Cooking with Great Gluten-free Grains
By Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD, LD
Health experts agree that whole grains play a role
in weight management, lowering risk of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes,
heart disease and inflammation. When people think whole grains, often
thoughts of wheat bread and oat bran come to mind. So where does that leave the gluten-free community? There are a few gluten-free whole
grains that most people are familiar with, like brown rice and wild rice, but
most are brave new territory. The good news is that whether you enjoy
crunchy, chewy or soft grains, there's one that will work for you, and there
are plenty to choose from.
Brown rice: This doesn't require a lot of
explanation. It's readily available and inexpensive. It takes a
long time to cook (around an hour).
However, rice freezes very well. It's easy to prepare a large
batch, let it cool to room temperature and freeze it in portions. It can
be reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave. Or just buy it
frozen! Trader Joe’s, Safeway,
Wegman’s and other sell frozen brown rice. To keep things interesting, there are varieties like
Bhutanese Red Rice, which cooks in 25-30 minutes, or Chinese Black Rice, which
turns a beautiful purple color when cooked.
Wild rice: It's widely available, and has nearly
double the potassium and more protein than brown rice.
It has a nutty flavor, and works very well in soups, hot or cold salads,
casseroles, as a stuffing for poultry or vegetables, or as a pilaf. Like brown rice, it freezes well.
Oats: now this is a bit of more controversial
territory. Pure oats do not
technically contain gluten, but the most recent studies show that conventional
oats are all cross-contaminated with gluten. Only oats marked “certified gluten-free” may be acceptable for people with
Celiac Disease. Even McCann’s and
Irish oats not specially marked DO contain traces of gluten. And not all people with CD can tolerate
gluten-free oats—the protein in oats, called avenin, causes a reaction just
like gluten does in some Celiacs, so do check in with your health care team and
proceed with caution. But, if you
tolerate oats, that’s fabulous news, because in addition to providing fiber,
oats are a good source of magnesium, B1, phosphorous and more.
Quinoa: this is one of the easiest
"beginner" gluten-free grains. In the past few years, it's gained
popularity among gluten eaters and non-gluten eaters alike. Quinoa is
actually not a grain, but the seeds of a plant. Quinoa is a traditional
Incan food and is considered a "superfood" due to the fact that it's
a wonderful source of iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc and a vegetarian complete source of protein, meaning it has all of the amino
acids that are needed in the body. Quinoa is a relatively firm grain with
a consistency like couscous, just a little larger. It cooks in just 15-20
minutes. It works well in casseroles, pilafs, as a stuffing for
vegetables or poultry, or just by itself. Quinoa flakes are also
available, and these substitute well for oatmeal in cooking and baking.
we're heading into more exotic territory…
Buckwheat: There’s much more to buckwheat than
pancakes! Buckwheat is completely
unrelated to wheat and actually is a distant relative of rhubarb. Buckwheat is a great source of protein,
magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, and several B vitamins. The edible portion, or groat, is also known as kasha. It has a nutty flavor, which becomes stronger if toasted
(whether that is desirable is a matter of personal preference). Buckwheat is a great pilaf, side dish,
stuffing, or hot breakfast cereal and cooks in just 20 minutes. It is also sold as Soba noodles, but
check labels carefully: most Soba noodles are a mix of buckwheat and wheat.
I bought millet for years and never even knew it! Millet is commonly found in bird food
in the US though it has been used in India, Asia and Africa for
years. Millet is rich in folate and fiber and a good source of other B
vitamins and trace nutrients It has a soft texture, and a mildly
sweet flavor. It is good as a hot
breakfast, as a stuffing or pilaf and cooks in 25-30 minutes. Try my recipe for Apple Cinnamon Millet for breakfast.
Teff or Tef: This tiny grain is a nutritional
powerhouse. It is a great source
of calcium, iron, magnesium, thiamin and zinc. It was traditionally grown in Ethiopia,
but has been increasingly available in the West. It is good as a hot breakfast cereal or as an addition to
another hot cereal, as a pilaf or as a thickener for stews. It has a somewhat gelatinous texture,
and somewhat of a crunch, even after it is cooked.
Amaranth: This is another one of the
“pseudo-grains”. Amaranth is a
seed and a great source of iron, fiber, zinc, magnesium, calcium and protein. Amaranth can be used as a hot breakfast
cereal, in soups and pilafs. In
Central America, the seeds are popped to make a sweet treat (it’s done much
like popping popcorn, but with MUCH smaller yields). This small grain has a crunch, even when cooked, and a
somewhat gelatinous texture.
Amaranth cooks in 20-25 minutes.
Adventurous gardeners can even grow amaranth at home, but it does grow
to 5-7 feet.
Sorghum: The gluten-free community is familiar with sorghum
flour, but sorghum grain is becoming increasingly available. Like the flour, sorghum is a great
source of phosphorous and potassium, and contains fiber, B vitamins and iron,
too. Sorghum can be
soaked and cooked as a pilaf, and makes a good addition to slow cooking stews
now, hopefully you’re convinced that there are a lot of great gluten-free grain
options out there. But for most
people, the hardest hurdle is just getting started trying them! If someone put a bowl of plain rice in
front of you, chances are you wouldn’t be terribly inspired by the taste. So here are a few hints for cooking
- Cook the grains in
broth instead of water.
- Sauté some garlic or
ginger and/or vegetables, then add in the required amount of broth or
water and grains, and cook as directed.
- Add in herbs, spices,
a squirt of lemon, etc.
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