The newest thing to hit kitchen pantries may just be the oldest thing on the market. Ancient grains, such as the uber-trendy quinoa, are grown the same way now as they were thousands of years ago. Get on the grain train with these three varieties making an appearance on local menus.
Spelt // Ounce for ounce, spelt — a 7,000-year-old species of wheat — contains more protein than eggs and yogurt. Order a bowl of Heather Haviland's house-made granola ($11.95) at Lucky's Cafe and you'll actually get spelt prepared two ways: rolled and puffed. (Not to mention oats, wheat germ, puffed corn, flax and sesame seeds, and dried fruit.) While it comes with yogurt, try this trick: "A lot of customers will swap the yogurt for a little milk and eat it like a bowl of cereal," says chef de cuisine Brian Reiss.
black rice // Also called forbidden rice (it was once reserved only for China's royalty), black rice has more vitamins, minerals and fiber than any other rice variety and nearly as much antioxidants as blueberries. "What drew me to the black rice initially was the vibrant, dark purple color on the plate," says John Kolar, chef and owner of Thyme2. "The nutty taste is amazing." He serves it up with a macadamia-encrusted grouper topped with a blood-orange beurre blanc ($28).
Farro // A kind of wheat that looks somewhat like brown rice, Farro, is notoriously tough to cook. "It's such a hard grain," says Michael White, sous chef at Michaelangelo's. "But I like [it] because of the texture — it's kind of like little balls that pop in your mouth." Try the anatra con arancia e grand marnier ($29), a creamy and slightly sweet dish of smoky duck breast, blueberry farro and a citrus reduction.
Hip Dips //
Imagine chicken wings without a coating of spicy, buttery Buffalo sauce or fries without a double dip in ketchup. While they don't often get the spotlight, try going without your favorite condiments and you'll quickly realize they are just as indispensable as the main dish. That's why so many local chefs take the time to make their own versions of our favorite meal companions.
Bacon Jam // Jam, jelly or preserves — it doesn't matter which you choose, they all call to mind sticky, sweet fruit concoctions typically relegated to dry toast. Not so at Luxe, where its jam gets kicked up a notch thanks to crispy bacon, caramelized shallots, honey and coffee. "I definitely like to push the envelope," says executive chef Jared Bergen. "It's sticky, like a preserve, so you get sweet, and you get salty from the bacon."
Hot Sauce // Sure, it's easier to just pop the top off a bottle of Tabasco, but Moxie the Restaurant makes its own rotating selection of house-made hot sauces. Locally grown hot peppers go through a labor-intensive process that includes simmering, deglazing and pureeing. "We go through the whole 9 [yards] and strain through cheesecloth and coffee filters," says sous chef Sam Lesniak.
Okra Remoulade // The mayonnaise-based condiment is usually made with pickles and spices. So when SoHo Kitchen and Bar chef and owner Nolan Konkoski found out that the Ohio City Farm was growing okra, a Southern cooking staple, he had an idea. "We pickled as much as we could over the summer," he says. "We use [both] the brine and the chopped-up okra pickles in a fresh aioli."