Ghillie James’s new “Amazing Grains: From Classic to Contemporary, Wholesome Recipes for Every Day” reads as much like a history text as a cookbook. “The subject is so wide and covers every country in the world,” says the Singapore-based British author, who previously served as food editor of Sainsbury’s magazine. “The bit that comes naturally to me is the recipe writing and the foodie bit. The bit that I had to work hard on was the research and the history,” says James, 38. “That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. There was a massive sense of achievement when I had pulled it all together.” The book offers more than 120 recipes from around the globe for cooks of all skill levels.
Q. Why did you want to tackle grains?
A. It’s a hot topic and everyone’s really into whole grains and trying to eat healthfully. So [publisher Kyle Books] approached me and said, “Look, you’re actually in the best country to do this because you’ve got all the countries in Asia on your doorstep that obviously grow rice, and you’re living in a country that’s got a real diversity of cuisine and cultures.” Plus, I’ve got a background in thorough testing of everything and really thorough researching.
Q. Considering the breadth of the subject, how did you research?
A. It’s really hard because you don’t want to leave anything out. Kyle is distributed all around the world, so it wasn’t like I was just concentrating on the UK or US markets. I wanted to cover all the recipes that people would expect but I also didn’t want to make the book too — what’s the right word? — not boring and not fuddy duddy and not too traditional. But I wanted to make sure that I had enough recipes in there for the modern grain eater who now wants soups to be healthy, they want salads. A good half of the book is recipes that I made up myself that I want to eat, so there’s lots of granolas and healthy salads as well as the traditional biryanis and kedgeree and rice pudding and por-
ridge. It could have been three times the size and I probably still wouldn’t have covered every recipe.
Q. Were there any particular recipes you struggled with?
A. There were a few recipes in the book that I knew I couldn’t tackle because there were other people in the world who have been doing it much longer than me and do it much better. So the sushi recipe I got from a friend of mine, Jodie, who’s an expert sushi maker. She has a whole group of Japanese friends in Singapore so she e-mailed all of them and said, “I need to know all the facts about sushi and sushi rice.” We had a great day making sushi and it was also quite a good excuse to go to a few sushi restaurants and try out all the different types. The risotto I asked a very good friend, Anna Del Conte, who’s a wonderful Italian cookery writer, for arancini balls. Sam and Eddie Hart, who own Fino, a Spanish restaurant in London, I asked them for their paella recipe.
‘I wanted to make sure that I had enough recipes in there for the modern grain eater who now wants soups to be healthy, they want salads. A good half of the book is recipes that I made up myself that I want to eat.’
Q. What would you recommend for families?
A. I’ve got two children, 4 and 6, and they’re reasonably adventurous eaters and they absolutely love rice. There’s a recipe for jambalaya, which I’m sure your American readers will know; that’s a great family recipe. If you’re juggling tasks, you have to make stuff in advance or leave stuff on the stove a bit. There’s a Thai fried rice with shrimp and pineapple, which is absolutely delicious. We were on holiday in Thailand and we sat on the beach and ate this in a cafe. It’s quite a traditional recipe in Thailand but I came back and fiddled around and re-created it.
Q. Do you have a favorite recipe?
A. There’s a roasted chicken that has a sweet corn stuffing and if anyone said to me, “What would your last supper be?” it would always have to be roasted chicken. My mother used to make a version of this sweet corn stuffing when we were children. It’s got lemon zest and parsley and fresh sweet corn and breadcrumbs and you stuff it inside and you make a simple gravy at the end. I’d say that’s my go-to.