The Wide World of Grains
Per capita, Americans consume over 150 pounds of wheat per year. Is this too much? Probably.
In general, many health practitioners agree that over-consuming the same foods everyday, year after year, can be hard on the system — possibly creating allergic reactions, digestive problems, intolerances and other ill-effects.
In our culture, we eat wheat, rice and oats and that’s about it. Most people don’t know of the plethora of grains that are available to us, so we go for what we know. Fortunatley, though, alternative grains are becoming easier and easier to find; even some conventional stores carry a variety of alternative grains these days.
These alternatives to wheat and rice are rich in dietary fiber, iron, B-vitamins and proteins. They're easy to prepare too. Most of them cook up just as you would rice... over the stove, in a rice cooker or baked in a casserole or paella.
Trying new grains doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite wheat and rice dishes, but just remember that there’s a wide world of grains out there just waiting to be enjoyed.
QUINOA (keen-wa) — My favorite! This native “super-grain” provides all the essential proteins, and comes packed with iron and B-vitamins. It does not contain gluten, so is easy on digestion. It’s also quick and easy to prepare.
MILLET — This is a staple food in many other countries, but in America it is used mostly as birdseed! It’s a shame because it is one of the most complete proteins out there. Its crunchy texture goes well cooked in cereals, pilafs and breads. Gluten-free.
AMARANTH — This tiny seed comes packed with nutrition. As with quinoa and millet, it is high in protein, minerals, B-vitamins and fiber. It has a distinct taste, so start with adding it into other grains, like breads, pilafs, and cereals. Gluten-free.
BUCKWHEAT — Not really a part of the wheat family, buckwheat is from the seeds of a plant that is related to rhubarb. It is an excellent source of complete protein, fiber, B vitamins, potassium, calcium and iron. It is a heavier and distinctively tasting flour, and therefore is usually blended with other milder-tasting flours.
CORNMEAL — The graininess and sweet flavor of cornmeal adds a nice dimension in texture and taste to breads and muffins, or anything that can handle a slightly heavier and course flour. You can also use white corn flour in desserts and pastries if you want to maintain a lightness of color in the final product.
TEFF — These are little, dark brown seeds that are ground fine to make flour. The flour is strong flavored, rich and earthy. Due to its rich flavor and darker color, it makes a wonderful replacement for wheat bran or wheat germ. Teff is rarely, if ever, used alone in baked goods.
QUINOA WITH PINE NUTS AND GARLIC
Yield: 4 side servings
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cups chicken stock, veggie stock or water
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
dash black pepper
Dry-toast the pine nuts gently over medium-low heat in a small skillet until lightly browned and fragrant. Watch them carefully, they burn fast. Throw the quinoa, pine nuts, stock, garlic, salt and pepper into a rice cooker or sauce pan. Cook as you would rice—Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve alongside poultry, tofu, red meat or vegetables.