Ancient grains

Ancient grains


They’ve been around forever, yet ancient grains are enjoying a renaissance of sorts, popping up on the shelves of smart food stores and restaurant menus alike. Not just for health food nuts, now everyone can enjoy these delicious grains.

Quinoa (pronounced kinwa), an ancient crop worshipped by the Incas, is actually a seed. It is high in protein, a good source of fibre and is gluten free. It is available in red and white varieties that are easily cooked like rice, using the absorption method. Try cooking in stock for added flavour, if you like.

Freekah, an ancient Arab form of wheat, is made by roasting green wheat grains. Because the grains are harvested while still young, freekah contains more protein, vitamins and minerals than mature grains. It is low GI, low carb and high in fibre.

It has a sweet, earthy flavour and can be added to soups, stuffings and salads.

Farro is an ancient wheat grain found in Italy, said to have fuelled the Roman army. It is similar to spelt and barley, but when cooked it retains a firm chewy texture. Regional crop differences produce different grades of farro. It is sold as a whole grain, but can also be bought ‘semi pearled’, a process that removes some of the bran and germ (and some of the goodness). This grain is quicker to cook, whilst whole farro takes longer, and benefits from soaking for up to 8 hours before cooking. Add to soups or cook in stock as it soaks up flavour. Also delicious in salads and with vegetables, it’s very versatile, with a nutty flavour.

Be tempted to try these ancient grains, starting with the recipes below and add them to your repertoire. You’ll be delighted to discover that not only are they are good for you but equally delicious, too.

Baked portabello mushrooms topped with quinoa, feta and microherbs


Inspired by an Ottolenghi recipe, aromatic baked autumn mushrooms are topped with the delicious nutty flavour of quinoa and creamy goats cheese.


8 medium portabello mushrooms

50g unsalted butter

few sprigs thyme

150ml dry white wine

150ml vegetable stock

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups water

1 cup quinoa

320g jar marinated goats feta

micro herbs for garnish

Preheat oven to 180C.

Place mushrooms in a large baking tray, scatter over thyme sprigs and dot with butter.

Add wine, stock and sliced garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover tray with foil and cook for 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan bring 2 cups water to the boil, add quinoa, reduce heat, cover with a lid and cook for 10-15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff the quinoa with a fork.

To serve, spoon the quinoa over the mushrooms, add a dollop of goats feta and scatter over the herbs. Season with extra salt and pepper if required.

Serves 4 (or 8 as a starter).


Freekah with cauliflower, pomegranate and mint


A warm salad for Autumn, with spiced cauliflower, a hit of fresh herbs and the delightful sour tang from pomegranate molasses.


300g freekah

7 tbsp olive oil, plus extra, for frying

1 brown onion, finely chopped

500ml vegetable stock

½ (half) cauliflower, broken into small florets

¼ (quarter) cup plain flour

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

400g tin lentils, rinsed and drained

1 pomegranate

1 cup walnuts, toasted

1/3 cup mint

1/3 cup coriander

1/3 cup basil

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

Soak freekah for 5 minutes, then drain.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a medium pot, saute onions until softened, add freekah then add stock and cook for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut cauliflower into small florets and place in a large bowl.

Mix flour, cumin and coriander. Toss cauliflower in spiced flour to coat.

Heat remaining oil in large frypan. Add spice-dusted cauliflower and fry over medium low heat for 10 minutes until cauliflower is soft and golden. Add extra oil, if required.

Toss with freekah, scatter over drained lentils, pomegranate seeds, toasted walnuts and fresh herbs.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and pomegranate molasses and serve.

Serves 4.

Pumpkin chickpea and farro soup


It’s the perfect weather for this kind of soup. With the farro and the vegetables, it makes a simple Sunday night supper.


1 brown onion

1 celery stick

1 carrot

1 leek

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp ground fennel

1 tsp ground cumin

1 stick cinnamon

pinch saffron

1 litre vegetable stock

300g pumpkin

400g tin chickpeas

½ cup farro

½ cup fresh coriander leaves, picked

Chop onion, celery, carrot and leek into medium sized dice.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy based pot, add diced vegetables and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, and saffron and cook for a further minute. Add stock and bring to the boil. Add farro and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Cut pumpkin in medium dice and add to pot. Simmer for 25-30 minutes until vegetables are soft and farro is cooked. Add chickpeas and heat through.

Scatter over coriander and serve.

serves 4.