Taking Teff Flour to the Test Kitchen

This time of year, I love browsing the National Restaurant Association's annual What's Hot culinary forecast, which peeks into the minds of more than 1,800 chefs, who predict the year's food trends. What theme emerged this time? A focus on various types of grains to replace traditional wheat--mainly in an effort to land more gluten-free items on the menu.

Intrigued, I chose one of the more exotic flour varieties mentioned and played a little in the kitchen. One category that caught my attention was "ethnic flour," which consists of fufu, teff, and cassava. This category was considered a hot trend by 56 percent of the chefs surveyed. I enlisted the help of my colleague Michelle Dudash, who's both a registered dietitian and chef. The story unfolded much like the beloved children's book If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, in which the mouse soon wants milk with his cookie, and then a straw for a milk, and eventually lots more. Our story was more like If You Give A Foodie A New Ingredient, in which we were given teff flour, then wanted to make cookies, and then brownies, and probably much more down the road.

But first, what is teff flour? It's a whole grain that's rich in protein, iron, and calcium, and suitable for gluten-free diets. If you've ever had Ethiopian cuisine, you've likely had teff in the traditional bread called injera. In fact, technically, teff isn't a new ingredient at all, but one of the oldest known whole grains.

[See Making Sense of the Gluten-Free Food Frenzy]

Now, back to the foodie story. Once given the challenge of creating a recipe using teff, Michelle promptly hit her test kitchen and came up with two recipes that were kid-friendly and easy. Both were adapted from recipes in her book Clean Eating for Busy Families. The first: oatmeal and cherry breakfast cookies with almonds. For these, she simply replaced the wheat flour with the teff flour and, voila--gluten-free breakfast cookies! (If you really need the gluten-free version, make sure you purchase gluten-free oats.) Michelle liked them even better than the original version. I thought they were great too, if a bit crumbly, which is common a drawback of using a gluten-free flour. Even my two sons, who always turn down oatmeal, gobbled up these cookies.

The second recipe was for dark chocolate whole-wheat brownies. Sounds great, but I had my doubts, as I've been burned many times by tasteless "healthy" versions of my favorite treats. For the brownies, Michelle replaced all the flour (her original recipe calls for white and whole wheat) with teff. I replaced only the white flour with teff, because I like to ease into these things. To my great surprise, they were divine! The brownies had a slightly denser texture, which is fine with me because it makes them more fudge-like, rather than cake-like. The teff flour also gave a unique flavor that reminded me of malted milk. The final test: Do the kids like them? Yes! They couldn't get enough of them, and now I'm off to make another batch.

Oatmeal and Cherry Breakfast Cookies with Almonds, adapted by Michelle Dudash, from Clean Eating for Busy Families

--3 cups dry old-fashioned or thick-cut oats

--1 cup teff flour

--2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

--1/2 teaspoon baking soda

--1 large egg

--1/3 cup expeller-pressed grapeseed or canola oil

--1 cup packed light brown sugar

--1/4 cup low-fat milk

--1 teaspoon almond extract (or vanilla extract)

--1/2 cup dried tart cherries

--1/2 cup sliced almonds, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit, and line two large sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Stir oats, teff, cinnamon, and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat egg and whisk in the oil, sugar, milk, and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until moistened, adding cherries and half of the almonds toward the end of mixing. Drop scant 1/4 cup scoops of dough onto the pans at least 2 inches apart. Sprinkle remaining almonds on top, and pat gently with waxed paper to flatten slightly. Bake until golden around the edges and set in the middle, about 16 minutes. Cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Dark Chocolate Teff Brownies, adapted by Michelle Dudash, from Clean Eating for Busy Families

--1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

--1/2 cup boiling water or coffee

--1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

--1/2 cup expeller -pressed grapeseed or canola oil

--2 tsp vanilla extract

--3 large eggs, room temperature

--1 1/2 cups granulated raw sugar (evaporated cane juice)

--1 3/4 cup teff flour (or 1 cup whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup teff flour)

--3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit. Grease and lightly flour only the bottom of a 13-by-9 inch pan. In a large bowl, whisk cocoa powder with boiling liquid until dissolved. Add chocolate chips, and stir until melted. Stir in oil and vanilla. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until frothy and whisk in the sugar. Add to the chocolate. Add the flour and salt at once and fold in just until moistened. Pour batter evenly into the pan and bake on the bottom rack until a toothpick inserted 2 inches from the side of the pan comes out clean or slightly moist, about 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into 20 brownies. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

[See Make Room for Chocolate]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.