Grains for Every Season by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg

Grains for every season by Joshua McFadden
What’s the USP? Intensely nutritious but often overlooked by home cooks who are uncertain how best to cook with them, whole grains have a lot to offer. Grains for Every Season looks to open their world up to the reader, offering a wealth of different dishes that span familiar grains like barley and quinoa, as well as less common offerings such as millet and buckwheat.

Who wrote it? The James Beard Award-winning pair Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg. Their last book (McFadden’s first) was the critically-acclaimed Six Seasons, which offered ‘a new way with vegetables’ – here the pair are determined to give whole grains their due instead, highlighting their desire to put flavour first at every point. The rich nutritional value of their ingredients are highlighted, but frequently seem to be considered no more than a convenient bonus, which is frankly rather nice. Earlier this year Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s solid Eat Better Forever spent entire chapters unpacking the health benefits for using whole grains, but the recipes themselves were less than inspired. McFadden’s book is packed with variety and flavour, whilst also teaching the reader enough about each grain to help them incorporate the food better into their own dishes.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not particularly – the introduction aside, Grains for Every Season isn’t packed with prose. Each grain has a very useful but relatively brief introductory page that covers how it tastes, how it should be prepared, how it is good for you, and why McFadden is such a fan. The recipes themselves are given a brief explanation, but insomniacs aren’t going to find much to occupy them here.

But then, that’s not why we’re here – Grains for Every Season isn’t intended as a grand tome laying out food philosophies. Instead, McFadden and Holmberg are simply keen to make cooking with grains a good deal less intimidating for the average person. And they excel at doing this.

The recipes manage to hit all the homely, comforting notes you’d expect. A Lightly Curried Lamb, Cabbage, and Barley Soup offers exactly the warmth a reader might anticipate, but includes an inspired extra little punch of flavour. This is McFadden’s flavour-first approach peeking through, and over the course of the book these little touches appear time and again, lifting the grains and presenting them anew.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Clarity is always welcome in a cookbook, and the recipes here are thorough and specific – though this can occasionally result in a rather wordy page within which your place can easily be lost as you step away from the book to your prep and back again. Ingredients are listed with both US and metric measurements, and rarely ask for anything too difficult to source. Your biggest sourcing issue if based outside of the US will be kosher salt, though I’ve been buying it in bulk from online retailers ever since Samin Nosrat more or less insisted upon me doing so in Salt Fat Acid Heat.

What’s the faff factor? Try as they might, the authors cannot wholly expel the effort necessary to fully enjoy many of these grains. McFadden champions toasting his grains regularly throughout the book, though he does make an effort to save the reader some time by revealing that he doesn’t tend to soak grains before cooking, finding that the time saved in cooking doesn’t warrant the forward planning. Nevertheless, dishes call for all sorts of different preparatory methods, and some of these can be quite time consuming. Salads are usually a relatively quick dish to knock together, but the Rye Berry and Roasted Cauliflower Salad will take almost two hours to prepare if you haven’t already got some cooked rye berries sitting somewhere in the house.

How often will I cook from the book? There’s plenty of argument for this being a book that finds its way down from your shelf at least once a week. Knowing the many health benefits from eating more whole foods, it’s hard to ignore the value of a cookbook that presents so many varied, flavoursome approaches to cooking grains. There are simple, easy-to-cook ideas that will suit weeknights (Whole Wheat Pasta with Crab, Cream, Olives and Habanero could be readily pulled together in the time it takes to cook the pasta, and is a perfect example of the unexpected-yet-inspired flavour combinations that run throughout the book), and more elaborate dishes that will better suit a leisurely Sunday afternoon, in which you can spare three or so hours in which to simmer the beef for your Beef and Swiss Chard Soup with Spelt.

What will I love? The four seasonal spreads tucked throughout the book are a particular treat. Each one introduces a different dish: pilaf, grain bowls, stir fries and pizza. Presenting a simple method and offering up seasonal adaptations, these spreads are bright moments in an already excellent book.

Killer recipes: Seafood Stew with Hominy and Warm Spices, Super Fudgy Chocolate Oat Layer Cake with Chocolate Oat Milk Frosting, Farotto (a risotto-esque dish that uses farro in place of the rice and comes with several variations), Toasted Rye Cabbage Rolls

Should I buy it? Grains for Every Season is a beautifully written, carefully considered cookbook that is filled with originality and, importantly, flavour. But it is also something far more useful: an accessible and above all else tempting introduction to cooking with one of our most underused sources of nutrition. Anybody keen to explore whole grains in earnest should consider Grains for Every Season their first port of call.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Grains for Every Season: Rethinking Our Way with Grains
£32, Artisan Division of Workman Publishing

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas