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How to get more whole grains in your diet

March 14, 2016

A common refrain among those who urge us to adopt a healthy diet is to eat more whole grains.

But the reality is that many whole grains take longer to cook. So if you’re a busy adult trying to quickly pull together meals, whole grains can seem out of reach. Switching from white bread to whole wheat bread is easy. Opting for brown rice, steel-cut oats or wheat berries can seem daunting.

Boston-based food writer and cookbook author Maria Speck challenges the notion that it’s hard to get more whole grains on the table. Speck grew up with a muesli-loving German father and a polenta-loving Greek mother. Her family’s meals regularly included whole grains, a practice she has continued as an adult.

"Grains were on our table — simply as good food," Speck said.

In the United States, whole grains are lumped in with the diet food.

"We have to stop calling grains healthy," Speck said. Instead, we should celebrate everything that whole grains bring to the table, such as interesting colors, textures and flavors. She can talk eloquently about chewy whole wheat, delicate quinoa, plump barley, tangy rye, earthy buckwheat and sweet oats.

Speck’s latest book, "Simply Ancient Grains," attempts to share the tricks she has used for years to incorporate whole grains into meals on a nightly basis. Here is her advice:

Turn to quick grains: Many grains can be made in about 15 minutes. The most familiar are couscous and bulgur, which only have to be added to boiling water and left to sit for 10 minutes. Other grains, such as millet, quinoa, teff and cracked freekeh, also can be cooked in 10 to 20 minutes. These are great go-to ingredients for weeknight meals.

Make-ahead grains: One way to eat more of those whole grains that take longer to cook is to make a batch of them on the weekends. Those cooked grains, like barley, rye, wheat berries and sorghum, can become the basis for salads, soups and even muffins on hectic weeknights. "If you have these in the fridge, you will be surprised how you will use them," Speck said. (Cooked grains will keep for seven days in the refrigerator.)

Freeze cooked grains: Make a batch of whole grains and freeze them in portion sizes. They will keep for several months.

Soak ahead: Many whole grains can be soaked ahead to cut down on the cooking time. Muesli with its raw oats can be added to yogurt the night before and enjoyed in the morning. Boiling water can be poured over amaranth and left to soak at night to make breakfast porridge. Polenta can even be soaked overnight and cooked in 10 minutes instead of the usual hour of stirring; that neat trick was labeled a "genius recipe" on the Food 52 website.

Speck hopes that distilling her knowledge will inspire others to pick up her book or try one of her recipes. She hopes you think: "Wow. I can do this. It’s easy."

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FRITTATA MUFFINS FOR ANY GRAIN

From "Simply Ancient Grains," by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, preferably red or black

2 cups fresh or frozen peas (do not thaw)

3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Grana Padano cheese, Parmesan or sharp cheddar, plus 1/4 cup finely grated, for sprinkling

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (about 3)

1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped herbs, such as a mixture of mint and parsley or dill and mint

1 to 2 teaspoons minced serrano chile, veins and seeds removed for less heat (optional)

7 large eggs

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grounded black pepper

12 pitted salt-cured black Moroccan or green olives (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan, preferably nonstick, with olive oil or coat with cooking spray.

Place the quinoa, peas, shredded cheese, green onions, herbs and chile in a medium bowl and combine well with a fork. (If your grains are precooked, make sure to separate any clumps.) Divide equally among the muffin cups, about 1/3 cup for each, filling until almost full.

Place eggs in a large bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. (If using previously cooked salted grains and greens, only use 1/4 teaspoon salt.) Whisk well until foamy, about 30 seconds. Divide egg mixture into the cups, using about 1/4 cup for each. Sprinkle each muffin with about 1 teaspoon of the finely grated cheese and gently press in 1 olive (if using).

Bake until the frittata muffins puff up and turn light golden on top and golden brown around the edges, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool about 5 minutes. Using a knife or thin rubber spatula, carefully go around edges of each muffin to gently release from pan. Eat warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 12 muffins.

AMARANTH PORRIDGE WITH APRICOTS AND PINE NUTS

From "Simply Ancient Grains," by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

1 cup amaranth grains

3 tablespoons chopped dates

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons chopped soft dried apricots

Pinch of fine sea salt

1 tablespoon honey, or more as needed

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

2 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts, for garnish

Start the amaranth the night before: Add amaranth, dates and cinnamon stick to a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Pour the boiling water over it, cover, and allow to sit at room temperature overnight (or chill, covered, for up to 2 days.)

The next morning, finish the porridge: Add the milk, apricots and salt to the saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Uncover, stir well with a wooden spoon once, decrease the heat to maintain a lively bubble, and cook until the mixture starts to thicken, about 8 minutes. Stir thoroughly, scraping the bottom, and continue cooking at a simmer, stirring often, until amaranth is creamy, about 2 more minutes. The grains will swell and become translucent but maintain a little crunchiness.

Remove from heat, discard the cinnamon stick, and stir in the honey and orange zest. Taste and adjust sweetness with a bit more honey and milk, if desired. If you have time, cover and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve warm, garnished with pine nuts.

Yield: 4 servings.

MARIA SPECK’S MUESLI FORMULA

From "Simply Ancient Grains," by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

3 cups rolled oats or any other grain flakes, such as rye, barley, quinoa, spelt, wheat or a mixture

3/4 cup chopped nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or a mixture

1/2 cup seeds, such as sesame, flax, pumpkin or a mixture

1 cup chopped dried fruit, such as apricots, figs, dates, prunes or raisins

Pinch of fine sea salt

Add all the ingredients to a large bowl or combine them directly in a tall glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, shaking or stirring with a soup spoon. Muesli will last at room temperature for at least 4 weeks.

Classic: Add 1/2 cup muesli to a small bowl and stir in 1/4 cup yogurt, kefir, milk or cream. Cover and refrigerate overnight to soften the grain flakes. In the morning, stir in freshly grated apple, top with more fruit if you like, and squeeze on a bit of fresh lemon juice.

Everyday: Add 1/2 cup muesli to a small bowl and pour about 1/4 cup boiling water over it to soften the grain flakes. After 5 minutes or so, add a bit of whole milk, buttermilk, kefir or yogurt, top with any fresh fruit you have on hand.

Yield: 10 (1/2-cup) servings.

 

 





 



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