Whole 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)
At 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
Mediterranean Grain Medley Topped with Roast Chicken and Tzatziki
Warm Farro and Cannellini Bean Salad With Dried Plums and Crispy Prosciutto
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. [click to continue…]