Local Bounty: Whole Grains
The New Year's resolution too good to break
Posted Thursday, January 5, 2012, 12:00PM
Photos By: Caron Golden
Just as surely as night follows day and retailers hold 60 percent off sales the day after Christmas we mere mortals will begin creating lists of New Year’s resolutions that no doubt include items like working out regularly at the gym and eating healthy. And, within weeks, those resolutions will be relegated to so much paper or forgotten notes on our iPads.
But, I’m going to try to give you a little boost with at least the latter resolution with some suggestions of truly delicious grains that are easy to cook (and, yes, good for you—shhh). Each of these three also are inexpensive and quite versatile. Have them for breakfast as cereal, as a side dish with a protein like fish or meat, add them to soups and stews, create a salad, or fashion a one-dish meal. I found all of these grains at Sprouts and will give their prices in the bulk bins, but you can just as easily find them at Jimbo’s, Whole Foods, and many regular supermarkets. (So, no excuses!)
I first discovered wheat berries perhaps 15 years ago in the form of a salad served at a big Canadian tourism function up in Pasadena. They were unlike any grain I’d ever tasted—nutty and crunchy, with a deep, almost mysteriously forest-like flavor. I had to have them, but they were hard to find back then. Now, they’re a staple in my pantry at all of 99 cents a pound. Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels—from them comes flour. But this is wheat at its essence. My favorite way to prepare them is to boil them for an hour or so until they are just chewy. Drain and mix with a strong vinaigrette, chopped vegetables, and toasted nuts. For breakfast, drain, and add some milk, honey, cinnamon, and berries.
Get the bird seed image out of your head. These tiny yellow round seeds are a fantastic grain for humans to enjoy. The flavor is lighter than most grains and adapts easily to added flavors. Toast them briefly in a pan, then cook them as you would rice—using a one-to-two-ratio of grains to water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes until the water is absorbed. I made millet last week, riffing on a recipe in Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains cookbook. I sautéed sliced green onions in a saucepan with olive oil, then added the millet and fragrant Aleppo pepper, letting them cook together for about three minutes. Next, I added the water and a little dash of sea salt. The dish accompanied a salmon fillet drizzled with homemade sriracha sauce. You can add herbs in the cooking process. You can add diced and sautéed vegetables. It’s all good—and cheap at $1.49 a pound.
Barley is actually a recent addition to my whole grains side dish repertoire. For years I just thought of it as the perfect winter soup ingredient. Who doesn’t love earthy mushroom barley soup? But beyond the thickness and chewiness it adds to soup, barley has a wonderfully nutty flavor that shines when featured on its own. Look for hulled barley, which no longer has the inedible outer hull but still has the bran and germ—as opposed to pearl barley, which has been steam processed to remove the bran. Make barley risotto or pilaf, use it as a stuffing for winter squash or bell peppers. Create a grain salad, with chicken or pork or fish mixed in. And, of course, add it to soups and stews. Pearl barley at Sprouts is 99 cents a pound. I bought organic hulled barley at Jimbo’s for $1.59 a pound.