Kassandra Tuten

There are few things in this world that excite me like food. Nothing makes me happier than cooking food, planning weekly menus, watching the Food Network channel or simply looking at the posts the hundreds of chefs and food aficionados I follow on social media. I love exploring new recipes just as much as I do testing and tweaking family favorites. To be honest, just thinking about food is enough to put a smile on my face.

As a southern girl, I spent countless hours in the kitchen with my granny and my mama, baking chocolate chip cookies, sour cream pound cake, cornbread, you name it. When I moved out of the south, I struggled with thoughts of how I would keep that passion alive, having moved away from family, friends and all the flavors and treats I’d come to know, love and crave.

Interestingly, that’s been one of the more exciting parts about having lived in three different regions of the country, all before the age of 30. Not only is it fun to meet the people who call these areas home, and it’s always great to experience the regions recreationally, but the food inspires me in so many ways, helping me identify my individual style of cooking, inspired by my southern heritage and time spent in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. 

In Georgia, I filled my belly with all the home cooking; the pulled pork, fresh seafood and baked oysters, limes from our lime tree, all the peppers and backyard produce we could grow on our little balcony, fresh pecans and peanuts, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, etc.

In Minnesota, I learned to appreciate the art and hard work of tapping maple syrup and harvesting wild rice and the importance of supporting local farmers. I also learned (the hard way) that it’s a “hot dish,” not a casserole. While it’ll always be casserole to me, I did add tater tot “hot dish” to my arsenal of meals. (I make mine Molly Yeh style, which means it’s essentially chicken pot pie filling beneath a layer of cheesy Idaho grown tater tots.) 

The last year that we’ve spent in Idaho, I’ve further expanded my knowledge in the kitchen, experimenting with spices, gluten free flours, herbs, meats, you name it. We’ve learned to make tamales from scratch, experimented with the keto diet and ways for cutting sugars, and have gained an appreciation for the local food co-op of which we are members. We’ve also discovered a new taste for lentils, local plums and huckleberries. 

My latest kitchen obsession is teff flour, a grain I learned about from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-wheat Flours” by Alice Medrich, which I received as a birthday gift last year. 

Teff is an ancient grain from Africa, primarily grown in Ethiopia. According to a 2016 article by the New York Times entitled “Is Teff the New Super Grain?,” teff was first domesticated in Ethiopia more than 3,000 years ago, and today is the most widely planted crop in the country. More than 90% of the world’s teff is grown in Ethiopia, but most of the teff consumed in North America, Europe and other parts of the world is grown in places such as Idaho, the Netherlands, Australia and India. 

According to the New York Times article, some research has suggested that a diet that includes regular servings of teff may be good for you as it has more calcium and vitamin C than almost any other grain. Teff is high in protein and iron, and much of its fiber is a type known as resistant starch, which has been linked in studies to improved blood sugar. One study of 1,800 people with celiac disease found that those who regularly ate teff reported a significant reduction in symptoms. 

Within recent decades, a number of companies in the U.S. have begun singing the praises of teff. One of these companies is the Teff Company, which has been supplying buyers with American-grown Maskal teff for over 30 years. With fertile fields and ecologically-sensitive farming methods, the company says it produces some of the best quality teff in the world, right here in Idaho.

According to their website, Teff Company founder Wayne Carlson first became involved with Ethiopia during the early 1970s when he lived as a guest of the local farming community. Carlson became devoted to the local food, and soon discovered that, while the farmers grew a wide variety of crops, they preferred to grow and eat teff.

After returning to Idaho, Carlson became fascinated by the similarities of the Snake River region and the East African Rift’s climates and geology. An idea formed that the Snake River Valley of Idaho may be perfect for growing teff. 

As a flour, teff is incredibly versatile. Whole teff grains are often cooked and eaten like porridge. The flour milled from the grain has a flavor profile that is nutty and chocolatey, so, for me, teff flour makes the perfect brownies. (My personal favorite is the Bittersweet Teff Brownies recipe from “Flavor Flours.”)

To learn more about teff, and to find tasty recipes, I recommend “Flavor Flours” as well as visiting the Teff Company’s website (https://teffco.com). Teff flour can be purchased at many specialty stores, as well as from many online retailers, including the Teff Company, Bob’s Red Mill and Amazon.

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