On Saturday mornings as a child, I awoke to the nutty aromas of steel-cut oats and the percolator coffee my dad made. I’d lace the steaming bowl with cream scooped from the top of a glass milk bottle, then load on raisins, brown sugar and crunchy pecans.
Later, when I began cooking for myself, brown rice was the go-to basis for dinners with housemates; it was cheap, filling and hip. Given today’s selections — including quinoa, red and black rice, farro and buckwheat — whole grains have come a long way.
Whole grains are nutritional powerhouses that have sustained other cultures for centuries, no doubt in part because they not only taste good but are easy to work with.
Thanks to “The Whole Grain Promise” (Running Press, 199 pages, $20) by Robin Asbell of Minneapolis, they are all becoming a staple in my kitchen. Asbell offers fresh new ideas for the more familiar brown rice, barley and wheat berries. She also has introduced me to kaniwa, freekeh, millet, amaranth and rye berries. To her credit, she doesn’t dwell on their health benefits, though she does offer plenty of information. Her focus is on versatility and taste.
The chapters are organized by meal category (breakfast, salads, soups, sides, main courses, snacks and desserts) with a separate section on breads and a chart showing best uses and cooking times. As an authority on gluten-free cooking, Asbell provides details for substituting and adapting the dishes to meet dietary needs.
“The Whole Grain Promise,” Asbell’s seventh book, updates and expands on an earlier volume. The recipes are smart, flavor-forward, reliable and simple, with suggestions for making dishes ahead and using up leftovers. The book delivers in numerous satisfying ways — and with more than 100 recipes.
I can imagine my dad’s delight in Asbell’s oatmeal concoction with pomegranate, berries and nuts. The sushi broccoli and brown rice salad is a far cry from my gloppy cheese-laden brown rice days.
Given the book’s light, bright dishes, I’m going with the grain, every day.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis author and cooking instructor.