IT’S time to revive interest in spelt, barley and beremeal as tasty, healthy and cheap essential ingredients, says Neil Forbes of Edinburgh’s Cafe St Honoré.
We Scots are a hardy bunch and have been reliant on grains for centuries. Porridge (along with the bagpipes) is part of our national identity. “Go to work on an egg” was a good slogan for the Seventies, but seeing our kids go off to school with the slow-releasing warmth of carbohydrates in their bellies is even better. Grains are a cereal and, as well as porridge oats, this genre includes rye, wheat, barley and, a real favourite of mine, spelt.
I enjoy using grains in the restaurant because of the character and texture they bring to so many dishes. And of course they are extremely good for us and very cheap to buy. I love eating meat but we are being told to reduce our consumption, not only for our physical health but also for the health of the planet. When eating today’s delicious recipes, I doubt you will notice the absence of meat.
Bere (a type of barley) is an interesting grain – one of our oldest and sadly not used much anymore. Back when our forefathers didn’t know what wheat bread was, a Highland gent would have eaten bere bannocks. Bere is still grown in small pockets on Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebrides and in Caithness, and the famous Barony Mill in Birsay, Orkney, still uses traditional methods, like stonegrinding, to create their beremeal.
FREE-RANGE POACHED EGG ON BEREMEAL BANNOCKS WITH ORGANIC SPINACH
This recipe for beremeal bannocks with a simple poached egg and wilted spinach makes a great and very filling supper, brunch or tea dish. Beremeal has a real flavoursome taste, quite malty and nutty. Some breweries even make beer from it now, and delicious it is too.
65g plain flour
½ tsp cream of tartare
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
milk (to bind)
50g unsalted butter
4 handfuls of organic spinach
4 large free-range eggs
• In a mixer, or by hand, combine the flour, beremeal, cream of tartare, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Then add enough milk to make into a dough. Shape into a 1in thick cake and sear on a skillet or frying pan using no fat. Turn and colour on the other side, slide onto a baking tray and cook for 30 minutes in a moderate oven.
• Remove from the oven and cut into quarters.
• In a thick-bottomed pot, melt the butter and wilt the spinach. Season with salt and pepper.
• Simmer some water and poach the eggs for 4 minutes.
• Place the spinach onto the pieces of bannock, then put an egg on top of each piece.
• Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
SPELT, LEEK, BLUE GOATS CHEESE AND PUMPKIN RISOTTO
Next up is a spelt risotto made with local leeks, which are hardy and grow well in Scotland, with a wee touch of pumpkin in the mix. To give this dish a wow factor, I also use the wonderful Errington’s Biggar Blue – a goats cheese named after the Scottish Border town. Try it – it’s just a bit different. The Romans introduced spelt to Scotland and traces of it have been found by archaeologists at Hadrian’s Wall. I also enjoy making spelt bread using the ground grain which is fabulous with a touch of honey added to the mix.
half an onion, finely diced
250g whole spelt grain
1 large leek, whole and green
a sprig of thyme
one bay leaf
a quarter of a pumpkin, peeled and diced
100g unsalted butter
100g blue goats cheese, I use Biggar Blue
a handful of curly parsley
2 tbsp of cold-pressed rapeseed oil
sea salt and black pepper
• Sweat the onion in a little rapeseed oil until just soft in a pan. Add the spelt and fry again. Season with salt and pepper.
• Wash and trim the leek and cut it into circle pieces. Add to the pan and stir. Add the thyme and bay leaf and enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered for 40-45 minutes.
• Meanwhile, season the diced pumpkin and toss in a little rapeseed oil, then roast in a hot oven for around 45 minutes.
• Stir the butter and blue cheese into the cooked spelt mixture. Check the seasoning.
• Plate up, finishing off with the roast pumpkin and curly parsley. Serve immediately.
BARLEY, MUSCOVADO AND CINNAMON PUDDING WITH APPLES AND ELDERBERRIES
For pudding I suggest this warming and sweet recipe of barley, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, a few sautéed apples and the last of the elderberries. I genuinely love this pudding. Barley is not everyone’s cup of tea but serve with a swirl of cream or crème fraîche and I guarantee you’ll love this dish too.
250g pearl barley
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
75g dark brown Muscovado sugar
50g unsalted butter
1 eating apple
1 tbsp caster sugar
a few elderberries
• Rinse the barley in a sieve, then place in a pot with the milk, cinnamon stick and star anise. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes until just soft. Add the Muscovado sugar, then the cream and a knob of butter, stirring like a risotto.
• Peel, core and slice the apple into segments. Sauté in the remaining butter with the caster sugar.
• Divide the pudding into bowls, top with the apple slices and dot the elderberries around. Serve with cream or crème fraîche.