A lesson in simplicity

Maria SpeckMaria Speck has a lifelong passion for the subtle flavors and rich textures of whole grains. She grew up in Greece and Germany before moving to the US in 1993, and this unusual heritage is at the center of her cooking, writing, and teaching.

In her food writing, Maria combines more than two decades of journalistic research, editing and reporting with her lifelong passion for food. She started her career at Germany’s leading news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA), and she came to the US as a Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Since then, she has worked as a freelance writer for US and German magazines, contributing to many magazines including Gourmet  and Saveur.

Maria just released her second cookbook, Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain Recipes for Living Well. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy, and visit our cookbook calendar of events to see where Maria is headed on her book tour). We’re delighted that Maria has offered us an excerpt from the book to share with EYB Members:


Cooking without knife skills
(excerpted from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck)

If you come to my house on a Tuesday night, don’t expect to be served a perfectly composed dinner plate, restaurant-style. Much of my weekday cooking is fast, easy, and restrained-a quick wholesome pasta, fish and vegetables with leftover grains, or a toss-it-all-in soup or grains salad. My cooking during the week is often improvised and so low-key that, as a professional food writer, I should be embarrassed. But I believe in home cooking. I was raised on it, and today I pride myself on it.

So how do I cook every day? Mostly I prepare modest and practical meals, trying to bring dinner to the table without exhausting myself. I never went to cooking school. I learned by doing, mostly by failure.  

Cooking every day is a compromise and a lesson in simplicity. During the week, I have no time to cook up complicated sauces or spend an hour washing piles of dishes in the sink. Instead I rely on the basics: my hands and a few sturdy pots and pans. So, if you struggle to prepare a home-cooked meal more often, here are a few things I hope will ease your life at the stove. It is a no-nonsense laundry list of things you don’t need to worry about.

First, please don’t fret about your knife skills. You don’t have to attend classes on wielding large chef’s knives to become a solid home cook. My mom doesn’t have any knife skills and, boy, does she cook. Neither does my Indian mother-in-law, who has prepared elaborate meals for a crowd of thirty all her life, with not much more than a beat-up paring knife.

I must admit that I have no knife skills myself. None whatsoever. I tried to hide this when my first cookbook came out. I have since learned not to pretend anymore.
 I cut my onions differently than you learn in cooking school, but fast and, may I add, just as well. Certainly good enough for dinner. I never went out of my way to practice cutting carrots or potatoes into chunks of similar size. I simply learned it over time by doing, especially when I noticed that differently sized pieces cooked unevenly. So just get started with any knife you have. And if you want to learn to use a chef’s knife, go ahead. Just know that it’s not mandatory.

Post a comment


  • tragicsoprano  on  April 16, 2015

    My favorite grain is quinoa. The flavor and ease of preparation are a winning combination.

  • nicolthepickle  on  April 18, 2015

    I like this lady! She sounds like she has a wonderful store of common sense.

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!