Good carbs, which are derived from plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans and grains, are essential to our health. With the summer fruit and vegetable season still months away, now is the perfect time to experiment with grains.
Fruit, vegetables, beans and grains not only provide vital nutrients, but they also digest at a slower rate, thereby fortifying the digestive system with the fiber it needs to function properly. Good carbs also aid in controlling blood sugar levels and cholesterol, thus having a positive impact on our cardiovascular systems. Good carbs also play a role in the prevention of certain cancers.
Grains are all the buzz in the healthy-eating movement. They’re readily available in health food and specialty stores and even in supermarkets. Still, people tend to get caught up in worrying about the water-to-grain ratios, what they go well with, etc. My advice is to just experiment. One of the best ways to get your feet wet is to simply cook whole grains in water and taste them as is. Begin by taking a big pot of water, bring it to a boil, salt it a little if you like, and add your grains, cooking them according to the package’s directions (if they exist). Over time, you’ll learn to adjust the cooking time to achieve the texture and chewiness you prefer. If directions are not included, simply cook the grains until they are tender enough to enjoy.
The next step is to drain the grains and taste them. Determine if you’d like them hot, perhaps with butter and Parmesan. Maybe they’d be better chilled, with some diced vegetables and a little vinaigrette to create a grain salad. Or, maybe the grain tastes like another variety you have had in an application, and you think it might work equally as well.
As for introducing whole-grain pasta (or anything for that matter) to your family’s diet, take it in steps. Kids will notice if there’s a sudden switch. Maybe start with half the amount of pasta you regularly use and substitute whole-grain for the other half. Adjust the amounts over time until you’ve made the switch.
This month, I’m sharing a few dishes that simply let the grains be themselves, allowing for all of their “whole-grain” goodness to shine.
Golden Wheat Berry Stew with Chicken and Wild Mushrooms
Wheat berries have been around for some time; you’ve probably seen cooked wheat berry salads at local delis. To make this stew, cook hard golden winter wheat in chicken broth. (You can make enough for an army and freeze some for later use.) The next step is to sweat some chicken, mushrooms and aromatic vegetables for a little while in order to develop some flavor. Then, simmer the ingredients in the broth and toss in some cooked wheat berries. What you get is a hearty soup or stew-like dish that’s ready in a matter of minutes as opposed to hours.
Quinoa Crab Salad
Sometimes even just a little cooked grain added to light, bright, simple salads can deliver amazing results. Such is the case with quinoa, which is the perfect ingredient for a Yucatan-style salad of crab, avocado, cucumber, onion, tomato, pomelo (a grapfruit-like citrus that is sweet and mild) and lime. I added a bit of cilantro and olive oil and then a few spoonfuls of the delicate grain. Aside from adding a huge shot of nutrients, the grain helps hold the delicate dressing that results on the crab, fruit and vegetables a little better, making each spoonful even more flavorful.
Chia Seed Pudding
When I learned about this no-cook, overnight “chia seed pudding,” I had to give it a try. I didn’t necessarily do it for the health factor, but rather because it appealed to my lazy side. You simply take this “super grain” (actually it’s a seed), and pour it into a flavorful, milk-type base (roughly 1/4 cup of chia to 1 cup of your liquid). Pop it into the fridge, and bingo, the next day it is a thickened, tapioca-like pudding that is absolutely delicious. It’s fun to eat, too, thanks to the swelled kiwi-like seeds that pop when you eat them.
The possibilities are endless. For example, you can use coconut and yogurt to create a healthy, easy-to-make breakfast. I decided to go in more of a dessert direction and used part coconut liquor (think Coco Lopez), part unsweetened coconut milk and part milk to create the pudding. You can lighten up the pudding even more by folding in some whipped cream before serving. And, if you want to make it with stevia, almond milk and organic coconut extract, have at it. Layer it with some ripe, diced, tropical fruit and top it with shavings of coconut, and you have a yummy parfait.