Getting Grains

Quinoa and Kamut… they sound like baby names thought up by some trendy Hollywood celebrity. Thankfully, they are not. Quinoa and Kamut are two of my favorite grains. Many of you may have heard of Quinoa as it is growing in popularity. But Kamut? It was new to me until a month or so ago. More on that in a bit.

Whole grains. We hear about their importance constantly. But what does “whole” really mean and why are they important? Despite the fact that I try to eat them as often as possible, I didn’t initially have a crystal clear answer to these two simple questions. So please allow me to share what I have learned.

Whole grains include grains like wheat, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, spelt, rye – when these foods are eaten in their “whole” form. Even popcorn is considered a whole grain. According to the Whole Grains Council, the following is the official definition of whole grains: “Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”

So now we know what they are. But why does it matter? Well, they’re really healthy. Whole grains contain disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber. What this means, and what medical evidence has shown, is that whole grains reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Whole grains are recommended over refined grains because the latter have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ – along with dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins. These refined grains, including white flour and white rice, might have a finer texture and improved shelf life, but they’re just not as healthy. Wonder Bread no longer cuts it.

So why, when there are so many commonly found whole grains readily available, do I go for Quinoa and Kamut? They both have insanely high levels of protein and fiber – more than most other whole grains. If I had to choose between the two, I suppose I’d select Quinoa. It’s easier to find and takes only 15 minutes to cook. And it’s gluten free and one of the only plant foods that is a complete protein. Tough to beat. Especially considering Kamut is harder to hunt down (PCC and Whole Foods usually carry it) and it takes 90 minutes to cook (and that’s when you remember to soak it overnight first). But I just enjoy using Kamut from time to time because it has a uniquely chewy texture and an almost buttery taste.

If you’re looking for a change from brown rice or even pasta, I hope you’ll try either grain as an alternative. And if you’re looking for something a little snazzier, I’ve included two recipes that really highlight these grains. Both recipes featured here were adapted from Vegetarian Times. Those folks seem to really get grains.

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Greens & Quinoa Pie

Serves 6

The original recipe called for chicory and romaine lettuce. I’ve used arugula and kale instead. Any greens (i.e. spinach, chard, etc.) can be used though. I mixed Inca Red quinoa (pictured above) and the regular version to enhance the appearance of the pie – but any old quinoa will do. This makes a lovely brunch item or can be paired with a salad for a light dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large bunch arugula
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil divided
  • 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 eggs

Instructions

Rinse and drain your quinoa and add to a medium saucepan with 1 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and transfer to large bowl.

Once the quinoa is cooked, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Wash kale and arugula and remove any hard stems and tear into bite-sized pieces. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the kale and cook 5 – 7 minutes, or until wilted, stirring frequently or tossing with tongs (you don’t need to add any oil to the pan because the moisture from the greens will help them from sticking to the pan). Add arugula to the pot and wilt 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer greens to strainer, and squeeze out excess moisture. Transfer to cutting board, and chop into small pieces. Stir into quinoa.

Wipe out your sauté pan and heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add yellow onions and sauté 10 – 15 minutes, or until soft and starting to brown. Add cooked onions, green onions, dill, and feta cheese to quinoa mixture. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper and stir them into the quinoa mixture.

Pour 1 tablespoon oil into a 9″ pie pan and place in oven. Heat for 5 minutes, or until oil is hot. Swirl oil to coat bottom and sides of pan, and then spread quinoa mixture in pan with a spatula. Bake 20 minutes. Drizzle pie with remaining 1 tablespoon oil (or spray with olive oil cooking spray), and bake 20 to 30 minutes more, or until golden brown.

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Kamut Pilaf with Lentils, Butternut Squash and Kale

Serves 6

If you’re unable to find Kamut, spelt or farro can be substituted. Just be sure to adjust the water amount and cooking time according to instructions for cooking your selected grain. The original version of this recipe did not include the roasted butternut squash and kale. I added both ingredients to lighten up the dish. Sautéed mushrooms are another favorite addition. These can be omitted however – it’s still a deliciously hearty meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked Kamut
  • 1 cup green or black lentils
  • 5 – 7 tablespoons olive oil
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 3 large red onions, sliced thin
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, optional
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 large bunch kale, stems removed and chopped roughly
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Instructions

Prepare Kamut in advance. Soak rinsed grains overnight in enough water to cover them. Drain and add Kamut to 6 cups of water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer (uncovered) for approximately 70-90 minutes, stirring frequently. Check for doneness (they should be tender but not mushy). Drain well (note – Kamut does not cook like rice – it will not soak up all the water).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with olive oil cooking spray. Toss butternut squash evenly over foil and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in oven and cook for 45 minutes – tossing a few times throughout roasting process. Set aside when done.

While butternut squash is roasting, prepare lentils and onions. Rinse lentils, place in a medium to large saucepan and cover by 2 inches with water (add a pinch of salt). Bring to a boil. Cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.

To make caramelized onions, heat 5 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté, stirring often, until deep golden brown, about 30 – 35 minutes. You can add a few teaspoons of sugar after about 10 minutes to enhance the caramelization process. When almost done, season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin. Stir well.

While your onions are cooking, prepare kale by heating 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes (do not let brown). Add kale and 1/4 cup water and cover. Keep heat on medium high and cook for five minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking until water evaporates.

When lentils are done, add Kamut to lentils and toss to combine. Heat through, making certain that all liquids have been absorbed. Stir in the onions, squash and kale. Season to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: I like to make a double batch of this recipe without the squash and kale and freeze it. It can be easily defrosted and reheated and freshly sautéed and/or roasted vegetables can then be added.

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