Nutritious Super Grains
Prepared well, grains are tasty, full of texture and extremely nutritious. According to healthy eating guidelines, we should all eat more starchy carbohydrate foods – and grains fit the bill perfectly. They are an excellent source of energy, low in fat and good protein providers.
In their unrefined form (with the outer husks intact) grains area good source of fiber and so promote a healthy digestive system. Nutritionists agree that most of us need to obtain more fiber from cereals, as a high consumption is associated with a lower incidence of constipation and other digestive disorders, including diverticulitis and bowel cancer. The fiber in cereals also helps to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream, creating more steady energy levels and possibly reducing the risk of diabetes.
Grain products are a good source of the B complex vitamins which are needed for energy release in cells and to maintain a healthy nervous system. They also supply minerals such as calcium (essential for strong bones and teeth), zinc (an important nutrient for a strong immune system and healthy skin), and iron (helpful in combating anemia).
Facts About Grains
Grains have some amazing qualities, specifically:
- Pearl barley soothes inflammation both in the intestines and the urinary tract, and it lowers the level of cholesterol because it blocks its passage into the liver.
- Millet is one of the most nutritious cereals in the world because it is high in protein and low in starch. An added benefit is that it doesn’t give you wind!
- Buckwheat is high in rutin which strengthens the capillaries which can help stave off frostbite and chilblains. Rutin also helps prevent hardening of the arteries, and is useful in the treatment of high blood pressure.
Do you have someone in the family who is allergic to wheat or intolerant of gluten? Completely gluten-free grains or grain products include:
Wheatgerm is the most nutritious part of the wheat grain and a great source of fatty acids and vitamin E (a vital antioxidant which may protect against cancer and heart disease). Sprinkle it over cereal, salads and soups for an extra health boost.
Know Your Grains
It’s not just a choice of white or brown – rice comes in many shapes and may be classified according to the length of the grain. Long-grain varieties tend to stay separate when cooked, whereas shorter grain varieties are more likely to be sticky and clump together. Here are some interesting types to look out for:
- Arborio: A medium-grain absorbent rice which is the basis of risottos.
- Basmati: A long-grain, aromatic rice, typically used in Indian dishes.
- Glutinous: A sticky rice with a slightly sweet flavor, ideal for Chinese recipes.
- Jasmine: A fragrant rice, similar to basmati, but with a stickier texture.
- Wild rice: A grass rather than a rice, with long black ‘grains’. Its firm texture works well mixed with other rice and in salads.
Although pearl barley has been processed it provides more fiber than brown rice. It needs to be cooked for at least an hour and doesn’t require pre-soaking. It can be used as a slightly chewier replacement for rice, or can be added to soups or stews to make them more substantial.
Buckwheat has a distinctive, pleasant nutty flavor, especially when roasted. You can roast it yourself by dry-frying it in a heavy-based pan, or you can buy it ready roasted (called kasha) in health stores. Cook the whole seeds, or groats for 15 to 30 minutes (until tender) and serve as an accompaniment in the same way as rice or pasta. Or you can use the flour in recipes that call for it – such as authentic French crepes or Russian blinis.
Bulgur (Cracked Wheat)
This is wheat that has been cooked, then dried and crushed, to produce golden grains that look a little like demerara sugar. Bulgur is really quick and easy to prepare – it simply needs soaking in about double its volume of boiling water for about 10 minutes. It is the basis for the Lebanese dish tabbouleh, and can be used in all types of salads, or heated through to be served hot.
Couscous is made from tiny particles of hard wheat processed into pellets. Most couscous is pre-cooked and can be prepared simply by adding boiling water. A superb way to prepare couscous is in a steamer above a simmering casserole or stew; the couscous will absorb some of the flavor and the two can be served together.
Round, golden millet grains cook in just 8 to 10 minutes, but for extra flavor, it’s worth toasting the grains before you boil them. Millet can be used in all the same savory ways as rice, and it makes a deliciously nutritious ‘Porridge’ or creamy pudding.
Polenta is corn (maize) that has been ground to a meal. It can vary in texture from very coarse (like wheat grains), to fine (like flour). It is cooked by sprinkling it onto boiling water and simmering for 5 to 40 minutes, depending on whether it has been pre-treated to make it cook quickly – check the packet for details. You can serve it wet, as a puree, or you can allow it to set and then grill or fry it for added flavor.
Pronounced ‘keenwa’ and known amongst the ancient Aztecs for its sustaining properties, quinoa is a good vegetarian source of protein. It is also particularly rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids – required for healthy skin and hormone production. Boil quinoa for 15 minutes (two parts water to one part quinoa). It is excellent with stir-fries and salads.
Ways With Grains
The star ingredients in these recipes are grains that you may not have eaten or cooked before. Try them and discover how easy it is to increase the number of nutritious grains in your diet.
To make Tabbouleh, place 75 g bulgur wheat in a large bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Drain well and stir in 4 deseeded and diced plum tomatoes, 4 finely chopped spring onions, 1 crushed garlic clove, 4 tbsp chopped fresh mint, 4 tbsp chopped parsley, 3 tbsp olive oil, juice of 1 lemon and season.
For Lemon And Herb Couscous, pour 300 ml of boiling water over 225 g couscous. Add the rind and juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste. Allow to stand for 5 minutes or until tender, then stir in 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander. Serve with roasted vegetables or lamb or beef casserole.
Make delicious Fried Rice With Vegetables by cooking 225 g long grain rice until tender. Drain and spread out on a large plate to cool. Heat 30 ml vegetable oil in a large pan or wok, add 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 thinly sliced red pepper, 50 g peas, 75 g sliced mushrooms and 2 thinly sliced spring onions. Stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes then add 1 tbsp light soy ssuce, seasoning and the rice and continue cooking for 3 to 5 minutes.