9 Ancient Grain Bowl Recipes That Taste Great Hot or Cold
While you might be familiar with ancient grains like bulgur and quinoa (commonly used in tabouli and ubiquitous Buddha bowls, respectively) the truth is, there’s a whole treasure trove of ancient grains beyond these that will rock your world. Farro, freekah, barley, millet, spelt, and kamut are all fabulous vehicles for vibrant dressings, not to mention fresh fruits, nuts, vegetables, and proteins.
Ancient grains are nutritionally excellent. They’ve been cultivated for centuries in the same way, and are minimally processed. All of these recipes feature whole grains, providing a richer source of antioxidants, vitamins, protein, minerals, and fiber than other grains that have been stripped through processing.
Grain salads and bowls are phenomenally versatile, and can be made ahead, stored in the fridge for a few days, and served at room temperature with just a little last-minute prep. They work well as side dishes at picnics and potlucks, but are also hearty enough to stand on their own. These dishes come together quickly — with a boil, chop, and toss — and make healthful omnivore eating just a bit more interesting.
A hit of healthy fat from coconut milk and Ethiopian spices sasses up plain old millet, which has the highest calcium content of all cereal grains. Roasting the kabocha squash and garbanzo beans amplifies this bowl’s earthy-sweet flavor. For potlucks and picnics, serve the lime-coconut sauce on the side so guests can add their own fancy finishing touch.
A mixture of black and brown rice — and a tiny Ethiopian seed called teff — becomes redolent with Asian flavors due to the sesame vinaigrette in this salad. Teff is a mild-flavored, gluten-free, ancient cereal that’s typically ground into flour for injera bread. But it’s so versatile and nutritious (bursting with calcium, iron, and fiber) that it finds new life as a garnish on salads, soups, and stews. Just toast in a skillet and sprinkle it on top of just about anything for added health benefits.
This endlessly riffable Indian-inspired bowl is great as-is, but nearly any vegetable on hand would be delicious with quinoa. If you feel like experimenting, try it with roasted broccoli or cauliflower, or toss in some cubed rotisserie chicken in place of the cashews. It’s hard to go wrong with the time-honored union of ginger, curry powder, and turmeric — spices that have long been praised for their medicinal anti-inflammatory properties. Add a dollop of plain yogurt for an extra protein boost.
Not one but three powerful ingredients in this gorgeous entree may help prevent obesity: pistachios, pomegranate seeds, and raisins. This make-ahead salad is a celebration of color, texture, and flavor. Barley is a comforting, nourishing grain dating back thousands of years, and is often prepared in soups and porridges. Here it gets a bright, zesty makeover that’s perfect for warm weather.
Khorasan wheat is an ancient Egyptian grain that is like a larger, sturdier version of farro and stands up well to the chicken in this recipe. The grain fell into obscurity in modern times until a Montana farmer revived it under the name of “kamut” in the 80s. It has more protein than regular wheat, and is rich in minerals that help regulate metabolism and blood pressure. This recipe takes a Mediterranean turn with zucchini, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes — conjuring up images of beach picnics and limoncello spritzers.
Tart green apples and crunchy pepitas taste great when combined with creamy avocado in this refreshing buckwheat salad. Once all the ingredients are prepped, the dish comes together in seconds. We all know the benefits of a fiber-rich diet, but this Asian seed (not actually made from wheat) also helps lower cholesterol and is naturally gluten-free. For extra flavor and crispiness, toast the magnesium-rich pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds) for a few minutes in a skillet over low heat before adding.
Freekah is a Levantine grain with a mellow, toasty flavor that pairs well with most grilled vegetables. Rich, meaty eggplant is a particularly good match for it, and instantly turns a light salad into a satisfying meal. Studies have shown that eggplants may reduce cholesterol and improve blood pressure. Since freekeh has twice the amount of protein as quinoa, it will help you feel full for longer. Even skeptics who scoff at salads won’t be hungry again in two hours. If feeding a group, serve the yogurt sauce on the side and have guests drizzle it on top.
Hold the lettuce: spicy, tart, and sweet, this Southwestern salad has it all. Farro’s mild, nutty flavor is a perfect blank slate for the robust spicing in this recipe. Legend has it farro was found in the tombs of Egyptian kings and fueled the Roman Army, but these days, you can find it by heading over to the grain aisle in the supermarket. Though it’s often sold in pearled and semi-pearled forms, seek out the immune-boosting whole-grain variety for its higher amounts of fiber, vitamin B3, and zinc. Complex carbs from sweet potatoes and black beans add an even bigger nutritional punch.
Although spelt is often found ground and used in baking, we think this ancient grain shines in whole berry form, where you can harness more of its energy-boosting power. The Romans didn’t call it the “marching grain” for nothing. This recipe makes use of kitchen staples — raisins, carrots, balsamic vinegar — and then gets topped with a tangy burst of cilantro. Spelt is a cousin to farro, but it’s easier to digest and a favorite among wheat-sensitive people (although it does still contain some gluten).
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