From Bulgar to Kasha: Secrets of Cooking With Grains

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MOTHER’s Kitchen column explores the secrets of cooking with grains.

If you wanted to eat like a prince, you had to be one. Even
nobility had to rely on the occasional bowl of gruel to
sustain them as they hung around a dank castle. Grain
dishes also provided a convenient spoon food, since the
fork didn’t come on the scene until the year 1077.

Grains were, and still are, an economical food that is easy
to eat with a spoon. But we now also know that whole grains
are a good low-fat source of protein, complex carbohydrates
and fiber, plus vitamins and minerals. While our
governments USDA Food Pyramid is telling us that grains
should be the bulk of our diet, the National Cancer
Institute says that Americans are not getting the 20 to 35
grams of fiber that we need daily to help fight off cancer.
One food historian speculated that during the Dark Ages,
people ate at least 50 grams of fiber daily. While plagues
were causing people to drop like flies, cancer wasn’t in
the picture.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we should load up on white
rice and Wonder Bread. A whole grain consists of the bran,
germ and endosperm. Refined grains have been stripped of
the bran and germ, which contain most of the nutrients,
leaving the endosperm with its complex carbohydrates. The
government decided to replace this loss with a low dose of
synthetic vitamins, calling the grain or flour “enriched”
or “fortified.” which makes about as much sense as having
your teeth pulled so you can wear dentures. But it was
unable to replace the soluble and insoluble fiber, which
proves again that you can’t fool Mother Nature.

So grab a spoon and dig in to discover the secrets of cooking with grains . . . the wine and ale are up to
you.

Mixed Grain Salad Recipe

1/2 cup each long-grain brown rice, pearled barley,
wheat berries CI use hard wheat berries)
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup uncooked adzuki beans or another small bean (or use
1 cup canned beans. rinsed)
2 cups cooked corn, fresh or frozen, defrosted and
drained
4 green onions, chopped
1 green pepper, finely diced
Topping: cilantro or parsley (optional)

Grain Salad Dressing:

1/4 cup each: lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil
I teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon each: cumin, coriander
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste

In a large, covered saucepan, bring the water to a boil.
Add the grains, cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for
about 40 minutes or until the water is absorbed (grains
should not be sticking to the bottom of the pan) Let the
pan cool, covered, for at least 15 minutes. While the
grains are cooking. simmer the beans in a covered saucepan
with enough water to cover for about 50 minutes or until
tender. Drain and put into a large mixing bowl. Add the
chopped vegetables. In a small bowl, whisk together the
dressing. Stir the cooled grains in with the vegetables and
beans. Pour on the dressing and toss until blended. Serve
topped with chopped cilantro or parsley.

Variation: Try using green lentils (not baby lentils)
instead of beans.

Quinoa Pine Nut Pilaf Recipe

Ready to eat in fifteen minutes, this easy pilaf is great
with grilled chicken breasts or fish.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 green pepper, finely diced
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
2 teaspoons each: ground coriander, ground cumin

Dash cayenne pepper
1 cup quinoa
1 2/3 cups water
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground pepper
Finely chopped parsley (optional)

Put the quinoa in a strainer and rinse well. In a large
skillet, sauté the onion and garlic over medium-high
heat until softened. Stir in the peppers and spices for
about a minute until fragrant. Add the quinoa and water,
cover and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Remove from heat
and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a dry
skillet, toast the pine nuts over medium heat, shaking the
pan every 30 seconds. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.
Stir the pine nuts, salt and pepper into the quinoa. Serve
topped with chopped parsley.

Hot Vegetable Couscous Recipe

2 cups whole wheat couscous
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken broth, vegetable broth or
water
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 red pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1 medium red onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

Put the couscous in a large bowl and have a lid ready.
Bring the broth to a boil, remove from heat and mix in the
spices. Stir the broth into the couscous and cover for 15
minutes. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables. Heat up 1
tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat
and add the vegetables. Sauté until almost tender, stirring
frequently. Stir in the garlic and cook another few
minutes. After the couscous has been sitting for 15
minutes, add the other tablespoon of olive oil and fluff up
the mixture with a fork so there aren’t any clumps. Add the
beans and vegetables and toss. Serve topped with chopped
cilantro or parsley.

My husband thought the couscous needed additional olive oil
or a sauce. Here’s a quick sauce similar to one that we had
over a vegetable couscous in a Middle Eastern restaurant:

Couscous Sauce Recipe (optional):

1 cup plain, smooth-style bottled marinara sauce
(without vegetables)
1 cinnamon stick

Simmer ingredients in a saucepan for at least 5 minutes.
Drizzle over couscous.

Tabbouleh Salad Recipe

I usually make
lots of this Middle Eastern salad when we have an abundance
of garden tomatoes, but it’s good in the winter months also
since parsley and plum tomatoes are readily available. A
Lebanese friend once told me that the secret to good
tabbouleh is to use plenty of parsley and a good quality
olive oil.

1 cup bulgur
1 1/4 cup boiling water

Tabbouleh Dressing:

1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne pepper and freshly ground pepper
1 large clove garlic
1 1/2cups chopped curly parsley
4 green onions, chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into half-inch cubes
2 medium-size tomatoes or 4 plum tomatoes, cut into half-inch
cubes
Mint leaves (optional)

Put the bulgur in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the boiling
water, cover and let sit for about 30 minutes until the
water is absorbed. Whisk together the dressing in a small
bowl and set aside. In a food processor, mince the garlic
and parsley until the parsley is chopped very fine. (You
can mince it by hand but this way is easier.) When the
bulgur is ready, drain off any excess water and add the
garlic, parsley and green onions. Stir in the dressing. If
you’re serving the salad within a few hours, stir in the
cucumbers and tomatoes, then refrigerate. If you want to
eat it the next day, store the cukes and tomatoes
separately in a plastic container.

At serving time, stir them into the salad. Taste to see if
it needs additional salt and pepper. Serve on a bed of
fresh greens and top with fresh mint. This salad is best
the same day because the cukes and tomatoes will make it
too watery.

Variations: If you don’t want to buy the Third World cukes
and tomatoes that are available during winter months, try
other ingredients instead, such as celery, radishes, red
peppers, black olives or toasted pine nuts. I like to
crumble feta cheese on top of my tabbouleh salad. Instead
of bulgur, try couscous for a lighter tabbouleh.

Nondairy Rice Pudding Recipe (Vegan)

For those of you who long for Uncle Ben’s plain ol’ white
rice, this low-fat, nondairy dessert is for you. Rice milk
will also work for this recipe, but I prefer 2% fat soy
milk.

3 cups vanilla soy milk (I use 2% fat for a creamier
pudding)
1 cup water
4 thin slices gingerroot
15 whole cardamom pods
3 short cinnamon stick
1 1/4 cups white basmati or long-grain
White rice (brown rice will not work)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla cup
1/2 chopped dates*

In a large saucepan, put 1 cup of the soy milk, plus the
water, gingerroot, cardamom, cinnamon and rice. Bring to a
boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer
for 20 minutes until the rice is tender. Remove the
gingerroot, cardamom and cinnamon sticks, making sure to
keep the cardamom pods intact because the seeds inside are
bitter. Discard. Stir in the remaining 2 cups soy milk,
maple syrup, vanilla and dates. Pour into a plastic
container or bowl and let cool at room temperature. Eat
warm or refrigerate. The pudding will thicken as it cools,
so you may need to stir in additional soy milk. Serve in
glass bowls topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar.

*I buy whole, pitted dates because date pieces usually dry
out. Fresh dates should be soft and slightly sticky. Chop
into small pieces with a sharp knife or scissors.