Thursday, May 05, 2011

Why do YOU cook, Maria Speck?

Maria Speck

I met Maria Speck, the Grain Gourmet on Twitter where her recipe tweets piqued my curiosity. She grew up in both Germany and Greece and shares her recipes and mostly Mediterranean techniques for cooking with whole grains in ways you might not expect. In her beautiful new cookbook, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, you'll find cakes from quinoa and smoked trout, an easy crust from cooked polenta, a hearty frittata with wild rice and wheat berry "fool" with figs. Her recipes will surely broaden your horizons as much as they tempt your tastebuds.

It all started with a small bag of wheat berries someone handed me at a cemetery in Greece during a ceremony to mark the recent death of my grandfather. I was six years old and hungry. While I scooped up the mixture of cinnamon and cumin-scented grains, chewing on their succulent starchy centers, interspersed with chunks of roasted walnuts and sugarcoated almonds-I became completely oblivious to the crushing sadness all around me, and blissfully dug in. This culinary memory made me into the person I am today, in so many ways.

Years later a simple wheat berry salad, served to me by a friend in Germany, brought the grains of my childhood back to my table. At the time, I worked as a news agency journalist, subsisting on coffee and frozen pizza. Rediscovering the delicious chew of wheat berries made me realize what I was missing. From then on, I lit my stove and my oven with a passion otherwise reserved for boyfriends.

A few years later whole grains once more changed the path of my life. When I moved to the US in 1993 as a journalism fellow at Stanford university, I couldn't find what the German half of me calls “real bread.” Most stores sold soft, cotton-candy like bread or pre-sliced toast. Even when labeled whole grain, little did these products resemble the deliciously chewy, aromatic, and dense loaves of dark wheat and rye breads I was raised on. Eventually, I took fate into my own hands: I ordered a beautiful wooden German countertop grain mill and started baking whole grain bread from freshly ground flour. Which ultimately lead to my current career. As more and more Americans started to get interested in whole grains, I realized how much I really knew about them. I am writer and a passionate whole grain lover-so why not combine the two, I thought? Instead of reporting on technology, society and health, all I have done since is writing about whole grains. And cooking and baking with them. Naturally.