Healthy Cooking Thursday – How Do I Make These Grains Delicious?

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Recently, Robyn (as well as the US government) suggested reducing refined grains for numerous healthy reasons.  But there’s a reason that many folks avoid barley, quinoa, millet, amaranth, oats, brown rice, and all their whole grain buddies; many people find them hard to make delicious, aside from adding tons of fat and sodium to them.  Here at Green Mountain at Fox Run, we’ve been serving up whole grains for decades, so we’ve got more than a few tricks up our chef coat sleeves to help you get more fiber and deliciousness out of your grain choices.

  • Puree vegetables in a food processor and add to the water you are cooking the grains in.  This makes an instant veggie stock and adds nutrients as well as flavor to the finished product.  A classic mirepoix of celery, carrots, and onions is great; try garlic and red peppers too, or pureed winter squash or sweet potatoes.  It’s a great way to use up leftover vegetables, salads, or sauces, such as marinara or salsa.
  • Add pesto to grains at the end of cooking.  Adding it too early will take away the fresh, bright flavor of the basil and make the cheese too “gloppy” (yes, it’s a technical term).  My favorite is our Maple Walnut Pesto, which showcases a great export from Vermont.
  • At the end of cooking, add your favorite vinaigrette.  Italian, maple balsamic, and roasted garlic and lemon dressing are all great choices.  My mojito vinaigrette is a shortcut to make any grain taste reminscent of tabouleh.
  • Stir in some fresh herbs, toasted nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and/or dried fruit after cooking.  Amaranth is particularly nice with toasted almonds, sage, and dried cranberries or cherries.  Or finish your grains by mixing in a fresh veggie dish, such as my Tomato and Sweet Corn Salad.
  • “Risotto” them.  This works with most types of rice, quinoa, and barley the best.  Toast the grain in a little olive oil, add some white wine, cook it off, then add water or stock as directed for the grain.  At the end of cooking, you can add some cheese and fresh herbs, too.
  • Add frozen starchy vegetables towards the end of cooking for added fiber, flavor, color and texture.  Corn and peas can be magical.
  • Make a cake; cook the grain according to directions, allow it to cool, then add seasoning and form it into a disc and bake it.  You could make them with leftovers from a previous meal; it’s always a good idea to cook too many grains and then reincarnate them with different flavors for a future meal.  Millet is especially good for this; check out Chef Jon’s cheddar millet cake for a crowd-pleasing version.

While we’re on the subject, check out Robyn’s tips for batch cooking grains, which can help save you time and energy (woo hoo)!

What are your favorite methods for preparing whole grains?

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