When staying with friends in Provence this summer, I was served a mixed-grain salad that knocked my socks off. The star of this salad was petit épeautre, or einkorn wheat, a rustic grain with a nutty flavor that is grown locally and has become popular among foodies throughout France. It married delightfully with the other ingredients — quinoa, lentils, chopped herbs, shallots, ginger and an Asian-inspired sauce of sesame oil, soy and lemon juice.
Salade aux grains, sauce sésame / Mixed-grain salad with sesame sauce
Allow me to set the scene, which couldn’t have been more charming. We were gathered around the long wooden table of my friends’ kitchen in an old stone house in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, lunching indoors because hot winds were blowing. In the cool dim of the kitchen, out came a tangy green bean salad, out came a surprising Greek salad — with more watermelon than tomato (wonderful, watch this space), and out came the sesame-flavored mixed-grain salad. I loved it most of all, and asked for the recipe.
When I got back to Paris and set out to duplicate the dish, I discovered that there were several varieties of the grain I’d always heard described simply as épeautre. Which to choose? A phone call established that it was not, as I had believed, spelt, or grand épeautre, but indeed einkorn, or petit épeautre, which has been grown in the region since the Romans conquered Gaul and in fact is one of the first grains to be domesticated, the earliest known cultivation dating back some 9,000 years.
Once I’d obtained the einkorn, making the salad was a cinch. You cook the grains and lentils until they are tender, chop the herbs, shallots and ginger, whisk up the sauce, combine it all and refrigerate long enough for the flavors to blend. It’s a salad that could stand on its own as a first course or be served alongside just about anything, in any season, enhanced perhaps with a glass of chilled rosé. It’s healthy, it’s vegan, it’s virtually gluten-free. Best, it’s absolutely delicious.
Dear Meg – I think for your American readers Einkorn is what’s known as spelt. Also wheat berries. Not all that easy to find but possible. The salad sounds really delicious. Here in Oregon, I find the tomatoes not as flavorful as those from hot and humid climates (such as in New Jersey) so salads where watermelon and tomatoes are combined and also peach and tomato are really great. Your vacation sounded wonderful. Mary
Hi Mary. Well, as it happens, I also thought that ‘épeautre’ translated as ‘spelt’, but when I went shopping for ingredients I discovered I was wrong. Notably because there are two types of ‘épeautre’ — ‘petit’ and ‘grand’ — and the type that is commonly used in Provençal cuisine is einkorn (petit épeautre), and not spelt (grand épeautre). From what I could glean from the web, these two varieties of ancient wheat are closely related, but spelt is closer to modern wheat, while einkorn, which is more difficult to harvest, is marginally tastier and has better nutritional qualities. My friends from England generally refer to épeautre as spelt, but when I checked this out with one of the best cooks I know, who has a lovely place down in Provence, she confirmed that the type used in cooking down there is indeed ‘petit épeautre’, aka einkorn. And yes, my vacation was wonderful! Back among the masked masses in Paris now. Cheers, Meg
Glad you enjoyed it!
Yes! And thanks for sharing the recipe!!