Fresh Fridays

March 20, 2015
Vol. VII No. 6
In This Issue
Celebrate Whole Grain Sampling Day  
with the Whole Grains of the Mediterranean

The first Wednesday in April every year is Whole Grain Sampling Day, and we're inviting you to celebrate by sampling some of the delicious whole grains of the Mediterranean.

In Mediterranean Grains and Greens, renowned author Paula Wolfert writes that "grains (wheat, barley, rice and corn, which came later from the New World) are, as much as any other ingredient -- as much as olive oil and wine -- the foundation of Mediterranean food." Indeed, the Mediterranean diet is home to a rich diversity of delicious grain foods, and that's what we're sharing with you today!

Barley: Barley is perhaps most prevalent in Tunisia, where it is baked into a barley bread. Similarly, in Greece, barley is double baked into hard breads called rusks, which are often showcased in rustic bread salads, with tomatoes, herbs, cheese, and olive oil. In classical times, barley (like many whole grains) was also simmered into a porridge. Today, this delightfully chewy grain is known for its role in heart health and regulating cholesterol (due to its soluble beta glucan fiber). To be sure you're getting whole grain barley, look for "whole," or "hulled" barley, instead of "pearled" barley.

Bulgur: Bulgur, cracked and parboiled whole wheat pieces, is a quick cooking (10-12 minutes) grain that is featured prominently in herby salads. According to Paula Wolfert, "kisir is Turkey's grain salad answer to Middle Eastern tabbouleh, both served light and loose. The primary difference is that in kisir the emphasis is on the bulgur, while in tabbouleh it is on the green." Bulgur is sometimes considered the 'pasta of the Middle East,' as it is a quick cooking, versatile staple. Called "the perfect ancient fast food," by food writer and author Maria Speck, bulgur is also often used to bulk up meatballs, soups, and pilafs.

Corn: Throughout the Mediterranean, whole grain cornmeal is transformed into savory pies, sweet cornbread, and a variety of porridge-like dishes. In Italy, coarsely ground corn is used to make polenta, a versatile dish that can be eaten as a creamy porridge, or baked, boiled, or fried into a sturdier cake. According to Paula Wolfert, northern Italians prize polenta, "as a culinary canvas, a soothingly textured dish with a unique flavor that they then embellish with other food." Greeks use corn in a similar porridge, called katsamaki, a dish reminiscent of lean, war-stricken times. Often as ubiquitous as bread itself, there is no denying that cornmeal is an integral ingredient in Mediterranean kitchens.

Farro/Emmer: Farro (or Emmer) was one of the first cereals ever domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, and as such has a long history in the Mediterranean. According to food historian Ken Albala, "long before bread baking, however, grains were simply boiled whole, and they still are. Farro, a kind of emmer, is still cooked today," in Italy. Similar to brown rice, the farro grain has a nutty flavor and pleasantly toothsome texture. It remains delightfully chewy whether eaten hot or cold, making farro an ideal base for grain salads. Contemporary chefs are also using farro to make "farrotto," a modern-day, whole grain interpretation of the classic Italian risotto.

Millet: While millet is more closely tied to Asia, this buttery, fluffy whole grain was one of the first grains enjoyed in the Mediterranean, centuries ago. Widely eaten by the poor, millet was a precursor to polenta and couscous, and as such, was an extremely versatile ingredient. Millet was even used in a handful of traditional Italian treats, such as migliaccio, although today, it has largely been replaced by corn. Millet's color, size, and texture make it an ideal substitute for couscous in a variety of global recipes.

Whole Wheat: While some restaurant bread baskets indicate otherwise, whole wheat has a strong culinary tradition in Mediterranean countries. In The Blue Zones, a book about the cultures that live the longest, healthiest lives, author Dan Buettner reveals that the "classic Sardinian diet consists of whole-grain bread, beans, garden vegetables, fruits," and often wine. Indeed, darker whole-grain breads were commonplace across the Mediterranean before prosperity arrived in the mid-twentieth century. On the southern rim of the Mediterranean, in North Africa, whole wheat was also traditionally enjoyed in the form of couscous, a much-loved base for stews and tagines. Honor your Mediterranean ancestors by making your meals the old fashioned way, with humble, healthy whole grains!

Other grains: Many other whole grains have a long tradition in the Mediterranean. In northern Italy, closer to Germany and the Nordic region, rye was used in pane nero, a dark rye bread. This region also enjoyed buckwheat, made into buckwheat noodles, called pizzoccheri and combined with potatoes, cabbage, and cheese in a rustic meal. Buckwheat, like most grains, was also used in porridge. Rice was also widely enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean, both in Spanish paella and arroces, and Italian risotto. However, as prosperity arrived in these regions, whole grain (brown) rice has largely been replaced by refined (white) rice.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.
When roasted, Brussels sprouts become crispy on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside. The dressing for this hearty salad brings out their sharp yet light flavor.

Recipe created by Chef Tiffani Faison of Rocca Kitchen & Bar, courtesy of California Walnut Board and Commission.
This recipe can be served cold or at room temperature. For a vegetarian or vegan version, simply substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Oldways.
The Ultimate Freekeh Breakfast
Both the cracked and whole grain freekeh make for an excellent breakfast cereal. The cooked freekeh will keep in your refrigerator for up to eight days, so it's readily available each morning! It can be eaten warm - like oatmeal or cold with yogurt. Be creative with what you add - fruits, cinnamon, raisins, honey and nuts!

Recipe courtesy of Thomasina Nista.

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be. 

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit:     

 Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA)        





Let the old ways be your guide to good health and well-being.       



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by Paula Wolfert
Mediterranean food expert Paula Wolfert zeroes in on the humble, healthy roots of the Med diet: grains and greens. Drawing on her five years of living and traveling throughout this region, Wolfert introduces readers to many classic grain-based recipes, sharing a bounty of traditional preparation tips and cultural insights along the way.

Maria Speck's love affair with whole grains is contagious in this immensely enjoyable cookbook. Speck writes, "To me, whole grains are the ultimate comfort food. Chewy, sensual, and immensely satisfying, they are homey and nourishing in an old-fashioned way. And economical to boot." Drawing from her Greek heritage and upbringing, Speck offers a vivid array of Mediterranean recipes, featuring a wide variety of ancient grains.

by Nancy Harmon Jenkins 
Having lived in Italy, France, Cyprus, Lebanon, and Spain, Nancy Harmon Jenkins is one of the nation's foremost experts in Mediterranean cuisine. Jenkins introduces readers to a number of healthy Mediterranean dishes, including several grain-based favorites. Her flavor-driven recipes serve as resounding evidence that good food and good health are one and the same.