); set aside 2 tablespoons of the syrup for garnish. Add the remaining syrup, the yogurt, limoncello, and grated zest to a medium bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Fluff the millet with a fork and stir it into the yogurt mixture. Gently stir in the grapes as well. Divide the dessert between six bowls and chill, covered with plastic wrap, for 2 hours to allow the flavors to mingle.

When ready to serve, garnish each bowl with a few grape halves. Spoon a bit of the reserved syrup on top (stir in a teaspoon of boiling water to loosen it if needed) and garnish with a bit of lemon zest.

A giant thank you to Janice Bissex for hosting this wonderful afternoon!  For a closer look at the other recipes you can visit Meal Makeover Moms and Juggling with Julia.

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