The last couple months have been really interesting, hauling my food processor, blender, and bags of groceries around to all of my friends’ houses to use their kitchens. So far, no one has complained, as for those who allowed me take over their space for a day were rewarded with steaming bowls of soup, bright and crunchy salads, and of course, that honkin’ birthday cake.
Luckily, I’ve had a stove for the last couple weeks, which has made life a lot saner around here. I even had friends for brunch yesterday – the first little gathering in our construction zone of a kitchen. It was cozy, even monumental for me to be cooking for loved ones again. And speaking of cooking for loved ones, I thought it was about time to create something for all of you, from my kitchen to yours, once again. It’s a combination of cooked and raw elements, which I appreciate as we transition into cooler months. I love the mix of grounding grains with crispy, raw veggies, and if you haven’t tried these two together before, I highly recommend it. In this case, I used chewy, nutty spelt kernels and three, count ’em three parts of the fennel plant – the bulb, seeds and flowers. Folded together with lots of lemon, briny black olives, and fresh tarragon, this salad makes for a tasty autumn meal.
The Danes are really into spelt. When I first moved to Copenhagen, it seemed as if I’d stepped into a wheat-free paradise. Over the past few years, spelt has seen a bourgeoning popularity in North America as well, as people are seeking out a wider variety of whole grains.
Many people seem to think that spelt is gluten-free, which it is not. In fact, spelt has more gluten than wheat does, so it is inappropriate for anyone with a gluten allergy or sensitivity. For those that cannot tolerate wheat however, spelt can often be a healthy alternative (this varies from person to person).
Spelt is an excellent source of manganese, which helps protect your cells from free radical damage, keeps your bones strong, maintains nerve health, and promotes the function of the thyroid gland. Spelt is also very high in fiber and contains a good amount of protein.
You can purchase spelt in its whole form, often called spelt “berries” or “kernels”, but spelt flour is also available as are products made with its flour, such as pasta. Spelt has a delicate, nutty flavour and when cooked like rice, its kernels are plump, chewy, and totally satisfying. Spelt is the perfect whole grain to use in salads because it holds its shape nicely and doesn’t get mushy.
When I was at the market the other day I found these fennel flowers, which I had never tried cooking with before. Little did I know that fennel pollen is a majorly trendy ingredient at the moment and you can purchase it at gourmet foods stores. I was happily surprised at the flavour of the flowers and the pollen that came out of them – licorice-y, sweet, but with a rounder and more complex taste than the bulb or seeds. If you cannot find fennel flowers, you can simply add minced fennel fronds, or leave them out altogether.
Triple Fennel and Spelt Salad
3/4 cup raw spelt
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 Tbsp. minced fennel flowers with their pollen
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
3 Tbsp. minced fresh tarragon
15 kalamata olives, pitted
1 small red onions or shallot
cracked black pepper
cold pressed olive oil to serve
zest and juice of 1 organic lemon
1 tsp. honey (or maple syrup)
1 Tbsp. cold pressed olive oil
a couple pinches sea salt
cracked black pepper
1. Begin by marinating the fennel and onion. Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut the fennel and onion into julienne strips, or any small, bite-sized shape you like. Add to the marinade and toss to coat. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, up to 8 hours.
2. Rinse spelt kernels very well in a large pot or bowl, changing the water until it is relatively clear (2-4 times). If possible, let spelt soak in fresh water for up to 12 hours to improve digestive qualities. Drain spelt and place in a pot with 2 cups water. Add a few pinches of sea salt, cover, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook until tender, yet chewy (time varies depending on soaking time, but approximately 30-40 minutes). If there is any water left in the pot, simply drain out. If the water evaporates before the spelt is cooked, add a little at a time until it is. Let cool slightly, fluff with a fork and toss with marinated fennel.
3. Pit olives by squashing them with the flat side of a knife blade, and slice into small pieces. Add olives, fennel flowers, and tarragon, and fold to combine everything. Season to taste, serve and enjoy.
In the time it took me to write this post, the stove guys have come and gone. The apartment is quiet now, and as I sit admiring the latest installment in my almost-complete kitchen, a burst of relief and excitement fills my heart. I cannot wait to play here, learn here, and get this place dirty for years to come.
Now all I need is a freezer…