A review of The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood

July 20, 2007 at 4:35 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), Cookbook reviews)

I’ve decided to start adding cookbook reviews to my blog, as well as recipe reviews.  I wrote this one a while back, on Amazon, and it’s a bit out of date, but I’ll come update it once I get a chance.

I knew nothing about this book when I checked it out of the library, except that it had recipes for some of the more unusual grains. It is only now that I looked it up on Amazon that I discovered that it won the James Beard award. I am not the least bit surprised, however, because all the recipes I have tried have been consistently delicious, wholesome, and creative. You will find very few run-of-the-mill recipes in this cookbook.

I check many cookbooks out of the library, but for many I can’t find any recipes that I want to make, or if I do find recipes to try, once I make them I am generally not impressed. So I was amazed when I opened this cookbook to find so many intriguing recipes, each of which turned out better than the last.

Some highlights: The grilled millet and butternut squash cakes had so few spices I was sure they would be bland, but they weren’t. They were subtle but sweet and crunchy and addictive. The millet, quinoa, and burdock pilaf again looked underseasoned, but the burdock adds a great earthy depth to the pilaf, and again, I could not stop eating this dish. Wood’s recipe for Locro, a South American soup, has a large number of ingredients, but it is well worth the effort. The barley and beans that make up the bulk of this soup make it substantial and extremely filling. The celeriac is sweet and delicious, the anise seeds add a subtle mysterious note, and the roasted New Mexican chili and the kombu create a great tasty broth with more depth than a typical vegetarian soup.

The only recipe that I was disappointed in was her basic recipe for “steamed” amaranth. Wood swears it’s the best way to cook amaranth, but I thought it turned out exactly the same as it always does when I cook it–gooey, but tasty. Also, as a previous reviewer noted, Wood doesn’t use too many green vegetables in this cookbook, but since it is a grains cookbook I can forgive this one shortcoming.

Overall, this book is full of healthy, nutritious, creative, well-tested recipes that please the palate and the body, and are reasonably quick to prepare. The flavorings are generally subtle, but perfectly balanced, allowing the taste of the ingredients to shine through. If you like very strong tasting food, however, you might find the recipes a bit bland. The recipes are not all vegetarian, but there are enough vegetarian recipes that I just returned my library book and ordered this book on Amazon.

Rating: B

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