Stuff I Love: Spelt Flour

Last summer when my acupuncturist told me I needed to give up traditional wheat, I agreed with a reluctant heart. I knew that it was worth the try because I had literally tried everything else, but for god's sake, I'm Italian-American. NO PASTA? NO BREAD? It felt so...wrong. I was unhappy to admit, though, that cutting wheat out of my diet had a big impact on not only my gut health, but my mental health.

I would repeat to myself, as I prepared pasta for my husband and daughter, or watched them gobbling down a delicious wheat-based confection, "Nothing tastes as good as mental health feels." And it's true. Still, I'm a solution oriented kind of gal, and I am quite crafty in the kitchen, so I knew I could nail this problem of needing a substitute close to wheat that gave that same mouth-feel. Hehe. Mouth-feel.

That was when I came across two little words in a book about eating for your blood type... Spelt flour. It peaked my interest so I bought a bag on Amazon to see how it made me feel, and also how it was to cook with. Turns out, this stuff is pretty gosh-darn amazing, and I've been using it ever since. I order about 4 pounds at a time and it lasts about a month. In fact, it's nearly replaced flour in all my recipes, and my even my husband (ever the skeptic) likes it, too.

So what's so great about spelt anyway? 
Spelt is an ancient grain, so it predates modern wheat, though it's like a cousin to wheat in some round-about way that I will butcher trying to give an explanation on. Spelt has a super hard outer hull, which makes it naturally more insect resistant. This means it doesn't require the pesticides that are traditionally used on wheat, so it's free of pesticides, which I love. It also has less chromosomes than it's modern wheat counterpart, and a lower gluten content, so it's easier on the digestive system.

In addition, it's chocked full of good stuff like vitamin B2, manganese, niacin, copper, phosphorus, protein, and fiber. It tastes a lot like whole wheat, with a slightly nutty flavor.

So, I will admit that spelt flour isn't 100% like regular flour. For one, the color is darker, and the taste is a little bit different, like a whole wheat. Maybe I would classify it as a "tang" that only nature can provide? But after going months without flour, for me, this made little impact. Like, when you haven't had a steak sandwich, or any sandwich, in months and then you have a freshly baked whole wheat flavored bun for the first time, you're just eating, eyes closed, and everything fades away.

The thing is, it absorbs water differently than wheat, but you CAN pretty much use it cup for cup if you're willing to experiment here and there with adding a little extra, and testing the waters. For example, I've used it in chocolate chip cookies, and the cookies will spread farther, and turn out a bit more crispy, but they are delicious. But in my fig cookies and chocolate crinkle cookies this Christmas, this flour performed beautifully (both those doughs, though, had to be chilled in the fridge for 24 hours.)

At this point, I use spelt for everything from pie crust to bread to tomato pie dough, and even slippery dumplings. The more I have worked with it, the more I know how to use it, so it's like any relationship in cooking: it gets better as you are more versed in using it. Pinterest is amazing because it has a wealth of recipes for using spelt, and below I am linking some of my favorites!

Spelt Flour Hamburger rolls
--> I use this recipe to make rolls, French style bread, and even focaccia bread (which I then turned into Philly style tomato pie!) This is a real winner.

Spelt Flour Tortillas 
I also don't eat corn, but these are super awesome and do the trick. I make a bunch and then freeze them so I can just pull out a couple when I need them.

Spelt Pie Crust (vegan option)
So you can make this with butter (which I do), but the recipe is for a vegan pie crust. This recipe also works for a double crust (top and bottom), which I used to make a chicken pot pie. YUM!

Spelt Flour Flatbread- 
This is my own recipe for a regular flat bread which you can replace spelt flour in cup for cup. It doesn't rise *quite* as high as traditional flour, but some people prefer it (some people being me). In my home, we eat this every Friday night, and it's one of my daughter's favorite meals! I half the recipe and make spelt flour flatbread for myself, and traditional wheat flatbread for my two lovelies who prefer that style because I am cool like that. 

Take-Out Fake-Out: Cold "Peanut" Noodles

Let me tell you about me and my group of friends: we are a chef's nightmare. Half of us are gluten free, some of us are dairy free. One is vegetarian, another is vegan. And I don't eat peanuts (among other things).  Most people would be intimidated by this set of challenges, but we manage to get together around food, like, a lot. We have become agile in cooking for different dietary needs. Seriously, you should come to one of our houses for dinner.

Under this shining review I just rendered, you would think that this <<AMAZING>> recipe would satisfy all of our gluten-free, dairy free, peanut free needs...alas, there is one person in our group who cannot eat this because he is allergic to almonds. You can't win them all.

All of this is to say that if you, like Charley, are allergic to almonds, you can swap out the almond butter for peanut butter, unless someone else in your group doesn't eat peanuts (like me) and then maybe you can try cashew butter (which I haven't). In addition, you could also use traditional wheat pasta instead of gluten free pasta. Your choice. Mah point: this is a versatile recipe that can feed a diverse crowd of 30 and 40-somethings with a whole range of dietary sensitivities and needs. And kids love it too. How's that for a tasty introduction?

This really is one of my very favorite recipes. It pairs well with a salad, or a meat, or a soup. You can make it ahead. You can enjoy it hot, or you can enjoy it cold. I know it says "cold" in the title, but trust me, it's good either way.

I do want to take a moment to talk about why I use a more traditional noodle instead of say, an Asian-style rice noodle. Because, after all, this is an Asian-ish dish. (I say "Asian-ish" because honestly, I don't know the roots of this dish. While it appears on many a Chinese take out menu, my understanding of Chinese-American food is that it's a largely American incarnation.) So maybe we are just heathens and enjoy these exclusively in America... if it's wrong, I don't want to be right.

The problem with flat rice noodles, or even vermicelli style rice noodles is that they tend to fall apart as you stir them with a sauce, and this really get under my skin. I have found that spaghetti and spaghetti-style rice noodles (my favorite brand is Tinkyada, by the way) stay intact and absorb the sauce really well. The ONLY problem with rice noodles is that they don't tend to stay as fresh in the refrigerator over time so you wanna eat these within a day or two, or heat them.

For serving, you can top these noodles with sesame seeds if you have them, diced green onions if thats your jam, and if you stray toward the spicy, Sriracha. YUM!

Okay. With all the formalities out of the way, let's dive into this recipe, shall we?!

Cold "Peanut" Noodles

Time: 25 minutes (active) 2+ hours (passive) | Serves 4 | Difficulty: EASY! 

You Will Need:

12 ounces noodles (spaghetti, gluten free or regular, your choice)
3/4 cup almond butter 
4 cloves minced garlic 
1/4 cup rice vinegar (I have also used apple cider, which is terrific too!) 
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil 
1/2 cup soy sauce 
1/8 cup olive oil 
1/4 cup pasta water 

Special equipment- blender or immersion blender (I prefer to use my immersion blender, but this totally a personal thing.) 


Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. 

While you are waiting for the water to boil, you can blend your ingredients to make the sauce. Place the almond butter, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and olive oil in a glass jar or in the blender. Blend until nice and smooth: 

You can taste the sauce and adjust a little if you like more acid (vinegar) or more salt (soy). But be warned, once you taste the sauce, you are literally going to want to eat all the sauce because it's outta this world! 

By now your water should be boiling. Go ahead and cook your pasta according to the directions on the package. When it's finished, I like to pull the pasta from the pot with a pair of tongs rather than draining it. 1) It makes it easier to get the 1/4 cup pasta water you'll want to add, and 2) it leaves a little extra moisture on the noodles. These noodles are going to absorb a hell of a lot of this sauce and the sauce will become nice and thick, so don't worry. Mama got you. 

Put your cooked noodles, your prepared sauce, and your 1/4 cup pasta water into a bowl and give it a good stir. I like to use tongs, but that's just me. You do you. The sauce may seem runny. It may seem like maybe you did something wrong. You didn't. Trust the process. 

Generally, I will let my noodles sit on the counter a little while until they aren't so piping hot. Maybe I eat some noodles out of the bowl while it's hot and yell, "YUM" into the void of my empty house (because everyone is at work and school and it's awesome.) When you're ready to stop plucking those hot, delicious noodles from the countertop bowl, put your noodles in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours, giving it a stir in the middle somewhere to help it cool evenly. When it's time to eat, top with sesame seeds or green onions, and serve with a salad or a nice piece of meat! 

Enjoy in the company of people you love!