Kick-start a healthy diet by cooking with nutrient-rich grains

October 20, 2014

They may not be households words yet, but grains like freekeh, farro and quinoa, are becoming more popular as health-conscious consumers rediscover these ancient foods.

Used for centuries by different cultures, many of these grains are finding a new place in the American diet, largely because they are loaded with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Some of the grains are also gluten-free and can be ground into flour.

The grains blend easily into everyday meals, like salads, side dishes and baked goods.

At Sierra Nut House in north Fresno, Calif., owner JoAnn Sorrenti has long been a believer in the ancient grains. She stocks several types, including quinoa, freekeh and bulgur.

"I tried selling these 35 years ago and nobody bought them," Sorrenti says with a laugh. "Now, things have really turned around."

The shop’s bistro regularly uses grains in its salads and recently, Chef Adrianna Oropeza prepared two grain salads: freekeh with orange and fennel; and quinoa and pumpkin.

"What I like about these grains is that not only are they healthy and good for you," Oropeza says. "But you can also mix them in with seasonal fruits and vegetables."

Oropeza says the grains vary in texture and are somewhat chewy and nutty in flavor. And cooking grains is not as difficult as you may think.

"In a lot of ways, it is just like cooking rice," she says. "You cook it until the water is absorbed."

She likes to cook grains with chicken broth for added flavor. And at home, she adds quinoa in her salads and soups.

Nutritionists say the ancient grains have stood the test of time for a reason. Amaranth has long been used in Mexico and contains more than three times the average amount of calcium. It is also high in iron, magnesium and is gluten-free. Cooked amaranth has a slight crunch, but remains soft on the inside.

Barley and bulgur are fiber rich at 17 percent and 20 percent. They are also easy to cook and are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is a complete protein and is loaded with iron, vitamin B2 and manganese.

Freekeh is a wheat that has been harvested early and is roasted. It’s high in fiber and has a low glycemic index, making it attractive to diabetics. It has a similar flavor to bulgur with a firm, chewy texture.

Farro is prized for its nutty, cashew-like flavor, and is high in protein and calcium.

As chefs and home cooks are catching on to the grain craze, a few California farmers are also trying their hand at growing the crops.

Victoria Martinez of Ancient Grains Farm in Temecula, Calif., has planted amaranth, quinoa and chia. The family run farm was launched last year and is harvesting its first crop this fall.

"We see the demand and we understand the health benefits," Martinez says. "And as more people learn how to use the ancient grains and seeds, we will see even more of a demand."

Martinez cooks a large pot of quinoa at the beginning of the week and uses its in stir fry dishes, salads and mixed in with greens. She also eats warm quinoa for breakfast by adding coconut milk, agave syrup and a stick of cinnamon, nuts and fruit.



2 cups freekeh

2 cups chicken broth

1 fennel bulb sliced

2 oranges peeled and sliced

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup flat leaf parsley chopped

1/2 cup almonds, toasted and slivered (Garnish for the top)

Vinaigrette Dressing:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring chicken broth to a boil, add freekeh and simmer until broth is absorbed. Put aside.

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet on medium heat. Saute the fennel for approximately 5-8 minutes.

Combine all of the remaining ingredients.

In a medium bowl whisk the dressing and pour over the salad.

Garnish with the almonds.

Adrianna Oropeza, Sierra Nut House Bistro & Wine Bar


2 cups quinoa

3 cups chicken broth

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

3 cups pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 cubes

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup flat leaf parsley chopped

1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Vinaigrette Dressing:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red vinegar

1 tablespoon mustard

1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring chicken broth to a boil, add quinoa and simmer until broth is absorbed. Put aside.

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet on medium heat. Saute the pumpkin for approximately 10-15 minutes.

Combine all of the remaining ingredients.

In a medium bowl whisk the dressing and pour over the salad.

Adrianna Oropeza, Sierra Nut House Bistro & Wine Bar


2 medium bananas, mashed

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup agave syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 cup quinoa flour

1/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup amaranth flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 5-by-7-inch loaf pan. Mix together the bananas, coconut oil, honey, vanilla and eggs until completely combined. Add in all the flours, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and stir until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

Pour the mixture, which should be pretty wet, into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the chopped almonds evenly over the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a knife comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes and then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Keep tightly wrapped for up to 3 days.

Victoria Martinez, Ancient Grains Farm


1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup coconut butter or oil

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup cocoa powder

3/4 cup agave syrup

1/4 cup coconut milk yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, separated

1 cup organic quinoa flour

1/8 cup amaranth flour

1/8 cup coconut flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in a medium size saucepan, then add water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder, coconut oil and agave until dissolved, set aside to cool.

Combine quinoa flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and sift together. Separate egg whites into a medium size bowl and set aside. Add egg yolks, coconut yogurt and vanilla extract to the bowl with the flour, along with the cooled cocoa mixture and mix until well combined.

Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry, then fold them into batter until well combined. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes.

Victoria Martinez, Ancient Grains Farm



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