Say good-bye to white rice and bread—and hello to delicious oats, quinoa, and other whole grains such as barley, kamut, wheat berries and more. Let's face it, white bread has shortcomings—it’s highly processed and nutrient-deficient when compared to its whole-wheat counterpart. The satiating power of a bowl of oats is no mystery thanks to the staple's prominence in American breakfasting culture. Only recently have we begun to explore the wide-ranging benefits that whole grains (and pseudo-grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth) have to offer. Given the variety and their versatility, we'd be remiss not to explore the world of these tiny powerhouse grains and seeds. I suggest we take a break from the tired, white and processed and give whole grains a go. In the past, food processing and storage practices made whole grains a rarity in most supermarkets. The absence can be attributed to early industrialization, during which shelf-stable processed and refined grains like white flour and pasta were introduced to the American consumer, unlike today where nutty, complex carbohydrates have been making a fast-track comeback. They may be not as shelve stable, but that can be solved by buying from a local supply where they’re not stored for months on end—look for the expiration date on the package to be sure you’re not buying an expired, rancid product—freshness prevails. Indeed, whole grains will go rancid faster than refined, so store them in airtight containers in a cool pantry or in the refrigerator to prolong freshness for months. The movement is evident—even the small everyday market at the corner in my neighborhood carries whole grain offerings.
To be sure, these whole grains deserve the hype. They're nutrient-dense and packed with iron, vitamins B and E, fiber, protein and antioxidants. In addition, they have been said to lower cholesterol and risk for heart disease. Also they aid in weight maintenance. In fact, the so-called super-grains quinoa and amaranth contain all eight essential amino acids, which makes them an excellent choice for some of us who bolster their diets with more plant-based protein. Let's face it: not only are they good nutritionally, but they're also exquisite additions to a satisfying meal because they bring variety, texture, flavor and color to our meals.
The Long and Short of It
To me, grains can be divided into two categories. First there are the quick-cooking grains. The cooking time is generally under a half hour for quicker varieties, and be aware that each requires a different ratio of cooking water-to-grain, so check the details of the specific grain on the label for cooking instructions. Some examples are millet, buckwheat, bulgur and quinoa. The other grains are slow-cooking and take longer then 30 minutes. Such slower-cooking grains like whole-wheat berries, kamut, spelt and rye are generally chewier and richer in flavor. Further, it is good practice to soak such grains in water for up to eight hours and then simmer them according the label’s cooking instructions. The time commitment can be considerable, so plan ahead. They can take approximately 30 to 70 minutes to prepare and use. After draining, they can either be stored in the fridge or frozen in individual portions for a quick, everyday meal.
Although quinoa and amaranth by themselves are high in protein, manganese and antioxidants, other grains need a complementary pairing for optimal health and nutrients. The following recipe is delicious and full of nutrients.
My suggestion is to serve it with vegetables, meat, fish or eggs.
Super Grain & Seed Base
(recipe makes 6 – 8 portions)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as grape seed or sunflower seed oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup rolled oats, soaked in water for 30 minutes
1 cup short grain brown rice, cooked per the label’s instructions
1 cup quinoa, cooked per the label’s instructions
1 cup buckwheat, cooked per the label’s instructions
2 tablespoons chia seeds, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 grindings black pepper from the mill
1 tablespoon tamari sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1) In a skillet, heat vegetable oil on medium heat, then add onions and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes.
2) Add grains and all the other ingredients, then stir to incorporate. Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid and heat for 15 minutes on low heat.
Chef’s Note: Can't get whole grains locally? Order online from Bob's Red Mill, Lotus Foods or Anson Mills.
Are you a celiac foodie, or know of one? Don't despair; even you can partake in the grain awakening. Buckwheat, millet, rice, quinoa, and ever-popular oats are all gluten free.
Folks that feel unsettled with refined starches can sometimes enjoy ancient wheat varieties such as farro, kamut, and spelt. But for the truly gluten-intolerant, it's best not to try them.