The Appeal of Ancient Wheat: Why Spelt, Emmer, Einkorn, and Kamut® Return to Our Table


Maria Speck

Maria Speck has had a lifelong passion for whole grains, and has published two cookbooks on the subject.

Allow me to introduce these staples to you one by one. For spelt, emmer, and einkorn I also list their Italian names, which might be more familiar to you.

Giant Spelt Pancake with Squash Blossoms

Giant Spelt Pancake

My German dad was a competitive pancake gobbler — to call him a pancake eater would do the term injustice. But he certainly loved pancakes, and the ones he made for us children were always huge, the size of a skillet. As is traditional, he used no chemical leaveners, just the power of eggs to give them a lift. Almost a cross between pancakes and omelets, this recipe is inspired by German-style pancakes to which I add lots of fresh herbs and tender squash blossoms. I often serve them for brunch but add a simple salad of spinach leaves or bitter greens, which is just as good for dinner.


Step one:
Prepare the batter the night before, or at least 30 minutes ahead: Add the flour to a medium bowl. Lightly whisk the egg yolks in a 473 ml (2-cup) liquid measuring cup. Add the milk, 118 ml (1/2 cup) water, salt, and pepper and whisk until blended. Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the flour, starting from the center, until smooth. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes, covered. Place the egg whites in a bowl in which you can whisk them later. (If making the night before, cover the egg whites as well and chill both bowls, up to 24 hours.)

Step two:
When you are ready to make the pancakes, remove both bowls from the fridge about 30 minutes ahead (up to 1 hour for the egg whites for best volume). Briefly swish the squash blossoms in a bowl of cold water, then place on a clean dish cloth to drain and gently pat dry. Trim the stems to a length of about 1 inch. Very gently pry each blossom open and remove the stamen in the center, using tweezers. Don’t worry if the petals tear a bit; just twist them gently to close at the top. Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat them with a hand blender or with a balloon whisk until soft peaks form. Stir the batter briefly to blend with a fork. If it has become thick, add a little water by the tablespoon — it should have the consistency of buttermilk (or heavy cream if you’re using Kamut flour). Set aside 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of the herbs for garnish. Stir the remaining herbs and half of the cheese into the batter. Gently fold in the egg whites, in three additions.

Place a rack 4 inches away from the broiler and preheat on high. Set a large platter or plate next to the stove and have a piece of aluminum foil handy to cover it. Heat a 25 cm (10-inch) cast-iron or other heatproof skillet for 2 minutes over medium heat. Swirl in 10 ml (2 teaspoons) of the olive oil and wait until it shimmers. Scoop with a 237 ml (1 cup) measure deeply into the batter and put a scant 354 ml (1 1⁄2 cups) into the center of the pan.

Quickly but gently spread the batter outward, using the back of the measuring cup, until it almost reaches the sides. Cook for 1 minute, until slightly puffy. Gently press 8 squash blossoms in a star pattern into the center of the pancake, with the stem facing inward. Continue cooking until a few small bubbles appear on top, the edges just start to brown, and the bottom turns golden brown (lift with a spatula), about 2 minutes more.

Sprinkle with 59 ml (1⁄4 cup) of the remaining cheese and place the skillet under the broiler. Cook, watching closely, until puffy and golden brown, about 3 minutes or 1 to 2 minutes more for a crispier pancake. Remove the pancake and slide it onto the platter. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Wipe the pan clean with paper towels and repeat with the second pancake.

To serve, sprinkle each pancake with a bit more cheese and some of the remaining herbs. Crush some sea salt flakes on top, cut into quarters or halves, and serve at once, passing balsamic vinegar around for drizzling.

Fine points: Look for squash blossoms at farmers’ markets during the summer months. Whole grain Kamut flour makes a sturdier pancake with a golden hue and a subtle sweetness. White whole wheat flour can be substituted.

You can top the pancakes with halved grape or cherry tomatoes — a scant 237 ml (1 cup) per pancake. Toss a few olives on too if you like. In the winter, make use of the dark green parts of leeks, so often discarded. Slice thinly to amount to 710 ml (3 cups) and sauté in 15 ml (1 tablespoon) olive oil over medium heat, with a bit of salt, stirring often, 4 to 5 minutes.

*Conversions by The Cook’s Cook

Kamut® Salad with Oranges, Leeks, and Blue Cheese

Kamut Salad

In this colorful salad, Kamut®, an ancient wheat variety, provides superb chew — each bite interspersed with juicy oranges, crunchy walnuts, and pungent blue cheese. Use spelt, wheat berries, or gluten-free sorghum for variations. This salad makes for a satisfying yet light lunch, or serve it next to grilled chicken or steak.


1. In a small saucepan combine the Kamut®, bay leaf, chile, and 355 ml (1 ½ cups) water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender but slightly chewy, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, if needed, and transfer to a large serving bowl. Discard bay leaf and chile and allow mixture to cool.

2. Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Cut off a 5 cm-by-2.5 cm (2-inch–by-1-inch) strip of zest from the orange, removing any white pith, and set aside. Finely grate the remaining skin until you have 5 ml (1 teaspoon) zest and set aside. Peel the fruit, removing any pith, and cut into 1.3 cm (1⁄2-inch) pieces to make about 177 ml (3⁄4 cup); reserve the rest for another use.

3. In a large skillet combine the leeks, broth, wine, and zest strip, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the leeks are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain, remove the zest strip, and add the leeks to the bowl with the Kamut®. Drain the raisins and add them to the bowl along with the orange pieces.

4. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, grated orange zest, honey, salt, and pepper; beat with a fork until smooth. Slowly beat in the olive oil until emulsified.

5. To finish, pour the dressing over the salad, gently toss, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, gently toss again, and sprinkle with the walnuts and blue cheese. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Reprinted with permission from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2015 by Erin Kunkel.