I’m sure by now you’ve heard the general nutrition recommendation to include more whole grains in your diet to improve your health and well-being. (You could start by consuming more Cheerios or whole wheat bread). Whenever we consume whole grains, the additional fiber in the grain takes longer to digest so that the absorbable part of the grain, namely the starch or carbohydrate, doesn’t flood the bloodstream immediately. That way, you don’t get that sudden spike in blood sugar and the subsequent dip when it drops. Instead, it creates a lower, sustained blood sugar with no spikes or dips. And the additional fiber assists in making you “regular.”
So how about taking it a step further by consuming the grain as is? Consider eating wheat berries, barley, farro or quinoa.
The Mother Of All Grains
Farro is considered to be the mother (or father) of all grains and the Italian translation is simply “ancient wheat grain,” but it actually refers to three different grains. Einkorn or farro piccolo, emmer or farro medio and spelt or farro grande, though all three variations look just like uncooked wheat and more like barley once they’re boiled. They all have a slightly nutty flavor and pleasing chewiness. They are good sources of protein and fiber, magnesium, niacin, zinc and iron. Though there are semi-pearled and pearled variations, which either have some or all of the bran removed, and they cook faster than the whole grain variety, the whole grain variety is the way to go as you receive the full benefit of fiber, as well as the nutrients found just under the bran layer.
Not Just for Beer
Though barley is the primary agent in creating your own micro-brewed beer, malting the barley creates simple sugars that yeast can ferment into alcohol. From a nutrition standpoint, you want those complex carbohydrates to remain as is because, along with the abundant soluble fibers in barley, they create a sense of satiety after meals and reduce the post-meal blood sugar spikes that accompany refined carbohydrates. Plus, the soluble fibers can help lower serum cholesterol. Barley is a good source of the B-vitamins, niacin, pyridoxine, thiamine and riboflavin, as well as magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc.
However, because of the soluble fiber and protein in barely, I find that cooking it can pose a challenge, especially if your cooking vessel isn’t large enough. Cooking barley creates quite a bit of foam production and it can easily boil over, so I’d either use a large, tall cooking vessel or a vacuum cooking device. Tiger and Thermos make several vacuum-contained pots that keep the temperature of the actual cooking pot close to the boiling point. I place the barley and water just to a boil, then immediately cover it and place it in the outer vacuum-sealed pot and let it sit quietly for the duration of the cook time. There’s no boil over, no mess and no electricity needed.
Quinoa (keen-wah) is the newest darling of the grain family, mainly because it’s one of the few plant foods that contain all nine of the essential amino acids that humans need. Most other plant proteins are either limited by a lack of lysine or methionine, so you need to consume other foods with these amino acids, but quinoa supplies a complete protein. Along with protein, it’s also a good source of magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc like the other grains, as well as a good source of folic acid and copper. It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes to cook and it’s a good source of insoluble fiber or roughage. It’s also the star of one of my favorite salads.
The Costco Salad
I’m not sure if your local Costco sells this salad, but in the 50th, they’ve been selling it for several years. It features several whole grains; lentils, mung beans (when sprouted, they turn into bean sprouts) and colored quinoa. If you peruse the Internet, there are several sites that purport to have the Costco recipe, and they are close as far as the solid ingredients go, but they are missing one major flavor component. The salad has the distinct flavor of a good dill pickle, so I first tried simmering the grains in a sachet (fancy word for cheesecloth bag) of dill pickle spices. It added a little additional flavor, but it wasn’t the same as Costco’s version. I then added some dill pickle liquid, which you normally would dump after finishing the pickles and it added a little more flavor than the pickling spices alone. Then I got really creative and purchased a food dehydrator from Amazon and dehydrated dill pickle slices — a whole bottle which was only 18 slices — then blitzed them in a coffee grinder yielding just a little more than a tablespoon.
1 1/2 cups red and white quinoa (mixed)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, more as needed
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, more as needed
About 3/4 cup pickle juice
2 tsp dill pickle powder
1-2 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
fresh ground black pepper
4 chopped roma tomatoes
1 large diced English cucumber
1/2 bunch thinly sliced scallion
1 large diced red bell pepper
3/4 cup cooked red lentil
3/4 cup cooked mung beans
1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
1/2 bunch chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Because the mung beans, quinoa and lentils don’t cook in the same amount of time, I first bring a tall pot of water to a boil, add a quarter cup of pickle juice then add the mung beans. After five minutes, I added all the quinoa to the same pot and, after another seven minutes, add the red lentils. The whole mixture boils for another eight minutes then I drain without rinsing and let it cool naturally. Therefore, the mung beans cook for a total of 20 minutes, the quinoa 15 minutes and the red lentils for eight minutes.
Put the vinegar, lemon juice and remaining pickle juice in a small bowl and gradually whisk in the 1/2 cup olive oil (vinaigrette). Whisk in lemon zest; taste; season with salt, pepper and additional vinegar and lemon juice or olive oil as needed. Place cooked and cooled quinoa in large serving bowl and toss to break up any clumps. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, bell peppers, lentils, mung beans, cilantro and parsley with the vinaigrette and toss. Taste and season as needed with more vinaigrette, additional pickle juice, salt and pepper.
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.