The modern American diet is worlds away from the foods our ancestors ate. Even basic ingredients like rice, flour, fruits and vegetable are now processed, bleached and bred for taste and attractiveness rather than nutritional value. We neglect nutrient-packed options like farro, arugula and multicolored corn because they tend to be more bitter and tougher to cook. But these ancient dietary staples are making a comeback in modern recipes that combine flavor and nutrition. We consider the benefits and the industry behind these foods.


  • Jo Robinson Author, "Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health"
  • Lydia DePillis Reporter, Washington Post
  • Maria Speck Author, "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries, and More"

Wheat Berry Fools With Grand Marnier Figs

Serves 6 to 8


3/4 cup finely chopped dried figs, preferably Turkish or Greek
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other good-quality orange-flavored liqueur
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest (about 2 oranges)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup cooked soft whole wheat berries
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled


Combine the figs and the liqueur in a small bowl and set aside to plump for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, while you prep the ingredients.

Meanwhile, beat the yogurt with 2 tablespoons of the honey, 1 tablespoon of the orange zest, and the cinnamon in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the wheat berries. Using a hand mixer at medium speed, whip the cream in a medium bowl until foamy. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons honey and continue whipping until soft peaks form.

Drain the figs, reserving their juices. Combine 2 tablespoons of the figs with the remaining 1 teaspoon zest in a small bowl and set aside for garnish. Stir the remaining figs into the bowl with the yogurt mixture. Scrape one-third of the whipped cream on top and fold in using a spatula. Fold in the remaining whipped cream in 2 additions until just incorporated. Divide among serving bowls, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours. To serve, top each bowl with a bit of the reserved figs and their juices.

To get a head start: The dessert can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead. Add a dash more liqueur to the figs reserved for the garnish, if necessary. To lighten it up: You can use lowfat plain Greek yogurt, if you like.

Lemon Quinoa With Currants, Dill, And Zucchini

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped green onions (about 6)
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained
2 cups water
1/2 cup dried currants
1 lemon

To finish:
2 cups shredded zucchini 
(about 2 small)
4 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (see page 37)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


To make the quinoa, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the green onions (the oil might splatter!) and 
1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the dark green parts wilt but do not turn brown, about 2 minutes. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grains start to crackle and turn dry, about 3 minutes. Add the water, the currants, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely grate the zest of the lemon until you have 1 teaspoonful, and then squeeze the lemon until you have 2 tablespoons juice.

To finish, remove the pan from the heat. Stir the zucchini, lemon juice and zest, 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons of the dill, and the pepper into the quinoa. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Cover and let sit for 3 minutes.

Transfer the quinoa to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the remaining 
2 tablespoons each of sesame seeds and dill, and serve.

To vary it: For an Italian-inspired side, replace the sesame seeds with 
toasted pine nuts (see page 37), use chopped fresh basil instead of dill, and omit the lemon juice.

Artichoke-Rosemary Tart With Polenta Crust

Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as a starter


Polenta crust:
11/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
11/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
11/4 cups polenta or corn grits
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (about 21/2 ounces; use the large holes of a box grater)
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Artichoke cheese filling:
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (about 3)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (12-ounce) package frozen quartered artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese


To make the polenta crust, bring the broth and the water to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Using a large whisk, slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, and continue whisking for 30 more seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon about every 2 minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. The polenta will be fairly stiff. Stir in the cheese, egg, and pepper.

Grease a 10-inch ceramic tart pan with olive oil or coat with cooking spray, and place on a wire rack. Have ready a tall glass of cold water. Dip a wooden spoon into the water as needed as you spread the polenta mixture across the center of the pan, pushing it up the sides. Set aside to firm up at room temperature, about 15 minutes, and then form an even rim about 3/4 inch thick with your slightly moist fingers, pressing firmly. No need to fret over this—it’s easy.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.

Prepare the artichoke cheese filling. Place the yogurt, eggs, green onions, parsley, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a 2-cup liquid measure or a medium bowl and combine well with a fork. Distribute the artichoke quarters over the crust, cut sides up, forming a circle along the rim and filling the center (you might not need all the hearts). Sprinkle the goat cheese on top and gently pour the filling over the artichokes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake the tart until the top turns golden brown and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and set aside at room temperature to firm up for at least 20 minutes, 40 if you can wait. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut into slices. Serve with more freshly ground pepper on top if you like.

To get a head start: The polenta crust, as in steps 1 and 2, can be prepared 1 day ahead, as can the entire tart. Cool to room temperature, chill for a couple of hours, and then cover with plastic wrap. Allow the tart to come to room temperature before serving, or gently reheat to warm (not hot) in a 325ºF oven for about 20 minutes.

To lighten it up: Use 1 cup non- or lowfat Greek yogurt in the filling instead of whole-milk yogurt.

Reprinted with permission from “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Sara Remington © 2011.

Armenian Lentil Soup

Hearty lentil soup is a favorite of vegetarians and omnivores alike. The following recipe for “Armenian Lentil Soup” was first popularized by the book New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, published in 1987. Since that time, it has won thousands of fans. Dried apricots, eggplant, and cinnamon—three unexpected ingredients—give the soup a complex and exotic flavor. Search the Internet and you will find dozens of variations. The following version has been tweaked to give you the most nutritional benefits. The total prep and cooking time is just one hour. Make a double batch and freeze some for later.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
Yield: 6 cups, 4 servings


1 to 2 medium-sized garlic cloves
1 cup dried lentils, any kind, but preferably black, green (French), or red varieties
4 to 5 cups low-sodium vegetable or meat broth
1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably unfiltered
½ cup chopped pungent onion, either red or yellow
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped into ½-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or 1 large can (28-ounces) of chopped tomatoes with the juice
1 medium eggplant, skin on, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
4 tablespoons chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley or chopped fresh mint, for a garnish


Press the garlic and set aside for 10 minutes. Rinse the lentils and put in a large pot with the broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low or whatever setting keeps the beans simmering throughout the cooking process.

While the lentils are cooking, put the olive oil and the chopped onions in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté for 4 to 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Stir occasionally. Add all the remaining ingredients to the saucepan except the garnish. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the vegetable mixture to the lentils and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. (The lentils take about one hour of total cooking time.) Adjust the seasonings. If the soup is too thick, add more broth. (Different varieties of lentils absorb different amounts of liquid.) Ladle the soup into large bowls, garnish, and serve.

Variations: Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt to each bowl. Sprinkle the soup with a small amount of grated orange peel. Substitute chopped chives or cilantro for the parsley. For a meaty soup, add one pound of raw lean hamburger  or chopped sirloin steak (ideally grass-fed) when you combine the vegetables with the lentils.

Excerpted from “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health” by Jo Robinson

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