Whole grains play a large role in the Mediterranean diet. In addition to other plant-based foods, they form the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Grains can be stored for long periods of time, are readily available and economical, and, in their whole, unreﬁned form, provide superior sustenance.
Common types of Mediterranean grains include barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, corn/cornmeal, rice and wheat. In the past few years, you may have heard the term ancient grains ﬂoating in the air. This refers to grains that have remained largely unchanged over the last several hundred years, as opposed to more modern varieties. Ancient grains include Khorasan wheat (kamut), freekeh, bulgur, farro, einkorn, emmer, and spelt.
Not surprisingly, whole grains ﬁnd their way into many Mediterranean preparations, including breads, desserts/pastries, salads, porridge, soups, and stews. Here are a handful of hearty, comforting Mediterranean whole grain-based soups that are sure to keep you warm all fall and winter long.
Farro Soup (zuppa di farro) is a nourishing, Italian vegetable and grain soup. Many regional varieties of zuppa di farro exist. For example, in Tuscany, beans are added, some pureed and some left whole, whereas in Umbria, beans are traditionally left out. The one common ingredient is, of course, farro. Farro is a grain with Italian roots. It’s derived from varieties of wheat, known as einkorn and emmer. Farro is sold unpearled (whole grain), semi-pearled (some of the bran is removed) and pearled (all of the bran is removed). Keep in mind that the less reﬁned the farro, the longer the cooking time. Although, to speed up the cooking process, be sure to soak farro overnight. When cooked, farro has a tender, yet chewy bite with a distinct nuttiness.
Not to be confused with the chickpea ﬂour ﬂatbread from Liguria (also referred to as farinata), farinata di cavolo nero is a hearty, thick porridge-like soup made with Tuscan (lacinato) kale and polenta (i.e., coarsely ground cornmeal). There are variations of this soup, typically it includes white beans; some recipes call for potatoes. Some include pancetta, some lard (or simply olive oil for a vegetarian/vegan version). Its ingredients are humble, yet somehow they all come together to produce a tasty, warming bowl of soup.
Shorbet freekeh is a soup of Middle Eastern (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt) and Mediterranean origins that incorporates freekeh (or green wheat). According to legend, freekeh originated by accident when an ancient Middle Eastern village was attacked and their young wheat ﬁelds were set on ﬁre. In an attempt to rescue their wheat ﬁelds, the villagers rubbed away the burnt chaﬀ, the husk surrounding the seed (freekeh literally translates to “rub” in Arabic). What they discovered was that the kernels inside were too young and moist to burn. Hence, the birth of freekeh. Today young, green wheat is harvested and roasted over an open ﬁre in order to burn the chaﬀ. What you’re left with, once the burnt parts are removed, is a ﬁrm, slightly chewy whole grain with earthy, nutty, and slightly smoky undertones.
Greek Trahana Soup. Trahana is a type of wheat product or Greek “pasta” – made with either semolina, cracked wheat, bulgur or whole wheat ﬂour – that’s eaten in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. There are two types: sweet trahana and sour trahana. Sweet trahana is made with milk, typically goat’s milk, while sour trahana is made with yogurt or buttermilk. It’s traditionally made at the end of the summer when there is suﬃcient breeze and heat to dry the trahana morsels and an abundance of milk; as for the most part, trahana evolved as an ingenious way to preserve milk. This ancient food is used in a variety of traditional dishes, including soups, from hearty vegetable soups containing eggplant, okra, green beans and greens in Crete to a delicious northern Greek tomato, meatball soup.
Another hearty soup of Greek origin is Avgolememono. It often contains grains in the form of long-grain brown rice, bulgur, or trahana. It’s a tangy, creamy soup, which is achieved by whisking eggs and lemon juice together until frothy and then incorporated into the hot broth. Sometimes chicken is added to avgolemono soup, sometimes ﬁsh. Both of which, make for a delicious, simple, and nourishing bowl on a cold night.
With a long winter ahead, it’s warming and heart-warming to think about preparing these hearty whole grain soups.
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