New View Of Whole Grains: Opening Up A World Of Quinoa, Farro, Millet And Other Grains That Are Whole

IMG_0868Whole grains.  Everyone knows how important they are.  Studies link whole grains to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  There’s also evidence that whole grains can help you manage your weight.

Yet when you mention whole grains, most people tend to think about breads and cereals. That’s true.  These foods are probably the most obvious sources of whole grains — yet the amounts they actually contain can vary greatly.  Beyond breads and cereals, an increasingly number of foods boast about whole grains.  It’s become the new marketing buzz word.  Although not all of these foods are reliable sources. Just take a look at the latest issue of  CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter that reveals “whole grain finds and frauds.”

The best sources of whole grains are — no surprise — whole grains. Trouble is, many people have no clue how to cook whole grains. Often, their first attempt is brown rice and they might be turned off by the gummy, porridge-like results, said Tucker Bunch, a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  I recently had the opportunity to take a whole grains workshop with Tucker at the CIA’s Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference that was co-sponsored by Harvard Medical School.

It was eye opening.  I’ve always been a lover of grains, but I think my range was limited.  Yes, I regularly make bulgur, quinoa and whole-grain couscous (actually a pasta) — but I didn’t really go beyond that and my preparation methods were typically the same.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with freekeh, which was actually a new grain for my instructor Tucker.  I was thrilled I got to teach him something new!  But I learned so much from Tucker about cooking whole grains.

For starters, he said there are three important things to keep in mind when cooking whole grains:

1.  Use the right proportion of liquid –  people often use too much liquid, it’s not always a 3:1 ratio like we might use to prepare rice (too much liquid can make for gummy grains)
2.  Use a flavorful liquid instead of simply water  — such as chicken stock, vegetable broth, juice and wine
3.  Parch or toast the grains in a little oil before cooking — helps build flavor, brings out a sweet nutty taste (I haven’t been doing this and now I’m hooked)

IMG_0873At the start of the class, Tucker demonstrated the Mediterranean Grain Medley (left) that featured farro and quinoa, along with crimini mushrooms, fennel, fava beans and cherry tomatoes.  He  then showed how the grains could be transformed into other dishes: topped with roasted chicken for a main entree, stuffed into a whole wheat  pita with tzatziki sauce, or added to leafy green salad.   After his demonstration, we put on our own chef hats and aprons to make the following whole grain dishes (recipes are included at the end).  Believe me, they were all so easy to make and incredibly delicious.   I liked each one, but I think my favorite was the farro and cannellini bean salad.  The crispy prosciutto added a unique flavor and enticing crunch, and the strips of dried plums provided just the right amount of sweetness.

Seven Grain Kashi and Bean Salad with Grilled Shrimp, Mint, Red Onion, Roasted Peppers and Harissa Vinaigrette

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Mediterranean Grain Medley Topped with Roast Chicken and Tzatziki

IMG_0894Warm Farro and Cannellini Bean Salad With Dried Plums and Crispy Prosciutto

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Warm Farro and Cannellini Bean Salad with Dried Plums and Prosciutto

2-1/2 cups farro or soft-wheat berries, fully cooked (use 2:1 ratio of liquid when cooking)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 oz. prosciutto, cut into thin strips
2 carrots, small, peeled, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the bias
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup dried plums, cut in strips
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium-low heat.  Add prosciutto and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes or until crisp.  Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.  Add carrots, celery, fennel seed, salt and pepper flakes to the rendered oil in the saute pan.  Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are cooked al dente.  Add cooked farro (or could substitute barley or another whole grain), beans and dried plums.  Cook, stirring gently, until heated through.  To serve, mound on platter, sprinkle parsley and crumbled prosciutto on top.  Makes 6 portions.

Seven Grain Kashi and Bean Salad with Grilled Shrimp, Mint, Red Onion, Roasted Peppers and Harissa Vinaigrette

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups Seven Grain Kashi, cooked
1 onion, small
Salt, to taste
1 lb. shrimp, large, shelled and deveined
Harissa Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 red peppers, large, roasted, peeled and seeded
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup ripe Moroccan olives, black or green

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and beans.  Cut onion into 1/8th-inch slices, cutting from root to tip, and rinse under cold water.  Drain well and reserve.  Cut the roasted peppers into a large dice.  Brush shrimp with half of the harissa vinaigrette and grill or saute.  Toss the chickpeas, beans, cooked kashi, onion and peppers with the remaining vinaigrette and let marinate for several hours.  Adjust seasoning again.  Toss in most of the mint and mix well.  Top with shrimp, remaining mint and drizzle with any extra vinaigrette.  Garnish with olives.  Makes 8 portions.  Adapted from a recipe by Joyce Goldstein.

Harissa Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons Aleppo chile powder
4 teaspoons coriander seed
2 teaspoons caraway seed
1 teaspoon cayenne or ground hot pepper
Salt, to taste
8 garlic cloves
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Water, warm
1-1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Combine the whole spices, cayenne, chile and salt in a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Place in a mortar and pestle, and add the garlic with some olive oil and grind to form a paste for harissa.  For the vinaigrette:  thin with a bit of warm water and whisk in the olive oil and fresh lemon juice.  Adjust to taste with salt.  Adapted from a recipe by Joyce Goldstein.

Mediterranean Grain Medley

3 cups farro or soft wheat berries, fully cooked
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 cups toasted quinoa pilaf (recipe follows)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 cup fennel, sliced 1/4″
2 tablespoons diced shallots
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped oregano
1 cup fava beans, peas or edamame, shelled
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh basil or mint
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons kalamata olives, cut julienne
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat a large saute pan over high heat.  When hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the mushrooms.  Toss constantly so the mushrooms begin to brown.  After the first minute, add the shallots, garlic and oregano and cook until aromatic.  Season with salt and pepper.  After another minute, add the fennel and continue to toss.  After an additional minute, add the beans or peas, herbs, tomatoes and olves to the pan, toss to mix well.  Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper and lemon juice to taste.  Makes 8 portions.

Toasted Quinoa Pilaf

1-1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, larged, finely minced
1-1/4 cups vegetable stock or water
Salt and black pepper, fresh ground, to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the quinoa and stir periodically until the quinoa begins to make a popping sound, and has a toasted aroma — about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and carefully pour the vegetable stock over the quinoa.  Season with salt and plenty of black pepper.  Return to the heat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook covered at a gentle simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the grain is tender and all the liquid is absorbed.  Fluff lightly with a fork and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.  Makes 4 portions.

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