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The Cookstr 10: Ten Recipes Starring Whole Grains

February 15, 2011

We’ve heard about them for years. We know they are good for us, and that we should eat more of them. And anyone who has dipped a toe (or a spoon or a fork) into the world of barley and brown rice and quinoa knows how incredibly satisfying and versatile whole grains are. If you’re not yet acquainted with whole grains, don’t be nervous; we’re here to shed some light.

George Geary's Honey Whole Wheat Sunflower Bread

According to the Whole Grains Council, “Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed.” Translation: the closer grains are to the being in their whole, natural state, the more good stuff we are going to reap by eating them. Studies show that eating whole grains instead of refined grains may help lower the risk of many chronic diseases, including reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. And because whole grains are chock full of fiber, they do such a good job of filling you up that you may be less inclined to overeat, and you’ll feel fuller longer.

Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner's Quinoa Tabbouleh

Plus, they taste amazing (and that’s what really counts, right?). Those of us who are trying to find more meat-free dishes to round out our diets–but still crave texture, flavor, and something to sink our teeth into–are falling in love with the seemingly endless ways these grains can entertain us in the kitchen and on the plate. Because we’re not just talking about whole wheat; we’re talking about amaranth, barley, corn (including popcorn!), oats, farro, sorghum, millet, spelt, bulgur, wheatberries, cracked wheat, brown rice and wild rice, quinoa, rye, and teff…just to name a few. But now we turn it over to the recipes themselves, and you’ll see why whole grains are taking their rightful place center stage.

Kim Boyce's Granola Bars

1. Bonnie Tandy Leblang and Joanne Lamb Hayes’ Basic Brown Rice. Many of us need a 101 lesson in cooking some of these whole grains, and brown rice is first on our list to master. Trading in brown rice for plain old white rice is one of the simplest ways to get more whole grains happening at the table, and since there’s so much more bang for your buck nutritionally, it seems almost silly not to. Check out the various methods of preparing brown rice and find your favorite.

2. Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner’s Quinoa Tabbouleh. Whole grain quinoa is a crazy nutritional powerhouse. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, and packed with protein and fiber, it’s a vegetarian’s best friend. When cooked, it has a light and fluffy texture, and a lightly nutty flavor. Here it’s swapped in for bulgur in a traditional fresh Middle Eastern salad.

3. Antony Worrall Thompson’s Celtic Lamb and Barley Soup. Whole grains are a definitely a boon to vegetarians because so many of them sport a high protein content, but they are also excellent partners to meats of all kinds. The slow-simmered meat in this homey soup is shredded and added back to the broth for a meal that’s absurdly comforting. And if you’re looking for something to have ready to go after a day of skiing or sledding, this is it.

4. Judy Bart Kancigor’s Kasha (with or without the Varnishkes). Buckwheat is a mainstay grain in many cultures, sometimes ground into flour and turned into soba noodles (Japanese) or crepes (French). It’s a staple in Jewish and Slavic cooking, where it’s usually called kasha. Varnishkes are just the name for bowtie noodles in Yiddish. Toasting the buckwheat groats before simmering them gives them an even more appealing, earthy toothsomeness.

5. Alfred Portale’s Farro, Chicken, and Avocado Salad wtih Lime Vinaigrette. Farro is often called spelt here in the U.S., and while we are just discovering its many charms, the Italians have been creating farro masterpieces for centuries. The word nutty comes up often when describing whole grains, and is accurate to use when describing farro as well. This is a very clean salad, a toss of simply cooked ingredients with a perky vinaigrette; an ideal way to introduce yourself to a new grain.

6. George Geary’s Honey Whole Wheat Sunflower Bread. What a cheery name for such a delicious bread. Sweetened with honey and dotted with crunchy sunflower seeds, this gently textured loaf is lovely for breakfast toast, for sandwiches, and all the way through dinner.

7. Judith Finlayson’s Mushroom Soup with Millet. Millet is a really amazing grain (actually, a member of the grass family). It can be cooked as a cereal, made into flour, served as a side dish, made into pilafs or stuffings, and even popped like corn! It’s super rich in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, easy to digest, and has a slightly sweet nutty flavor. Here the grains are lightly toasted and spiked with some Asian seasonings, then transferred to a slow cooker for a different take on mushroom-barley soup that’s sure to kick winter’s butt.

8. Michele Urvater’s Brown Rice, Currant, and Walnut Casserole. We love a dish that doesn’t depend on precision timing, that forgives us for not starting the salad until the last minute, and sits nicely while waiting for us to wrangle everyone to the table. This is an excellent example, and even has the added attributes of being vegetarian-adaptable (chickpeas or tofu instead of meat), and malleable in terms of what seasonings appeal.

9. Kim Boyce’s Granola Bars. Granola bars have become a staple in our lives: packed into kids’ lunches, tucked into a gym bag, an on-the-go breakfast. But once you churn out a pan of your very own, you will see what they are really supposed to taste like. Like so many whole grain recipes, these can be varied according to the grains you like or have on hand, and the chew of raisins contrasting with the toasted oats make for some seriously satisfying snacking.

10. Lou Seibert Pappas’s Four-Grain Fitness Pancakes. So, besides eating the whole grains whole, eating things made with whole grain flours is another way to get at all of the good stuff. These pancakes pack a wallop of flavor, and use an array of flours from rye to whole wheat to cornmeal. You can play around with add-ins like nuts or seeds to give them your own special touch.

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