Tiny but Mighty

Teff, which hails from Ethiopia, is a gluten-free ancient grain that’s mild in flavor and makes a satisfying base for many dishes

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MEGAN GORDON

For cooks and non-cooks alike, this is the time of year we can all really shine in the kitchen. With such vibrant produce and fragrant fruit at the ready, meals practically make themselves, and time standing over the stove can easily be kept to a minimum. This is by far my favorite time of year as a cook — and as an eater: when you can slice ripe tomatoes, crumble salty feta on top, drizzle grassy olive oil over the plate, and, with good crusty bread, call it dinner. Yes, we wait months for this. But with all that ease, it’s also nice to mix it up, avoiding boredom and cooking ruts, and this season, I’m reaching for the smallest grain of all to get the job done: teff.

It’s hard to keep track of which foods will be deemed the next superfood, and I know better than to make my own predictions. Quinoa was a biggie, of course, and these days, more and more people are talking about teff — and for good reason. Originally hailing from Ethiopia and probably best known for its use in naturally fermented injera flatbread, this gluten-free ancient grain is mild in flavor and makes a versatile base for morning cereals or polenta-style dishes. When ground into a silky cocoa-colored flour, it has a slightly nutty flavor and can be a real star in quick breads, cookies, and muffins. Taste aside, teff is naturally high in protein, calcium, and iron, which is saying a lot considering its diminutive size (each grain is about the size of a poppy seed). For sweet and savory recipes alike, this tiny but mighty grain is poised to bring new flavor, color, and inspiration to your kitchen this summer.

Teff Polenta with Blistered Tomatoes, Basil, and Goat Cheese

While you’re probably used to using corn grits to make polenta at home, teff cooks up just as smooth and creamy. Reaching for vegetable broth instead of water to cook the grains makes for a most flavor-packed meal, and much like traditional polenta, this teff polenta firms up when cool, so serve it hot and add a little water (and constant stirring) to reheat.

Serves: 4–6 | Start to Finish: 35 minutes
Vegetarian & Gluten-Free

For Polenta

  • 1 cup (215g) teff
  • 3 1/4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped, plus more to garnish
  • 1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped, plus more to garnish
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to season
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, to serve

 

For Blistered Tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, stems removed
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to season
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • freshly ground black pepper, to season
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

 

Recipe

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add teff, broth, and garlic powder and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, 18–20 minutes or until the mixture comes together in a creamy, smooth texture. Stir a few times during cooking to ensure the polenta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, make the tomatoes: In a large cast-iron skillet or heavy-duty saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the cherry tomatoes and salt, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to brown and blister (just don’t let them begin to break apart or burn). Add the shallot and garlic and sauté for 1 minute, until fragrant. Sprinkle with pepper and fold in fresh basil. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the polenta is finished cooking, remove from the heat and fold in the butter, thyme, chives, Parmesan cheese, salt, and black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

To serve: Spoon a generous scoop of polenta into each bowl, and top with blistered tomatoes and crumbled goat cheese. Garnish with additional chopped chives and thyme.

Triple Berry Teff Crisp

A vibrant gluten-free summery dessert, this super jammy crisp comes together quickly and is sure to be the star of your next outdoor gathering. While it needs little adornment, there is something about marrying warm berry crisp and soft vanilla ice cream, so I’d go that route if you’re into that kind of thing.

Serves: 6 | Start to Finish: 75 minutes
Vegetarian & Gluten-Free

For the Filling

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

 

For the Topping

  • 3/4 cup (75g) old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup (40g) teff flour
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, plus more to grease pan
  • Vanilla ice cream, to serve

 

Recipe

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a medium bowl, toss together the blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the oats, teff flour, almonds, brown sugar, and salt. Working with your fingertips, blend in the small cubes of butter until no dry spots remain (some of the butter will be fully incorporated while some will be in pea-size clumps).

Butter a 2-quart baking dish, scrape in the fruit filling, and scatter the topping on top. Bake 50–60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the fruit juices bubble up through the edges. While it’s best eaten the day it’s made, the crisp can be stored covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.


Megan Gordon is a recipe developer, culinary educator, and author of Whole Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons. She writes regularly for magazines and websites including The Kitchn, Simply Recipes, and Recipe.com, as well as on her own blog, A Sweet Spoonful. When not writing about food, Megan teaches cooking classes and consults with small food businesses and brands.

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