7 WHOLE GRAINS TO GET YOU HEALTHY FOR THE NEW YEAR
Starting off the New Year, everyone vows to eat healthy and workout more (as evidenced by the surge of gym goers I’ve been seeing lately at mine!). But instead of focusing on that new and improved juice cleanse (because, honestly, there’s no way I am just drinking juices for 7 days straight! and let's not even discuss the sugar content....), I’d rather search for REAL food that's healthy(ish) and tasty. It's a game of inches! One area with which I loooove to experiment is with new, delicious grains that are a healthy alternative to your everyday rice, quinoa, or even breakfast oats. There are so many more varieties with different textures to choose from than we think, so some of these you may not have heard of! Below are just a few I wanted to highlight.
Freekeh is a roasted green wheat that's found throughout the Middle East (and your local Whole Foods!). It’s harvested young and then roasted in the fields over an open fire, giving it a smokiness. It's often referred to as a “new” ancient grain (ha!) and has slowly been taking the spotlight away from quinoa because it is far more nutritional (low in fat, high in protein & fiber!). I love the nuttiness and bite of this grain, and it takes on spices beautifully. This recipe is a pilaf with roasted squash, spices like cinnamon and coriander, and a hint of brown butter (I did say healthyish..)..
Teff is a grain the size of poppy seeds that’s usually ground into flour to make breads. It's a key ingredient in Ethiopian cooking, primarily to make injera, a fermented, spongy flatbread used to serve and eat Ethiopian stews and dishes. Teff has become popular because it's gluten-free, a complete protein and can sustain just about any climate and region. It's great for baking - banana bread, brownies, you name it. It's also delicious, whole, added into soup, stews, or a winter chili.
Amaranth dates as far back as the Aztecs. It was their staple food and an integral part of their culture. This little grain is a gluten-free complete protein powerhouse, just like teff. It can be used in both sweet and savory dishes and is super easy to cook: boil water, add the amaranth, cook 10-20 minutes and drain. Seriously, that simple. Once cooked, amaranth is amazing added to salads, incorporated into desserts or stirred into soups. I love it in lieu of morning oats, with some almond milk, cinnamon, and fresh berries. Also, little known fact, it can be popped like popcorn! So good!
Rye is one of those grains that has mainly been grown as a cover crop by farmers to bring back the nutrients to the soil that was lost to a previous “cash” crop. It wasn’t until recently that cooks have been using up these grains, so they don't go to waste in feed slash farmers can make a profit on these previously not-so-popular crops. Rye berries can be ground into flour for breads or boiled like rice. I’ve been cooking them in my rice cooker using a 3:1 ratio of water to berries. This cooking method gives the berries such a nice, popping texture and the grains are perfect to mix in with whatever ingredients you like (avocado, roasted peppers, corn, etc…).
Wheat berries look similar to rye, but are a bit shorter in length. It's a common side dish in France, taking the place of the rice or corn, and these little berries are where whole wheat flour comes from. Some say that soaking these berries before cooking (like overnight) will speed up the cooking process (it takes about 45-50 minutes to cook). I personally like to toast the berries in the oven or in the pot to be cooked in before I add the water to give a little more flavor.
Cooked similarly to amaranth, farro is really popular in Italian cuisine. It's actually a group of 3 wheat species (emmer, spelt and the lesser known einkorn). Farro is really hearty, and is on menus all over NYC, mainly in salads and in soups. But I personally love it cooked like risotto with mushrooms, shallots and garlic...it's very similar to barley, so it makes a great substitute for those recipes.
Buckwheat is super trendy, but it's a good thing it has the great flavor it does to back it up! It's, hands down, my new favorite topping on salads when it's been toasted - totally replacing my love of croutons, which is kind of a big deal. This is another one of those hidden gems of a cover crop that farmers use that are now becoming popular in the kitchen. This grain can also be cooked in water (similar to farro and amaranth). You can drain the water and create a loose grain for salads or you can keep some liquid and also serve it almost “risotto” style. Either way is delicious and obviously using stocks is tastier than just plain water. I also personally love using buckwheat flour to make crèpes, like in this recipe.
Enjoy and happy cooking!