Isn’t it ironic that we live in the Grain Belt of Canada and produce some of the world’s finest grains, but we rarely eat those grains until they’re processed? For the longest time, I didn’t even know you could cook raw wheat kernels just as they are. The only thing I ever ate out of the grain bin was a handful of flax that my older sister dared me to eat, promising it was just like gum – it’s not, don’t try it!
Eating whole grains is much healthier than eating refined grain products like bread, cookies, muffins, pastry, pasta and breakfast cereals. In an article reviewing the latest research on whole grains, Canadian registered dietitian Rosie Schwartz summarizes that “… besides offering protection against weight gain, compared to refined grains, whole grains are linked to a defence against a variety of ills including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.”
The difference between whole grains and refined grains is that whole grains have all their components intact – the bran, the germ and the endosperm. This means whole grains, unlike refined grains, offer the full complement of fibre, vitamins and nutrients that are so beneficial to our health.
Given their health benefits and the fact that they’re grown right here, let’s embrace our local grains and make them a star player on our dinner plates. These large grains cook up into plump kernels that retain their shape, very much like rice. They’re perfect for side dishes, soups and salads and in any recipe calling for plain white rice.
Despite being surrounded by grain fields, be sure to get clean, food grade grains for cooking. You’ll find them at bulk food or health food stores. And when buying gluten-free grains, (see GF below), always read the package to ensure there is no risk of cross-contamination with wheat products:
- Bulgur – crushed and partially cooked wheat, typically made from durum wheat.
- Hulled barley – whole barley kernels where only the outer hull has been removed. Pearl and pot barley are not whole grains because much of their bran has been removed.
- Hulled oats (GF) – whole oat kernels where only the outer hull has been removed. Steel cut and rolled oats of all sizes are also whole grains, but they become more porridge-like when cooked.
- Quinoa (GF) – a small seed that is one of a few plant-based sources of complete protein.
- Wheat berries – wheat kernels from any variety of wheat (hard/soft, spring/winter, red/white). Kamut, Spelt, Farro/Emmer, and Einkorn are names of old varieties of wheat.
- Whole grain rice (GF) – brown, black or red rice with the germ and bran intact.
- Wild rice (GF) – a seed from an aquatic grass with twice the protein and fibre of whole grain rice.
Cooking whole grains is just like cooking rice. Rinse with cold water, place water and grain in a large pot, cover and boil. Then reduce heat and simmer until grain is tender, anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes. The bigger and harder the grain, the longer the cooking time and the more water is needed. Those grains that have been crushed, precooked or rolled take less time than those that have not. For example, wheat berries will take up to an hour to cook while quinoa and bulgur take only 10 to 15 minutes.
One way to save time is to cook a double batch and freeze extras in pre-measured amounts. They freeze and thaw beautifully, making it easy to pull them out of the freezer for quick, healthy dinners.
Here are two colourful and tasty recipes to try.
A traditional Middle Eastern dish that goes well with soup, pitas or kabobs. For gluten free, try quinoa, brown rice or hulled oats.
- 1/2 c. bulgur wheat
- 1 c. boiling water
- 2 bunches flat-leaf parsley
- 1 bunch mint (approx. 1/3 c.)
- 2 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and finely diced
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- 4 tbsp. olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
Pour boiling water over bulgur in a shallow bowl. Use a fork to quickly stir the water into the wheat, set aside for 10 minutes. Fluff the wheat with a fork, place lid over bowl and set aside.
Meanwhile, wash parsley and mint. Dry completely and chop finely. Combine with tomatoes, cucumber, green onion and bulgur.
Drizzle olive oil, lemon juice on top and add in salt and pepper, to taste.
Stir well and let flavours blend for 30 minutes.
Recipe source: Manitoba registered dietitian, Nita Sharda of www.carrotsandcake.ca
Mediterranean Wheat Berry Salad with Chickpeas
A tasty colourful salad that will keep you feeling full for a long time. Put in a mason jar and take it on the tractor. For gluten free, try buckwheat, brown rice or quinoa.
- 1 c. wheat berries
- 2 c. chickpeas
- 1/2 long cucumber, diced in small cubes
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced in cubes
- 1/2 c. shredded red cabbage
- 1/2 red onion, diced in cubes
- 1/4 c. kalamata olives
- 1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
- 3 tbsp. canola oil
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice or red wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. ground pepper
In large pot, add wheat with four cups water. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 60 minutes or until wheat is tender. Drain any remaining water and rinse under cold water to cool wheat. Drain well.
In a large bowl mix chickpeas, cucumbers, tomatoes, red cabbage, red onion and cooked wheat.
Combine dressing ingredients in tightly sealed jar and shake vigorously. Pour over salad ingredients.
Top salad with olives, feta and parsley. Serve and enjoy. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to three days.
Recipe source: www.gettystewart.com