To Your Health!
Tasty and good for you, whole grains are a win-win.
The next time you walk through the grocery store, take a stroll down the aisle that stocks rice and you will see an amazing array of whole grains that may be unfamiliar, like teff, spelt, rye, millet and sorghum. Many of us are more familiar with oats, cornmeal, wild rice and barley.
According to the Whole Grains Council, whole grains are defined as those that have been minimally processed and retain all parts of the grain kernel: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. In contrast, refined grains are those that have been processed to remove the germ and bran, which means that just 15 percent of the grain retains its fiber and nutrients. Refined grains have a long shelf life because their essential oils have been removed, while the oil-rich germ in whole grains causes them to have a shorter shelf life and be prone to becoming rancid, so it is best to keep them refrigerated once opened.
Whole grains in general have seen a steady surge in popularity as consumers increasingly recognize their health benefits. Known as super foods, whole grains are packed with fiber, protein, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus and many other vital nutrients.
Dive into a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast and you will be doing your blood pressure and cholesterol level a favor. Eating whole grains is one of the best ways to support a healthy diet. Opting for brown or wild rice instead of the white version is a smart way to boost your intake of nutrients.
Consider serving grains as a base for vegetarian main dishes, adding ingredients like mushrooms, peppers and asparagus.
Farro and quinoa are also among my favorite grains to cook with. Farro, a wheat berry grown in Italy and the Middle East, is a protein-packed grain with a chewy texture and a nutty taste. Extremely versatile, farro can be used in dishes from soups to salads and as an integral part of vegetable and meat courses. Use it for stuffing cabbage rolls or add it to your meatloaf mix. Quinoa, an almost microscopic grain native to South America, is related to spinach and Swiss chard. Once known as the gold of the Incas, it contains all nine essential amino acids and is low in gluten.
Experiment with whole grains in baking, too. Who among us does not have our Granny’s recipe for oatmeal bread, cookies or muffins? How about adding oats to your favorite pancake mix?
Ramp up your cooking and baking with whole grains. There are so many ways to use them, plus they’re good for your health!
Farro and Vegetable Sauté
Serves 4 to 6
This nutritious farro and mixed vegetable dish can be served as either an entrée or a side.
1 cup farro
2 ½ cups chicken broth or water
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced onion
2 cups peeled and diced sweet potato
1 cup peeled and diced carrots
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons minced parsley
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
- Pour the farro into a medium-size pot and cover with the chicken broth or water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook covered until the farro is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well, place in a bowl and set aside.
- In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the onion, sweet potatoes and carrots and cook until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the zucchini and continue cooking until the zucchini is tender but not mushy. Stir in the cayenne, cumin and sweet paprika.
- Transfer mixture to the bowl with the farro. Combine well and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, cheese and parsley. Add the lemon juice and zest and combine well. Serve hot.
Granny’s Buttermilk Oatmeal Muffins
Makes about 2 dozen
These are my granny’s oatmeal muffins. As a kid, I loved them so much that I would snitch one or two when she wasn’t looking! They are very moist and not too sweet. Soaking the oatmeal in buttermilk for at least an hour (or even overnight) before combining with the rest of the ingredients results in super moist and tender muffins together.
2 cups rolled oats, not quick oats
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
Grated zest of one orange
1¾ cups packed light brown sugar
12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup diced dried dates
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake papers and set aside. (See note.)
- Combine the oats and buttermilk in a large bowl and allow to sit covered for 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight and bring to room temperature before continuing with recipe.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and orange zest in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Stir the brown sugar and eggs into the oatmeal mixture. Mix in the butter, vanilla and dates. Stir in the flour mixture.
- Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until tops of muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool muffins in the pan for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
NOTE: Besides standard cupcake papers, parchment paper cups can be used as well as larger-size muffin or popover pans.
Quinoa with Shrimp and Mixed Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6
Quinoa (keen-wah), a grain originating in South America that looks like tiny saucers, is gluten-free and light and fluffy with a nutty taste. It is the perfect foil for this slightly spicy shrimp dish.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
½ cup plain or tricolor quinoa
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups chicken broth
1 cup cooked snow peas
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons grated ginger
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
½ cup diced sweet bell pepper
1 cup yellow wax beans, cut and cooked
¼ pound cooked snow peas
½ cup white wine
Juice and zest of two limes
¼ cup minced parsley
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook until softened, then stir in quinoa and cook, stirring until it smells toasty and begins to brown. Stir in the broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the quinoa is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a platter; cover and keep warm.
- Using the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Add half the shrimp and cook until they begin to turn opaque and pink in color. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl. Add the last 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and cook the remaining shrimp. Transfer the shrimp to the bowl.
- Add the butter to the pan and, when melted, add the garlic and cook until softened. Add the ginger and peppers and continue cooking until the peppers begin to soften. Add the yellow wax beans and snow peas. Pour in the wine and stir to blend all the ingredients. Return the shrimp and any juices to the pan; stir in the lime juice, zest and parsley and season with salt and pepper.
- Scoop the shrimp mixture over the warmed quinoa and serve.
Barley, one of the oldest grains in existence, was used in ancient times to make a coarse type of bread from barley and wheat. It is a nutritious grain in this and other soups, and it has been historically used as an “extender” in main dishes. Pearl barley does not need presoaking before cooking whereas hulled barley
does need about two hours of presoaking prior to cooking.
1 cup pearl barley
4 cups beef broth
¼ pound Canadian bacon, diced
3½ tablespoons butter
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cups chopped escarole
Salt to taste
- Place the barley in a soup pot. Add the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower the heat to simmer. Cover and simmer until the barley is tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the bacon and when it begins to render its fat, stir in the carrot and celery. Cook until the bacon begins to brown, and then transfer everything to the pot with the barley and broth. Stir in the escarole. Bring the soup to a boil and cook an additional 10 minutes.
- Serve hot with whole wheat or pumpernickel bread.
Wild Rice Casserole
Serves 4 to 6
This comforting wild rice casserole oozes great taste and is the perfect accompaniment to meats, poultry and fish. Or just make it the main attraction and serve it with a crunchy lettuce salad.
1 cup wild rice
2½ cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped sweet red pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups thinly sliced button or shiitake mushrooms, or a combination of both
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup toasted slivered almonds
- Rinse the rice in a strainer and drain it well.
- Transfer the rice to a saucepan, add the broth and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and cover. Cook until tender, about 35 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- In a sauté pan, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery and red pepper and cook until softened. Stir in the garlic and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes. Add black pepper to taste.
- Mix the rice, vegetables and half the cheese together and spread in a buttered 2-quart casserole.
- Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake at 325ºF for 35 to 45 minutes. Uncover and spread the remaining cheese evenly over the top. Return it uncovered to the oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is hot and bubbly.
- Sprinkle the almonds over the top before serving.
Mary Ann Esposito’s most recent cookbook, “Ciao Italia: Plant, Harvest, Cook!,” takes the reader on a seasonal home garden vegetable journey focusing on simple growing tips for anyone interested in growing their own vegetables and how to cook them Italian style. Available wherever books are sold and on ciaoitalia.com.