Monday, April 13, 2009

How to Make Spartan Gruel

Bread is ancient. But more ancient still is gruel, which is at minimum grain cooked in boiling water, but can include other ingredients. Gruel is nowadays called porridge, grits, hot cereal, oatmeal, oatmeal mush, porridge oats, groats, pease porridge, cream of wheat and farina, depending on region, preparation and ingredients – and that’s just in the English-speaking world. Cooked grain in a bowl is as universal to mankind as language and fire. Every country on Earth and every civilization in history had its variants. Gruel is the most ancient and universal of prepared foods, predating even bread. The ancient Greeks called it maza.

It’s likely that bread evolved from gruel, discovered by accident in the same way as wine from fruit juice and cheese from milk (hey, if you leave this stuff sitting around, it gets better and easier to carry around!)

Ancient Greeks probably conceptualized grain foods differently than we do. For example, they probably conceived of bread and gruel as the same thing, prepared differently. They made a very wide range of foods out of barley and water, including both cooked and uncooked gruel, dumplings, broths and drinks. They also viewed grains as the centerpiece of their meals and the foundation of their diet.

Our Spartan Gruel recipe below is the quintessential Spartan Diet breakfast.

As you can see in the recipe below, the main ingredients -- grain, nuts and fruit -- remain unspecified. The reason is that Spartan Gruel is something to be eaten daily, or almost daily, but with constant change in the types of grains, nuts and fruit. (Make sure all are organic.)

The grains you can use include barley, wheat, brown rice, quinoa, kasha, oats, millet, amaranth, corn, sorghum, rye and triticale, and most of these come in many varieties. Nuts can include raw, organic walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts. Fresh fruit can include banana, apple, peach, nectarine, cherries, mango, apricots, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, pear, pineapple, persimmon and pomegranate. Dried fruits include dates, raisins, prunes, figs, apricots, pineapple and apple.

One morning it might be 7-grain cereal with raisins, walnuts and apple, the next day you might go with steel cut oats with figs, pecans and blueberries.

People tend to view some kinds of grain, such as oatmeal, as breakfast grains to be sweetened, and others, such as rice, as savory dinner grains. On the Spartan Diet, consider all grains fair game for any meal. And maximize variety. Wheat, barley and oats are great, but also try quinoa, millet and kasha -- and different varieties of each. Always buy whole and organic grains. And you can mix grains, too. Just remember that some cook more slowly. For example, if you mix barley with oats, cook barley first for five minutes or more before adding the oats. Experiment to get the timing down.

Also: Go ahead and use a real table spoon (the one that's part of your tableware set) so you can leave the measuring tablespoon in the drawer. You can use one spoon to mix, measure and eat with. You may want to modify the amount of grain and nuts up or down depending on your age, gender, metabolism and activity level.

1¾ cups filtered water
¼ cup whole grain
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
1 heaping tablespoon ground organic flax seeds
½ tablespoon raw, unfiltered local honey
1 cup fresh fruit (bananas, peaches, berries, apples, any in season)
1 heaping tablespoon raw nuts
2 tablespoons dried fruit (unsulphured)

1. Rinse grains and leave soaking for up to 12 hours in a bowl (soaking is optional, but make sure you rinse).
2. Drain grains and discard soaking water.
3. In a medium heavy saucepan, bring water to a soft boil.
4. Stir in grains, cinnamon and salt.
5. Reduce heat to lowest setting, cover with lid and simmer until grains are tender.
6. Chop or slice fresh fruit and place in bowl, then add dried fruit, nuts and flax to the top of the fruit.
7. When grains are done, add honey if desired, then mix and pour into bowl on top of fruit, nuts and flax.
8. Let it sit in the bowl for a few minutes so the grain can cool and the fruit and nuts can warm.

The cooking time varies depending on grain type and size.

It’s best to keep grains covered with a lid while cooking.