Cooking with Alternative Grains

I recently wrote an article for Lifestyles magazine, sharing the appeal and steps of a spring detox diet. At the end of the article, I thought it would be helpful to offer to my readers a step by step guide, by doing the detox myself for a month and writing about it on my blog. It sounded great on paper, but what it really meant in my life was actually having to do the detox.

I begun the detox this week, cutting out dairy, meat, sugar, caffeine, wheat and any white refined foods. We’ve been eating lots of veggies, beans, grains and drinking almond milk. Of course, I miss the butter, milk and coffee, but missing the wheat is the biggest surprise. I realize we have become so dependent on wheat and I crave it in it’s many forms.

With this new diet, having to replace wheat with other grains, I’ve been reminded the glories of other grains. Each having it’s own unique flavor and texture, they can be utilized in more than just bread. I’ve been making grain salads for lunch, with fresh chopped veggies, like peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh herbs. To replace our morning bowl of cereal, we’ve been making flourless oat pancakes, hot spelt porriage and oatmeal with dry fruit.

More and more we hear about folks with gluten allergies. I could venture to guess that the overuse of wheat in our culture has brought this on, but who can say. Those with wheat allergies or an intolerance could benefit from some non-wheat ideas, as could those of us who realize we’d like to eat more of a variety of different types of foods. Every food has a different nutritional profile, so eating a variety of foods not only makes for an interesting life, but also provides the body with an assortment of the essential nutrients for optimal health.

Here are a few different interesting grains you may or may not be familiar with. As I’ve mentioned before, it is ideal to soak your grains prior to cooking, so as to reduce the phytic acid that inhibits mineral absorption. A couple hours is better than nothing, but 4-8 hours is ideal. I just put my grains in a mason jar on the counter the night before. As Jamie Oliver would say, “easy peasy”.

Oats in their whole form are called oat groats. They can be cooked whole and added to vegetable or green salads. High in protein, a half cup can contribute nearly a quarter of your daily requirement.

Steel cut oats are the groat cut into small pieces. These make a nice oatmeal or soaked and ground for pancakes.

Oat flakes are what we call rolled oats. Not only is it delicious as a breakfast hot cereal, it makes lovely granola, mixed with melted butter, honey and nuts and baked until crisp. I like to boost the nutrition in baked goods by adding oats to cookies, muffins, bread and in meatloaf, instead of bread.

Oat flour make a wonderful substitute for wheat flour in many baked goods. But because it does not contain gluten, it will not bind like wheat, making for a crumbly product.

(not gluten-free, but many people with allergies to wheat can tolerate)
Spelt in it’s whole form is called either spelt or farro. As with oat groats, spelt makes a nice addition to salads. A nice combination is spelt, belegin endive, tangerine and goat cheese. Or roasted vegetables with spelt, wilted spinach and pine nuts.

Spelt flakes make a nice addition to a pot of oatmeal, or use like you would normally with oats.

Spelt flour replaces wheat flour beautifully in all recipes, because it does contain gluten.

Quinoa is not actually a grain, but a seed and most often used in it’s whole form. Because it has a balance of all the essential amino acids, it is a complete protein. Before cooking, rinse with water to remove the naturally-occuring saponins, which give a bitter taste. The quick cooking time makes this whole grain an ally for last minute dinners. Use as you would with rice, in salads, as a pilaf or a simple side dish.

Like quinoa, amaranth is a seed rather than a true grain. And like quinoa, it is most often used in it’s whole form. It is packed with iron and calicium and has triple the fiber of wheat. It is also easy to digest, making it beneficial for those recovering from illness or transitioning from a fast. Use like you would rice.

Most often used in it’s whole form, millet is a nice addition to any diet. It’s mild, almost nutty flavor goes well in salads, in baked goods and as a stand-in for rice. I like to toast it briefly before cooking, to retain it’s form and bring out the nuttiness. It also makes a great porriage.

Whole buckwheat is called buckwheat groats. Toasted groats are called kasha, commonly used in Russian cooking. Either toasted or not, buckwheat groats make a nice addition to salads or mixed with seasonal veggies for a hearty meal.

Buckwheat flour can be used for pancakes, used together with other grains for bread or made into a japanese pasta, called soba. Buckwheat is high in rutin, a flavonoid that protects against disease by strengthening capillaries and preventing blood clots.

No matter what the reasoning is, including various non-wheat grains into your diet is good idea. For fun or for health, cooking an assortment of grains breaks up the monotony of your everyday diet. I’m glad I did.

Steel-cut oat flour-less pancakes

2/3 cup steel cut oats
1/3 cup raw buckwheat groats
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
¾ cup water
1 egg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine oats, buckwheat, yogurt and water in blender jar. Cover and let soak overnight or 6-8 hours in the refrigerator.

Put blender bowl onto the base. Add remaining ingredients to grains and blend until smooth. Preheat a skillet. Pour about ¼ cup batter and cook for about 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Repeat until all batter is used.

(Recipe adapted from Cynthia Lair’s Cookus Interruptus)

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Categories: nutrition


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