We all know that we should be eating more whole grains. For years I have had very serious intentions to incorporate more oats, quinoa, amaranth, spelt and/or wheat berries into my daily diet. The goal was to make grains as instinctive a grab as eggs, pork or pasta in daily cooking. And nearly every time, I would make a meal with my groats, bulgur, barley, sorghum and millet, and no matter how tasty the results of the recipe, the rest of the bag would linger in the pantry until the next round of healthy eating related resolutions hit. Brown rice, oats and grits have been the only grains to make it into my regular cooking routine. Grain Mains: 101 Surprising and Satisfying Whole Grain Recipes for Every Meal of the Day
by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough may be the cookbook that helps to change that.
The reasons for regularly eating whole grains are numerous: they reduce risk of coronary disease, cut the risk of type 2 diabetes, help to maintain healthy weight, fight gum disease, reduce risk of hypertension, can lower blood cholesterol and are crazy economical to boot. So very virtuous. But that is often the problem with whole grain recipe collections — they taste healthy but not necessarily delicious, most often because that is the focus of the chef or recipe developer. But can’t things be both good tasting AND good for you?
Veteran cookbook writers Weinstein and Scarbrough think so. They consider grains to be “the gourmet ingredient hidden in plain sight” and set out to “make them the focus of the meal, not an afterthought with a pat of butter” on the side. They set out to “ explore — and yes — play around with whole grains as the very ballast of a dish, the way that chicken breasts might be in a sauté skillet. In all that follows, a whole grain is the heart of a recipe’s flavors, the fulcrum on which the others balance.”
A promising kick-off indeed. The book begins with a comprehensive primer on grains: The health benefits, the various cooking methods, when to pre-soak and when you can skip straight to cooking: Yes to triticale, sorghum and rye berries; no to teff, rice or Job’s Tears; sometimes for bulgur, depending on the type. The recipes are set up in three sections: Early (breakfast things), Cold (salads and such that could be made ahead), and Warm (hot meals and entrees.)
I started with breakfast, which is a natural starting point for whole grains — both in terms of resolutions to begin each day in a more healthy (but still delicious) way, and because grains are already a part of so many breakfast foods. But I must confess, it was a bumpy beginning. The make-ahead multigrain muesli with old-fashioned oats, wheat flakes, barley flakes, soybean flakes and dried fruits came together with ease, and I appreciated the serving options: the basic yogurt and cereal, refrigerated overnight “I remember my Swiss grandmother way”, the “I’m freezing this morning way” warmed through with milk and the “I overslept way” which simply splashes cold milk or yogurt on the muesli. It was good, but in a “aren’t I being good way” rather than an “oh my this is delicious” way. The Way-More-Than-Just-Oats-Granola evoked a similar response in me — well-written recipe, great end result, but nothing revelatory. The quinoa cashew muffins were a moist and fairly tasty reminder of my ever so earnest vegetarian college years. And the oat and amaranth pancakes were really lovely to cook, and left us filled for far longer than a traditional carb-laden pancake but it took a very nearly inappropriate amount of maple syrup to make me forget that I was being virtuous. Wheat berry salad with zucchini, almonds and boiled lemons was interesting texturally but not something I would crave or rush to make again. Maybe this was just the way it needed to be. Things that are good for you might just not taste as good as things that are not.
Things picked up with the Syrian silah — a wheat berry, fennel, pistachio and pomegranate breakfast blend that is traditionally served to celebrate a baby’s first teething — which was bright, fragrant and delicious both warm and cold. Spanish-inspired black barley salad with chickpeas, dates and toasted almonds was a bite of Barcelona. Roasted corn soup with onion confit was rich and indulgent, and the celery root and sorghum gratin felt downright indulgent. Millet and spinach casserole was a confident stand-in for spanakopita and farro with nectarines, basil, and pine nuts was an intriguing balance of sweet, salty, fresh and nutty and inspired a summer’s worth of (successful) experimentation with different combinations of fruits, nuts, grains and cheeses. And the wild rice, chicken and chorizo casserole has been in constant rotation in my kitchen since I first tested it.
Converting the carb loving masses to the goodness of grains is no small endeavor. But with flavorful ingredients and sometimes inspirational combinations, Grain Mains: 101 Surprising and Satisfying Whole Grain Recipes for Every Meal of the Day
leads the way.