Earlier this month, we provided some suggestions on how to get the New Year off to a good and healthy start. One piece of advice on the list of suggestions was to make an attempt to incorporate more whole grains into the diet, certainly something that sounds admirable on paper but unless you know what that means and how to go about it, it’s left as just another resolution and not something that you’re actually going to do. Some of you may already be hip to grains and we hope that you’ll keep reading on, or if nothing else, at least pass on the message to your grain-phobe friends.
According to the Whole Grains Council, studies have shown that just eating one serving of whole grains a day greatly decreases your risk for diseases such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease, not to mention helping you fit back into your skinny jeans. That being said, sometimes it’s tough to know what whole grains are and what to do with them in the kitchen and for that reason, we’ve created a little whole grains cheat sheet and some recipes to help get acquainted (or reacquainted) with some of our favorite grains.
Quinoa – A grain that cooks similarly to rice, once it heats through it transforms from seed-like to light and fluffy in texture and develops a delightfully satisfying pop with each bite. On a healthy note, it’s packed with protein and easily fits on the table as a simple side dish or can be made into a main course with the addition of meat, fish or chicken.
Bulgur Wheat – Little brown pebbles that once heated in water, broth or even milk, make for a deliciously creamy dish that still maintains a bit of texture. When cooked in milk and cinnamon, a handful of dried cranberries or fresh fruit added just before serving, bulgur makes for a healthy breakfast alternative. When slowly simmered in tomato sauce, herbs and wine, it makes for a tasty little side dish that rivals polenta. If that isn’t enough of a reason to give this grain a try, the fact that it contains more fiber than most whole grains might help persuade you.
Millet – Not something you see on restaurant menus or in most homes but don’t let that dissuade you. Millet has a terrific snap to it and it’s packed with antioxidants. I’ve found that the best use for millet is when a generous handful of it is thrown into muffin batter just before baking for a unique textural addition.
Wheat Berries – An extra hearty grain that has a lot of bite, the grain itself imparts a nutty quality to your dish. We think this grain works best in salads and soups and because it takes a little while to cook, we recommend making a large batch of it so that you can enjoy leftovers for lunch.
Pomegranate Cranberry Quinoa Salad
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- Juice of 1/2 an orange
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tbs. slivered almonds
To make the quinoa, you can use one of two methods: rice cooker method or on a stovetop. (You cook quinoa the same way you cook rice: using two parts liquid to one part quinoa.) For the stove top method, start by bringing the chicken stock to a boil. Add the quinoa, cover and reduce heat to low. Let the quinoa simmer until the liquid has evaporated. For the rice cooker method, add the stock and quinoa, cover and hit start. Once the quinoa is done, set it aside and let it cool slightly. Add some olive oil to prevent clumping. Once the quinoa has cooled slightly, add the orange juice and cranberries. Toss to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste. Gently mix in the pomegranate seeds and top with almonds. Serve either warm, room temperature or cold. In addition, pulled chicken would be great in here or for an entirely vegetarian option, you could substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock.
Bulgur "Oatmeal" with Chia Seeds and Fresh Berries
- 1 cup bulgar wheat
- 1/4 cup cranberries
- 1/2 cup Vanilla Greek Yogurt
- 1 cinnamon stick Brown Sugar, to taste
- A generous pinch of salt
- 5-6 fresh berries, rinsed
- Chia Seeds for topping
Heat a pan to medium high heat and add the bulgar and then add just enough water to completely cover the wheat. Keep some extra water handy because you’ll probably need to add some more as the water gets absorbed. Add the cranberries and cinnamon stick along with the salt and brown sugar. (Alternatively, you could just use a couple pinches of cinnamon if you don’t have cinnamon sticks) Let the pot simmer until the bulgur gets soft but still has some bite to it (about 25-30 minutes). Remove the cinnamon stick and add the Greek yogurt. Stir to combine and adjust flavors if needed. Serve warm and top with fresh berries or other fruit and sprinkle Chia seeds or flax seeds on top.
Whole Wheat Banana - Currant Millet Muffins
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup All-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup millet
- 3 Tbs. Baking Powder
- 1 tsp Baking Soda
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/4 cup dried currants
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 3 ripe bananas, mashed
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter and flour muffin tins. In a medium size bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flours, millet, baking powder, baking soda, salt, currants, cinnamon and ginger. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients: banana, maple syrup, egg, buttermilk and vanilla. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry and only mix until just combined. Pour into muffin tins and bake until a toothpick entered into the center of the muffin comes out clean (about 30 minutes). Store in an airtight container.
Chicken Cranberry Wheat Berry Salad
- 2 cups wheat berries, rinsed
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Meyer lemon, zested + juiced (or regular lemon will do)
- 2 chicken breasts
- Extra Virgin olive oil (enough to lightly coat the chicken)
- 1 ear of corn, cooked and the corn cut from the cob (frozen corn works here too)
- 2 tsp fresh Rosemary
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup pistachios, toasted
- Sliced green onions
- Salt and pepper to taste
Start by adding the water, wheat berries, lemon zest and the bay leaf to a pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for about 2-3 hours, keeping an eye on the pan and adding more water if needed. Cook until the wheat berries have softened and they start to split open a bit. While the wheat berries are cooking, coat the chicken in a little extra virgin olive oil and some salt and pepper. Place onto a baking sheet and bake at 400 until the chicken is cooked through and not pink in the center. Let the chicken cool and then using a fork, shred the chicken into bite sized bits. Once the wheat berries are done, add the chicken, rosemary, corn and cranberries. Stir to combine and add the fresh lemon juice. Add the toasted pistachios and top with the sliced green onions. You can serve it immediately while still warm, enjoy at room temperature or have it cold.
Contributed by Chefs Richard Chudy and Katie Barszcz of The Skinny Beet. A native Bostonian, Richard Chudy graduated from the Professional Chef’s Program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in 2007 and started a private chef business. When he’s not busy in the kitchen, he runs Boston Burger Blog, his ongoing quest for the perfect burger in Boston. Katie started her blog, The Small Boston Kitchen, in December of 2009 as a way to document her hours spent in the kitchen, as well as her eating adventures throughout the Greater Boston area. In January 2011, Katie attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, where she received her Culinary Certificate. Katie co-owns a personal chef and catering business, The Skinny Beet