Book Review: Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on May 12, 2011

Being a professional Pastry Chef and food blogger allows me to do so many things that I love…mostly my interest revolves around the research, development and ultimate creation of delicious recipes. Through my research, I have had the opportunity to write about many different and interesting food topics, but my main interest lies in developing new and interesting flavor and texture combinations. I am always interested in what projects other innovative Chefs and home cooks are involved in, because I find them to be a great source of information and inspiration.

When my dear friend, Maria Speck told me her new book was making its debut the end of April, I was excited to get my hands on a copy and read it from cover to cover.

Many of you who follow my blog know that I am a very enthusiastic cookbook collector with a full library of assorted items that I have been collecting for over 20 years. In this case, I was fortunate enough to receive and advanced copy of Maria’s book from the publisher for review…for me, this was a great honor and a privilege.

After 20 years of personally evaluating cookbooks as a consumer, I established my own grading scale. This grading scale has been tweaked many times, but I found that it is a great tool to use to separate out the great works from the rest that should forever remain in the “don’t bother” pile.

In our current economic times where disposable income is not what it used to be, having a sound grading scale for such purchases is important before we plunk down our hard earned cash. This review is not meant to be an entire dissertation or long winded thesis, but an honest, overall evaluation of the work that would be useful for both the consumer and the author.

The general organization of a book is most important. A cookbook, like any other book, follows a thought process and relays information in a way that allows for the building of information from one point of reference to another. Maria does this so well, beginning with her introduction to the category of whole grains, and then painstakingly reviews each one before introducing any of the recipes. By the time you get to the recipe section, you have achieved a clear understanding of what each grain is, how it should be used, handled and why. 

The actual layout of the information is also expertly done. Maria offers 7 chapters which cover just about everything, and includes:

breakfast, brunches & breads

salads & sides

soups & stews

burgers, savory cakes & more


modern mains

sweet endings

There were many recipes that caught my eye in each of the chapters, but some of the standouts were:

Pine nut bread with fennel and sun dried tomato

leek salad with grilled haloumi cheese and rye berries (book cover recipe)

lamb stew with wheat berries in red wine sauce

artichoke rosemary tart with polenta crust

Purple rice pudding with rose water dates

Since food is very much a visual art form, the photography is very important in both the quality and quantity of the pictures. I am a visual person and I appreciate the information that a photograph provides when paired with a recipe…it tells me so much about presentation, but it mostly draws in my desire to actually reproduce that recipe by allowing me to see, smell and taste the product in my mind. I found that the book needed more pictures to accompany some of the amazing recipes that were provided. I do want to say though, that the photos that were provided were colorful, attractive, tempting and very well done. This is a great testament to photographer Sara Remington and the food and prop styling team of Katie Christ and Nyssa Quanstrom. The cover and text design by Nancy Austin was also extremely well done. The cover unconsciously draws in the unsuspecting customer with this delicious, colorful and nutrition packed salad that anyone could prepare.

The number of chapters (categories) and the variety of recipes that were provided stayed true to the layout of the book. A great deal of information was provided in just under 200 pages (not including the index pages) which is truly an extraordinary feat and speaks to Maria’s talent as a writer and a journalist.

In any cookbook, the achievability of the recipes for the average user should be an easy undertaking. I did not find anything overly complicated or any ingredient that needed to be handled in a manner that was time consuming. In the event that Maria used an ingredient that was not readily available, she did provide substitutions and online sources where the item could be purchased.

This book is definitely perfect for the casual reader interested in learning about a new topic. The information is not overly technical so it is easy to understand. It also provides great instructional information and could double as a great resource for classes being taught on this topic. I had the opportunity to make the Greek style cornbread with feta and thyme (p 103) and the recipe was very easy to follow and truly delicious. I made mine into delicious muffins to accompany some soup as you can see below…

The book overall was very well done, and I applaud Maria for doing such an amazingly thorough job. Her experience as a professional writer is very evident in the way she gently unfolds the information to draw in the reader and keep them interested. Her Greek and German heritage is clearly seen throughout the book and in the recipes that she has created and shared with us. This international influence brings a certain unmistakable warmth to her writing which is especially seen and felt as she takes us on a journey through her life and reminisces about the things she misses most.

This is a wonderfully written book that would make great reading, great eating and also make the perfect gift for someone interested in trying recipes that take us back to our roots. With a suggested retail price of under $30, this great gift won’t break the bank. For more information on this book or to purchase your own copy, click here.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Darlene April 2, 2012 at 9:02 p

Great review!! I can’t wait to get my copy :)

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet April 5, 2012 at 2:01 p

You will LOVE the book! xo

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