POTATOES, rice, pasta or noodles appear regularly at home to fill our plates up with starch.

Each reflects varying global preferences and over the course of a month, I probably eat them all, often at the expense of the "other" starch: grains.

This diverse group includes spelt, pearl barley, quinoa, bulgur wheat and, perhaps most familiar, couscous. The cooking technique for each is very similar, so by mastering one, you can build on the familiar to discover the others

To Incas of the mountainous Andes, quinoa was a hallowed staple for thousands of years. Grown easily at altitude, their "mother of all grains" was sacred: the emperor himself sowed the first seeds each spring. As a complete protein, containing all eight of the essential amino acids, it is hailed as a modern day super food. Use this naturally gluten-free grain like rice to reveal its delicious, nutty flavour. Ground into flour, it works well in cakes and biscuits.

This is true too of spelt, a hulled wheat cultivated since Bronze Age. This can be poached, or cooked and finished like a risotto; so too can pearl barley, familiar of course as a key component of Scotch broth. Spelt is simply barley that has had the inedible hull and bran removed. I poach it in port to serve with game.

Couscous (dried ground durum wheat) and bulgur wheat are the smallest grains and simplest to cook. Steeping in hot liquid to allow absorption is enough, giving you great salads or herby tabbouleh, infused with Mediterranean and Lebanese influences.

Recipes serve 4

Three-grain salad with fennel, mint, feta and pomegranate

100g cous cous

100g spelt

100g quinoa

1 pomegranate

4 plum tomatoes

Half a small bulb of fennel

1 dsstsp chopped dill

8-12 small mint leaves

Olive oil

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

A small pinch of saffron

100g feta


1. Place the quinoa in a small saucepan, season with a good pinch of salt then cover with three times its volume of cold water. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes, or in accordance with pack instructions, until tender and nutty, but not hard or chalky. Drain and spread out on a tray or plate to cool. Meanwhile place the spelt in another small pan and cover with cold water, add a little salt then bring to the boil and simmer until tender, then drain and cool as for the quinoa. Finally, place the cous cous in a heat-proof bowl, add the saffron, some salt and pour over 250ml boiling water. Cover with cling film then stand for 10 minutes. After this time, taste cous cous: if it needs longer and is still chalky, add a dash more water, re-cover with cling film then stand for five more minutes. Taste again. Once cooled, combine the three grains and stir together well. This can be done in advance.

2. Halve the fennel lengthways, trim out the root then shave the fennel as finely as possible by hand or on a mandolin. Sprinkle with a little lemon juice and set aside for now.

3. Quarter the tomatoes and cut out and discard the pulp then dice the flesh into half-cm pieces and set aside.

4. Halve the pomegranate. Holding the cut side face down over a bowl, tap sharply on the back of the fruit with the back of a spoon to force the seeds out. Repeat with the second half. Pick out any white pith which may have fallen in.

5. To assemble and serve: place the grains in a large serving bowl. Add the chopped herbs, tomato dice and pomegranate seeds, some olive oil and lemon juice, and mix thoroughly. Now toss the dill over the fennel and season lightly with salt. Scatter the fennel over the surface, then also scatter the rest of the pomegranates and the feta and the mint leaves. Leave for up to 30 minutes or serve at once.

Baked aubergines filled with bulgur wheat tabbouleh

2 small aubergines

Bushy sprigs of thyme and rosemary

Fresh ground black pepper

Olive oil

For the tabbouleh:

25g bulgur wheat

2 large, ripe vine tomatoes

1 large bunch fresh flatleaf parsley, leaves only, washed, dried, finely chopped

1 small bunch fresh mint leaves, washed, dried, finely chopped

1 small red onion, peeled, finely chopped

2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

sea salt flakes


1. Cook the aubergines first: halve lengthways and score the flesh with the tip of a small knife in a criss-cross pattern. Drizzle olive oil on both cut faces then lay the thyme and rosemary on the flesh of the aubergine. Sandwich the aubergines shut again and wrap each in tin foil. place on an oven tray and transfer to the middle of a pre-heated oven at 190C for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the tabbouleh. Place the bulgur wheat into a small bowl and cover with 50ml boiling water. Stir, then set aside for 20 minutes, or until the bulgur wheat has absorbed all of the water.

3. Cut out the green stalks from the tomatoes and make a small cross on the top of each tomato. Place the tomatoes into a separate bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 30 seconds, then drain away the water. Refresh under cold water then peel and discard the skins. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, discard the seeds and dice the flesh. Transfer the diced tomatoes to a serving bowl.

4. Add the parsley, mint and onion to the tomatoes and mix well.

5. When the bulgur wheat has absorbed all the water, fluff it using a fork until the grains are separated. Add the bulgur wheat to the tomato mixture.

6. Drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil and season, to taste, with salt. Mix well to coat the ingredients in the liquid.

7. Unwrap the aubergines from their foil, watching out for escaping steam and hot juices. Arrange the aubergines in a serving plate, remove the herbs and pile on the tabouleh; Serve at room temperature.

Geoffrey Smeddle is chef patron of The Peat Inn, Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife KY15 5LH Tel 01334 840306 www.thepeatinn.co.uk