Going with the Grain

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The subject is grains. Breakfast grains. An appraisal of orders at various brunch places around town reveals that New York harbors a number of secret oatmeal fans. Count me among them, but eyeing the bins of unusual cereals and grains at my local coop, it’s was time to finally start experimenting with how to use them. Still, copies of some of these recipes have been stuck to the front of my fridge for a while.  Cooking grains for breakfast recipes sounded like more work that anyone would want to handle of a morning. But the trick is to avoid the time-consuming breakfast prep. With a little pre-planning, it’s pretty easy to cook up a batch of the grains and store them in the fridge or freezer until it’s time to make breakfast. Here’s four to try:

Mountains of grains, from top left, buckwheat groats, red quinoz, wheat berries, bulgur
  • Red Quinoa — A little Internet research turns up that quinoa is actually a seed, which explains the way it cooks up into kernels that pop in the mouth, kind of like Rice Krispies (and a reason that quinoa is turning up in artisan chocolates as a kind of organic-alternative Crunch bar). That texture will make the kids either love or hate a hot quinoa cereal, but the fact that quinoa is a complete protein source is a good enough reason to give it a whirl.  This Sweet Breakfast Quinoa is a keeper, with a nutty, sweet taste and pretty color. Try topping it with topping with a spoonful of yogurt instead of the ricotta suggested in the recipe, since we’re all more likely to have the former on hand.
  • Wheat Berries —Sunset magazine reports that wheat berries, actually whole-wheat kernels, are one of the least processed of all grain products, which means they retain fiber, nutrients and chewiness after cooking. Wheat-berry cereal was a nice surprise — sweet, chewy and satisfying. And it’s a good do-ahead, since wheat berries freeze well after cooking.
  • Buckwheat Groats (aka kasha) Here’s a grain in serious need of a name change. Groats? Although, come to think of it, we all jump for joy at the thought of buckwheat pancakes — so go figure. This Apple-Scented Breakfast Oatmeal and Buckwheat, picked up from Whole Foods, actually seems to benefit from making it ahead; the apple “scent” and cinnamon flavor come to the fore after sitting in the fridge overnight. Although I’m still not sold on buckwheat groats, or at the least the variety I had, which cooked up with a kind of grassy note that seems more suited to savory dishes. (Could just be the Eastern European in me.) This recipe definitely benefits from the addition of some fruit and a pinch of salt in the pot, and a little touch of butter in the bowl, to round out the flavor.
  • Bulgur — A quick cooking grain you might know better from as a main ingredient in Middle Eastern recipes for tabouli. Bulgur is made from wheat that’s parboiled and dried, so it’s requires only pouring some hot water over, and letting sit, covered, until it’s absorbed. Try this innovative take: Bulgur and Coconut Breakfast Cereal.

Cuckoo for Coco Bread

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The best cure for a wintery mix—weather-speak for wet, cold, sloppy misery from the sky and DC’s current forecast—is a tropical diversion. If I could get on a plane headed south this second, I would. Alas, my accursed responsibility gene is keeping me from the sun-delivered Vitamin D, ridiculously sweet cocktails and tropical-fruit-laden foods of the Caribbean that I so obsessively crave. Recreating my favorites at home, then, seems to be my best, current option.

When I was in Roatán, Honduras, a century ago (read: 1.5 years), we greeted morning every day at one of the many laid-back food joints lining the turquoise water at Half Moon Bay. The breakfasts themselves were unspectacular—except for a delicious, toasted bread that came with every meal. We raved about it to our unimpressed wait staff. They told us, “It’s just bread.” The look on their face said, “Ridiculous gringas.”

But it wasn’t just bread. It was airy, cakey, with a large crumb and, while not sweet, definitely had something more going on than water, flour and yeast.  We asked and asked for a recipe or at least the secret ingredient. Finally, some poor woman took pity on us and let on that it was made of coconut.

Honduran pan de coco is a staple on the Bay Islands and, if my research holds, the brainchild of the Garífuna people who inhabit the area. It is bread, not pound cake, with flour and yeast transformed by unsweetened shredded coconut and/or coconut milk. (The recipe, like any staple handed down over time, varies on this and other points.) The coconut neither overwhelms nor weighs down what is definitely a white bread—a slice of which will make the best toast you’ll ever eat. Slathered with butter, it has changed my latitude.

Meanwhile, speaking of tropical drinks, the poison of choice on Roatán is the Monkey La La. Sweet enough to crack your teeth, it is the house specialty at the Sundowner, despite frequent island power outages. (The La La allegedly contains ice cream.) Try at your own risk and plan on a hearty breakfast–with pan de coco!–to soak up your sins and bring your glucose down to a more reasonable level.