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Books in Brief: Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck

Welcome to Books in Brief. Every week for a while I'll be working through the growing stack of excellent books on my desk and sharing a few brief thoughts on why you might like them. Each little post will follow the same basic format, which I hope will help you decide quickly and comfortably whether each book is right for you or someone in your life. 

Up this week: Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by award-winning author Maria Speck.

Maria Speck Ancient Grains for Modern Meals 780 _ Umami Girl

The takeaway

Amaranth. Buckwheat. Millet. Rye. Do these words make you swoon, or do they strike fear into your heart? For all their near-superpowers, whole grains and pseudograins can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated. After paging through this beautiful, inspiring cookbook — a love story to whole grains — you’ll feel empowered and excited to dive into the world of whole grain cooking. There’s plenty of well-organized, practical information about grains, but it’s the stories that will really draw you in.

The dirty details

If you’re imagining an entire cookbook full of endless riffs on wheat berry salad, I’m happy to report that the recipes in this book are extremely varied. Some of my favorites include breakfasts, desserts, and savory cakes and burgers, like Brie Cakes with Sun-Dried Tomatoes made with both rolled and steel-cut oats. I cooked a batch of those a few months ago, but we greedily ate them all before I could take a photo.

Speaking of photos, the book’s photography, by the super-talented Sara Remington, mirrors the warm, inviting, yet straightforward tone of the text perfectly.  No wonder this book was named both a New York Times notable cookbook and  a Washington Post Top 10 cookbook.

The lovely author

Maria Speck writes at once with deep eloquence and broad accessibility. Which is why it’s slightly maddening to learn that English is not her first, not her second, but her third language (after German and Greek). She is a widely published journalist and a popular cooking instructor in Cambridge, MA, where whole grains feature prominently in her classes.

You had me at...

Maria says, “Whole grains have cast a spell on me — from the first sweetened wheat berries I chewed on during my grandfather’s funeral to the comforting corn polenta my Greek mother makes to this day. I crave the tender chewiness of brown rice, the soft, translucent pearls of quinoa, the warming lightness of millet.” And that’s just the first three lines.

How to get it

Since this book isn’t brand new anymore (it was published by Ten Speed Press in 2011), I won’t do a giveaway this time. If you’re looking to add more whole grains to your diet, I can’t think of another single source that would be more worth the small investment. You can get it at Amazon or Powell’s.


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  1. Lynne

    I stumbled across your blog recently. This book sounded good so I bought the hardcover. Then…I downloaded the Kindle version for travel! Thank you so much for high-lighting it!

  2. One of my most favorite cookbooks! Maria’s recipes are wonderful.

  3. I have gone to not one but two booksignings with Maria Speck. I love her cookbook–everything turns out perfectly–and she’s fantastic in person with such an infectious enthusiasm! Yes, and it’s maddening that English is her third language. Oh well.

  4. Thanks, Marissa. So glad to hear you’re a big fan of the book (and of Maria). I don’t know how anyone could disagree with us on this one!

  5. Carolyn, I’m so glad that you decided to highlight this book. It really is a masterpiece – every recipe I’ve made from it has exceeded my expectations. And Maria is such a lovely lady, I’m happy to see her having such success.