I have finally admitted that the key to
my sanity easy weeknight meals is a fridge stocked with weekend leftovers. So when my lovely friend, Maria Speck, sent me a copy of her new cookbook, Simply Ancient Grains — along with a meal plan that uses a single pot of grains over a week — I ran to the kitchen.
I am a huge fan of Maria’s first book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, which I’ve written about here and here. Her new book is perfect for anyone trying to incorporate delicious, healthy grains into the sturm und drang of daily life — that’s all of us, right? — with recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The recipes in Simply Ancient Grains are flexible and mostly interchangeable with other grains — barley, quinoa, spelt, farro/emmer, etc. When it came to selecting my grain for the week, Maria suggested millet, one of her favorites, “drought tolerant and gluten-free,” she said, adding, “there has been a fair bit of buzz lately, with some hailing it as the next super grain.” Millet is “among the oldest staples of humankind,” she writes in her book, “quick-cooking and versatile,” with a “fluffy, comforting texture.” I found a bag at my local Whole Foods and ran home to prepare a big pot of it. Here’s how my week unfolded…
“I suggest you prepare at least 2 cups raw millet ahead on the weekend as per [the book’s] basic cooking instructions,” Maria wrote to me. “This will give you seven to eight cups cooked (the total should be enough).”
Millet is quick-cooking and easy to prepare as it requires no soaking time. First, I toasted the dry grains, and then cooked them like rice, with 3.5 times more liquid than grain. (Note: You can cook millet without toasting it first. “In fact, I do this most of the time as I cherish its simple unadorned flavor,” says Maria.)
As it was Saturday — the only day of the week that I prepare an elaborate family lunch — I made the book’s Roasted One-Pan Chicken with Leeks and Barley — a sumptuous crisp-skinned poule served over a bed of wine-infused grains. I used millet instead of barley, of course, and because I could only find a single leek (!!!) at the grocery store, I also threw in some butternut squash. I loved Maria’s aggressive, high-heat method of roasting the bird, which produced the most succulent chicken I’ve had in a long time. (I ate the best bits of blistered skin while carving — cook’s privilege!)
Bonus: The leftover chicken breast was delicious in brown bag lunch salads.
Maria suggested the book’s cumin-scented cauliflower soup, which is enriched with millet and bits of salmon. But since I had all that leftover chicken on hand, I combined her recipe with this one for mulligatawny. Instead of red lentils, I used a base of pureed cauliflower cooked in homemade chicken stock, and I stirred in the millet and bits of cooked chicken at the end. No photos — it was delicious, but rather, er, rustic.
For a comforting winter breakfast, Maria offers a substitute for oatmeal: “Warm some millet with milk of your choice, chopped dried fruit, and a bit of honey if you like,” she suggested. “Top with chopped walnuts, a dash of cinnamon, and a bit more honey, as desired.” I took it five steps simpler, and simply heated millet with milk, brown sugar, and a dash of nutmeg, topping the bowl with toasted almonds. It was soothing and satisfying — unlike my usual breakfast of avocado toast, I remained full until lunch.
Leftover soup (see above).
Maria has a wonderful recipe for “Frittata Muffins for Any Grain” but at this point, midweek and frazzled, I opted instead to create my own ad hoc frittata. I combined the leftover millet/leek/butternut mixture from Saturday with a few eggs, a handful of grated cheese, and quite a bit more millet. Whisked it all with a fork, poured it into a heated pan, and finished it off in the oven. Voilà, dinner!
We got take out. (Ducks head in shame.)
By the end of the week, I still had quite bit of cooked millet left — but how to use it? Maria’s book has a hundred suggestions, but I decided to make these little patties from another cookbook, Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson, substituting millet. They came together remarkably quickly, with enough leftovers for lunch. And so another week begins… !