Tomato, cucumber and cured olive chopped salad with petit épeautre

March 25, 2009

It is extraordinary what takes place when one makes time to relax and simply slow down the pace of life. One suddenly becomes aware of small things. This is exactly what happened to me during my recent visit to Provence, only a few weeks ago. The frantic pace of my life was suddenly gone and I had the luxury of letting things unfold.

One of my favorite activities on the trip was reading Provençal cookbooks. On my very first day in Saint-Rémy I made a beeline for the local bookstore and browsed through all the cookbooks before settling on a couple of them. The very next day, a friend, who also happens to be a chef in a local restaurant, gave me a copy of a legendary nineteenth-century cookbook, “La Cuisinière Provençale” by Jean-Baptiste Reboul. I was thrilled! I set out to read all my cookbooks and immersed myself in the culture. Then two small words caught my eye… something I had never heard of before: petit épeautre. What on earth was this? So I did some research and discovered that this grain, an ancient form of wheat, had been harvested from the wild as early as 16,000 BC and actually domesticated and cultivated around 10,000 BC. Unbelievable! (I also finally found its English name: “einkorn” or “small spelt.”)

It would take some persistence to find out more about this ancient grain. But that would be my project when I got home… For the time being all I could think about was getting my hands on some! As it turned out, it wasn’t hard to find: all it took was walking into a charming specialty shop in Saint-Rémy. There I found a proud bag of petit épeautre sitting right there on the shelf.

Within a couple of hours, my husband Marc and I were eating my first creation with it: and we couldn’t believe how delicious this grain was! It is sweet, nutty and very delicate—I would say even refined. I composed this salad with the fresh vegetables I’d bought from the local farmers’ market and the famous cured olives of Nyons. This is truly the best of what cooking with fresh, local ingredients has to offer—an experience that cannot be forgotten.

Needless to say, I came back with a few bags of petit épeautre in my suitcase and immediately made the recipe here. To my delight it was just as good. Then I did my research. This ancient grain, “Triticum monococcum,” turns out to be significantly higher in protein than modern wheat, extremely high in vitamin B and magnesium, and very low in gluten. It thrives in even very poor soil and is very resistant to disease and pests because of the strong glumes (husks) that tightly enclose the grain. Unfortunately, it yields far less than modern wheat crops, which is why it has been abandoned for production, except in small areas in Provence, Italy and Yugoslavia. In the U.S., einkorn is apparently grown and used only for research purposes, alas…

Fortunately I have found a Canadian farmer who grows petit épeautre/einkorn and ships to the US. You have to email them and send a check, but it is well worth the effort. Contact Prime Grains, they not only carry whole grains, but flour as well! To order from Prime Grains, email John Husband at info@primegrains.com. As of 2010, they also grow Ethiopian barley and buckwheat.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of ordering online, farro and pearl barley would be good substitutes. You can find those grains in specialty, gourmet and organic shops.

Tomato, Cucumber and Cured Olive Chopped Salad with Petit Épeautre

serves 4
active time: 30 min

For the petit épeautre

  1. 1 cup petit épeautre, pearl barley or farro
  2. 2 quarts (1.9 L) spring water
  3. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  4. 1 large garlic clove – skinned
  5. 1 bay leaf
  6. 2 sprig rosemary
  7. 4 sprig thyme
  8. (all herbs tied in a bundle with kitchen string)

For the vinaigrette

  1. 2 tablespoons aged balsamic wine vinegar
  2. 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  3. 1 small shallot – skinned and finely chopped
  4. 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  5. freshly ground pepper to taste

For the chopped salad

  1. 2 medium beefsteak tomatoes – seeded and cut in 1/8” cubes
  2. 1 medium cucumber – peeled, seeded and cut in 1/8” cubes
  3. 1/3 cup pitted cured black olives – coarsely chopped
  4. 1 small bunch fresh chives – finely chopped (use kitchen scissors)
  1. frisée or baby arugula leaves as garnish

  1. Step 1: Rinse the grains in cold water and strain. In a medium heavy-bottomed soup pot bring spring water to a boil. Add salt, garlic, herb bundle and grains. Reduce heat to medium and fast-simmer uncovered for 30 minutes until tender but still al dente. Drain and set aside to cool to room temperature. Once the grain has cooled, remove the herb bundle and the garlic.
  2. Step 2: To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients in a small bowl. Add half the dressing to the grains and mix well. Set the balance of the dressing aside.
  3. Step 3: In a large bowl, place the tomato and cucumber cubes, the chopped olives and the chopped chives. Mix well. Place a small mound of the grains in the center of each plate. Flatten with the back of a spoon and spread in a 5” circle. Top with a small mound of the tomato/cucumber mixture. Garnish with a few frisée leaves. Drizzle with the balance of the dressing. Finish with some freshly ground black pepper if desired and serve immediately.

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Quinoa is another super delicious and delicate grain. Try this lovely appetizer: Quinoa with piquillo peppers, cured olives and frisée.

salads, grains, petit epautre
© 2011 Viviane Bauquet Farre Food & Style NY LLC

Disclaimer: As always, my point of view is my own. I do not accept samples, and have no commercial relationship with any product, food or wine company.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacqueline December 17, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Hey V. Dropped a link here in a post today. I have to get my hands on this petit Epautre. And more wheatberries, too. Love these grains!

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Louise DeSalvo December 26, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I bought a bag when I was in Provence and decided to try some, today, in a bean soup (pancetta, cannelini beans, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, sage, parsley, peperoncino, a bit of tomato sauce, chicken broth). It was fabulous — cooked in salted water for 20 minutes then added it to the soup for 20 more. It resembles farro, but I thought the texture was better. As it cooked, it thickened the bean soup splendidly. I’m thrilled to find a way to buy this.

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Yves February 9, 2010 at 7:28 am

Hello, I’ve being trying to reach PrimeGrains in Canada to get some einkorn, but it seems they are out of business. The phone service has been disconnected. Are you still able to get some ? from whom ?

Thanks

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Nicole March 24, 2014 at 11:22 am

If you’re looking for einkorn in Canada, check out daybreakmill.com – we have an online store and ship all over the country!

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Viviane March 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Nicole, thank you so much for the link!

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Viviane Bauquet Farre May 14, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Yves, I’m sorry for this very late reply (this comment slipped through the cracks it seems). PrimeGrains’ website is still functioning. I just emailed them and will post new info here as soon as I have more info.

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Viviane Bauquet Farre May 15, 2010 at 9:36 am

Here’s an update on ordering Einkorn. Prime Grains is still growing Einkorn and in fact expanding their production to Ethiopian barley and buckwheat. The best way to reach them is via email. To order email John Husband at info@primegrains.com and include “Einkorn” in the title of your email.

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Chris June 7, 2010 at 7:30 pm

This looks delicious! I love learning about new (to me) foods. Simple elegance – yum!

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Yves July 13, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Hello Again Viviane,

just wanted to tell you I followed your advice for ordering at Primegrain, and everything went fine. I am now enjoying my einkorn flour ! Really tasty ! Thanks.

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Viviane Bauquet Farre July 16, 2010 at 9:14 am

Yves, I am delighted!

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anne wilder August 10, 2010 at 11:36 pm

I bought some petit epautre in Sault, France and brought it home. I cooked it this evening and mixed it with a kale pesto and then used it as a bed for white and red roasted beets. The kale pesto was a bright green and the contrast of the beets was not only delicious, but beautiful! And the grains…so hearty and satisfying. Yum.
Thanks for the background information….

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Richard Cook September 28, 2010 at 9:51 am

I arrived dead tired in Sault, France, and headed straight to the nearest hotel. The lady asked me if I would be having dinner with them that night in their restaurant. I said “yes” and that’s when I discovered Le petit epeautre. It came with the prix fixe menu — porc, ratatouille and something I thought was couscous. It had a very interesting taste. I can’t say it was the best thing I ever tasted. Kind of bland, but like couscous, it depends on what you add to it. I thought it had possibilities. I asked the server what it was, and thought she replied “japonais.” She thought that was pretty funny. I guess I was hearing “ble” in there somewhere. The next morning I found an interpretive sign which explained the grain was le petit epeautre (tricitum monocommum). I wrote it all down and vowed to do some research when I got home. So, I’m delighted to find this article and the information about the farm in Canada. And if you go to Provence, please try to get to the Sault area. It’s kind of off the beaten path and only has a couple of hotels. But it’s surrounded by some of the most magnificent lavendar (and petit epeautre) fields.

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Viviane Bauquet Farre September 28, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Richard, Thank you so much for your comment. I am delighted that you got to sample Petit épeautre, even though your first encounter was a bit “blah” or “japonais” (this one brought a very large smile to my face!)… It has been a while since I posted this recipe, but your comment makes me think that I need to take a new photo of this recipe (I will do so very soon!), and that I need to develop more recipes with this delicious, ancient grain. So I will try to get going with these two projects at once.

Last but not least, I will surely go to Sault next time I am in Provence (if the gods smile upon me it’ll be very soon)! Thank you again dear Richard, I am grateful to you for taking the time to write and to share your experience.

Happy cooking, eating and traveling!

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Julie Fordyce August 6, 2011 at 7:41 am

Viviane, I made this with farro. Is it very different from eikorn? (It was delicious, of course!)

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Viviane August 6, 2011 at 9:15 am

Hi Julie! Not too different in flavor since it is also part of the wheat family. Einkorn is a smaller grain and a bit more delicate, but farro is wonderful in this salad too! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

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