Stone Soup is an ongoing quarantine feature in which I come up with a recipe that uses the impossible thing in your cupboard, without making you go to the store or wasting any of your ingredients. Last time, we used a lot of tomatoes to make jam.
I recently found a bag of whole spelt in my cabinet. I have no idea why I bought it but it's several years old for sure. What should I do with it? I am very comfortable in the kitchen, so throw me a real adventure. I have a well-stocked pantry and fridge. Bonus limitations, we're vegan, and hate mushrooms.
First and foremost, I need you all to know Spelt is also called DINKEL WHEAT. This is important because it makes me laugh every time I say it out loud.
Spelt is a huge robust grain. In its whole form, you can use it just like farro or barley. It’s great for making whole-grain salads or tossing into soups. You can bake it into a lasagna-y configuration. You can use it instead of rice in a risotto. Generally speaking, it’s super-versatile… but it’s also rarely the star of the plate. Like rice, it tends to be a supporting cast member for other flavors.
Enough’s enough. Let’s put a spotlight on spelt. A… speltlight. Yeah. That works, right? That’s a thing now. Speltlight. Nailed it.
Now let’s make some
This is going to take a couple of days, most of which involves you leaving shit alone. I guess it really is true what they say: grain-related patience is the greatest adventure of them all!
Step One: Super-soak it. Spelt is really tense, so it wants a nice long bath to unwind before you hit it with heat. Cover it with a fuckton of water, cover it up, and soak it overnight. This is also how you should approach wheat berries and rye, but don’t bother if you’re working with farro, which is a little more tender.
Step Two: Parboil it. Drain away the soaking-water. If you’re the kind of person who rinses your grains after soaking them, you can do that here, but honestly I’ve never done it and I still don’t see a reason to. It just feels showboaty to me. They've already gotten a wash! Enough already!
Transfer your drained spelt into a pot with plenty more water, add a little sprinkle of salt, and let it bubble for 20 minutes or so. This is how you’re going to keep from having tooth-cracking nightmare gravel at the end of our adventure, and it also imparts moisture to the inside of each grain which is crucial for puffery, so don’t skip it.
Step Three: Dry it out. Drain your spelt in a mesh colander and let it sit over a bowl for fifteen minutes, shaking occasionally. The goal here is just to dry it off as thoroughly as possible. Then spread it out on a parchment-lined sheet pan, put it into a cool oven, and leave it alone overnight to dry out even more. I don’t recommend leaving it covered on a countertop — whoever you live with is going to set a pot down on top of the covered sheet pan and squash your spelt, or the grains will wind up sticking to the teacloth you optimistically used, or you’ll trip and spill an entire pot of freshly-boiled homemade hair dye on it, or something. It’s just a recipe for disaster, and a cool closed oven will keep your spelt safe and clean while it dries out.
Step Four, sort of: Consider your endgame. While you’re waiting a billion years for your spelt to be sufficiently wet and then sufficiently dry again, consider your endgame. You’re going to wind up with toasted spelt, which is crisp and tender and chewy and great. Ideally, you’ll want to flavor it the moment it comes out of the oven — that’s how you get flavors to stick to things that are fried or puffed. Beth is vegan, so I’ll recommend she plans on tossing her spelt with neutral oil (like olive oil or coconut oil) before seasoning it. If you’re not vegan, you can use melted butter too.
Mix yourself up a seasoning blend or two. Y’all know I’m always on my Salt+Pepper+Onion Powder+Garlic Powder+Paprika bullshit — I have a tupperware of it premixed next to my stove now because I’ve accepted that it is the One True Blend in my kitchen. You can also go sweet: sugar, nutmeg, clove, and black pepper. Or maybe whisk together crushed garlic, lemon juice, oil, and chili paste until it’s the right consistency to drizzle! Or, what the hell: zest a whole lemon, combine the zest with fresh chopped dill and a healthy amount of salt. You have lots of options, and you know what flavors you like! Don’t be shy. Whatever you want to add to your spelt, mix it up and have it ready.
Step Five: GO TIME. You can do this in the oven or on the stove. I personally prefer the oven, because grains like to pop up out of the pan and whack me in the face when I toast or puff them on the stove. But whatever, do what your heart tells you. If you’re going to use the oven, preheat to 500°F. If you’re going to use a pan, make it one that can tolerate very high, dry heat, and get that thing as hot as you can without letting it smoke.
Once the heat is right, cook the spelt for 3-4 minutes in a single, even layer.
Seriously, that’s all it takes. If you’re cooking on the stove, keep the spelt moving in a perfectly dry pan; if you’re cooking in the oven, leave it alone the whole time. The moisture you delivered to the inside of each grain will expand into steam, and the dry outside of each grain will crisp up, resulting in beautiful golden puffs.
Step Six: ‘Tis the season. The instant your spelt is finished, take it off the heat and out of the pan. Your cooking surface will be very hot, and it’s easy to let your grains go from “puffed” to “burnt”. I recommend transferring them immediately into a big pyrex or metal bowl, so you can toss them right away with oil or butter and then hit them with whatever seasonings your heart dreamed up while you were waiting! If you go a sweet route, this might be a nice time to add a little honey or maple syrup.
The world’s your whole-grain oyster! Eat puffed spelt on its own, over yogurt or oatmeal, in salads, in soups, on top of nachos, anywhere you like. Personally, I’m feeling my esquites-inspired fantasy: puffed spelt tossed in butter, lime zest, and chile powder, laced with a mayonnaise-lime dressing and topped with crumbled homemade queso fresco.
…Fuck, I want esquites.
Just the recipe:
- Soak the spelt overnight in a lot of water
- Drain it, then cook it in a lot of water for about 20 minutes
- Drain it, then let it sit in the colander in a bowl of water for 15 minutes, shaking occasionally
- Spread spelt over a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer and leave in a closed, cool oven overnight to dry.
- Remove spelt from oven and preheat to 500°F.
- Cook 3-4 minutes, until puffed and fancy.
- Immediately remove from heat and toss with oil and seasonings.