Until I started reading this book, I wasn't aware there were so many types of grain. There are more than 10,000 varieties of rice alone, writes Singapore-based author Ghillie James. The book - which is titled Amazing Grains in the West - includes a chronology of grains, starting with einkorn, a species of wheat and the first grain to be domesticated, way back in 12,000BC, in the Middle East's Fertile Crescent. Rice, the world's most widely eaten grain, was domesticated in about 8000BC, probably in the Yangtze Valley, while cultivation of trendy quinoa began in Peru in 4000BC.
"The world over, life begins with grains," James writes. "Whether you are rich or poor, from Europe or Asia, Africa or Australasia, all young babies are weaned on rice … Grains are now eaten in every country of the world - in many countries as their staple food; nearly half the calories consumed around the world come directly from grains … Grains and 'pseudograins' (food products such as couscous and quinoa that are not technically grains but treated as such) are awesome ingredients, not only for their impressive nutritional content but also for their versatility. Simple, cheap, and, on the whole, quick to cook, grains can be used as the star of the show or just a canvas to add to …
"Despite being eaten for thousands of years by ordinary folk all around the world, grains have not been immune to the vagaries of fashion. For a while, grains were banished along with other carbs as a casualty of the high-protein diets designed to help people shed pounds and achieve a waif-like body. Luckily, healthy, balanced eating now seems to be taking the helm, and health-giving grains are particularly in vogue … With so many people being tested for wheat intolerances these days, many lesser known gluten-free grains such as buckwheat and teff are now also taking centre stage."
The recipes start with basic preparation methods for grains including buckwheat, chia seeds, farro, freekeh, millet, oats, quinoa and rice. The more detailed recipes are not so relentlessly healthy they become unappetising. Instead, James gives recipes for spelt and millet muffins with apple and cinnamon; soaked summer muesli; courgette and sun-dried tomato cornbread; Middle Eastern pumpkin soup with kasha; creamy parmesan polenta; spelt salad with shredded paprika chicken, roast cherry tomatoes and green beans; fennel and rice filo pie; Thai fried rice with prawns and pineapple; Lebanese kibbeh with tahini dressing; and Cypriot lemon and semolina cake.