Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Oats and wheats and barley

Oats and wheats and barley grow
Oats and wheats and barley grow
Do you or me or anyone know
How oats and wheats and barley grow?

This is how I remember a song that we used to sing at primary school - I've checked it out online and it turns out that my memory isn't spot on, but I like it this way.  I lived in a fairly rural area, surrounded by fields of grain and orchards of apple and cherry trees (which is why 'Cherry Pink and Apple Blosson White' is another favourite) and I remember being shown the different grains on the class nature table - pretty oats that danced when you shook them, bearded barley and stiff wheat with barbed hairs like a cat's tongue. We must have looked sweet doing all the actions, sowing the seeds and taking our ease, like the song said. Closest I'm likely to get to being a farmer!

I'm in the market for flour right now, and I don't mean wheat. I'm working on recipes for gluten-free baked goods and I'm looking at anything that hasn't got gluten: rice flour, corn flour, sorghum, tapioca - I guess it's back to the internet for that. I hate the frogspawn consistency of tapioca, but perhaps it's more acceptable milled into a flour...

I've been sent a copy of Whole Grain Vegan Baking (Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes) which is proving educational - they use amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, rye, spelt... It seems you can make flour out of practically anything. I had a moment of excitement about getting a home flour mill as I can see why purists insist on freshly ground grains - the idea of using flour that has been sitting round for months suddenly seemed vile - but the price and the lack of space in my kitchen have detered me. Flour mill vendors, if you're watching, I'd be delighted to test and report on my findings... I was really peeved to miss a talk on this subject at VegFest in Brighton but it was scheduled to take place at the same time as I was doing a dem about getting to grips with tofu in another part of the building so I was out of luck.

The book has reminded me about the interesting new trend of pairing spices commonly used in Indian cookery with sweet dishes. Perhaps chilli in chocolate was the first evidence of this but garam masala seems to be cropping up all over the place right now. Witness the garam masala wheat and barley muffins in this book. The title is intriguing but reading on really roped me in (hope that's not an inappropriate cruel-to-cattle type of phrase) because I really liked the idea of using sweet potato puree - I bet these muffins are great. Where do I get a can of sweet potato puree? (I know, make it yourself, duh, but I have the same problem as I do when faffing around making apple sauce before I can get onto the first rung of the ladder with some vegan baked goods - it's impossible to know what sort of consistency it should have, and the impact of getting it wrong could be catastrophic. If I had only experienced what tinned sweet potato puree looks like I'd have some chance of getting it right...)

The trouble with cooking with whole grains is that vegetarian food has a bad reputation for being stodgy and brown. I was amazed (pardon my ignorance) to read that it is perfectly possible to create white whole grain flour - 'White whole wheat flour is milled from a hard white spring wheat, while traditional whole wheat flour is milled from red wheat'. Who knew? It feels as if vegetarian cooks have been running scared from brown stodge since the seventies, and the occasional appeal for us to use wholemeal flour in the recipes that appear in The Vegetarian magazine generally meets with barely concealed derision - heaven knows we don't want vegetarian food to ever, ever, look brown. I guess vegan cookery is new enough not to have this sort of baggage. Of course it's true that whole grains are better for you in many many ways. But it still feels as if anything made with brown flour is more about your bowels than about fun. Maybe this book can get us back on the straight and narrow.

There's only one thing in this book that made me blanch, and that was the 'Better With Beans Brownies'. Oh, sorry, nasty. Probably nice really but I've got baggage of my own to bring to this. Years and years ago I was caught out by a quiche - it looked as if it had cannellini beans in it but when I took a bite I realized I was looking at little prawn bodies, eeugh. Had to spit and rush to the Ladies to wash my mouth out. The title of this recipe brought back that memory with a vengeance, unfortunately. I had to steel myself to read it, and now I see that the beans are whizzed to a puree with sugar, maple syrup, salt and vanilla. Well, at least I wouldn't spot their little bodies when I bit into a brownie. I'm rather at a loss to think of how beans would improve a brownie, the intro to the recipe says they add fibre and structure. They would certainly add extra protein. Brownies wouldn't really be my first port of call for fibre and protein as a rule but I guess somebody might be jumping for joy...  

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