Food & Drink

Tips for adding healthy whole grains to your diet

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a series on food basics. Whether you are a pro in the kitchen or a newbie, we hope you’ll learn something to make your time with food more enjoyable and rewarding. You can find Part 1: Bean Basics, Part 2: Rice, and Part 3: Pasta at

When you are looking for a dish with a twist, look no further than the versatility of grains.

Whole grains have been a staple food in different cultures around the world for centuries. Grains such as barley, wheat, oats, rye, rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, iron and dietary fiber. Grains in their whole, natural form reduce the risk of heart attack, cancer, stroke and diabetes.

A whole grain is exactly what the name implies; it is not part of a grain, but the whole grain. In its natural, raw form, a grain is a small round kernel or seed that grows on plants in fields. Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain — the germ, endosperm and bran. The nutrients contained in whole grains work together to provide maximum health benefits.

Some grains are considered “pseudo grains” (amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, flax) because they are not really a “true” grain. These pseudo grains are lumped into the grain family because they provide key nutritional benefits and are used in the same manner as a grain.

Adding whole grains into your diet is easier than you think. You can add them to your meals without cooking, simply by choosing breads, breakfast cereals, and other prepared whole-grain foods.

Here are some additional ideas that may help you get started.

n For breakfast, cook brown rice in a combination of water and apple juice. Sprinkle the cooked rice with cinnamon or nutmeg, add milk and eat as a hot cereal.

n Eat cereals made with kasha or other whole grains.

n Granola is an excellent source of whole grains. In addition to munching on plain granola, you can use it as a topping for yogurt, fruit or even ice cream.

n I add a cup of regular uncooked oats to each pound of ground beef or turkey when I make meatballs, burgers or meatloaf. No one ever knows it is there.

n When making your favorite recipe for cookies, muffins, quick breads or pancakes, substitute half the white flour with whole-wheat flour.

n Add one-half cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley to bread stuffing.

n Make risottos, pilafs and other rice-like dishes with whole grains such as barley, brown rice, bulgur or quinoa. Buy whole grain pasta, or one of the blends that is part whole-grain and part white.

n One of my favorite whole grain salads is tabbouleh, which is made with bulgur wheat; it is easy, tasty and refreshing on a hot summer day.

n I like to prepare a side dish using pearled barley; sauté one-half cup (each) of mushrooms and onions in two teaspoons of olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Add three cups low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in one cup of pearled barley. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Sometimes I add fresh chopped rosemary and sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese. This hearty, delicious dish serves four and goes well with Cornish hens, chicken or turkey.

Preparation of whole grains for cooking is simple; most require only washing and/or soaking. However, some grains taste best when they are lightly toasted which reduces the required cooking time and enhances the flavor of the grain. Each type of grain has its own distinctive flavor and is as tasty as it is nutritious. As you experiment with the different flavors and textures try combining them with vegetables and other foods for a taste adventure.

Like many foods, grains are perishable. Their shelf life is usually much longer than most foods but to ensure optimum freshness, it is always best to buy grains that are well packaged and well sealed. For optimum freshness, I recommend purchasing uncommon grains from a natural food store or specialty shop and common grains from the supermarket.

The best method for home storage is to keep grains in tightly sealed containers. This also reduces the chances of bug infestations. The refrigerator is a good place to store grains especially in warm weather or for long-term storage, grains may also be frozen. Using a tightly sealed container is even more important with refrigeration or freezing as this prevents the grain from absorbing moisture, odors and flavors from other foods.


q 1 cup bulgur wheat

q 1-1/2 cups boiling water

q 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)

q 1/4 cup olive oil

q 3-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (cut back if using table salt)

q 1 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (1 bunch)

q 1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (1 bunch)

q 1 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)

q 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced

q 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

q 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

n Place the bulgur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water and add the lemon juice, olive oil and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir, and then allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.

n Add the scallions, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt and the pepper; mix well.

n Season to taste, and serve or cover and refrigerate.

n The flavor will improve if the tabbouleh sits for a few hours.

n Source: Barefoot Contessa/Food Network

Double Berry Whole Grain Pancakes

q 3/4 cup whole wheat flour

q 1/2 cup oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

q 1/4 cup toasted wheat germ

q 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

q 1 tablespoon baking powder

q 1/4 teaspoon salt

q 1-1/3 cups fat-free milk

q 1 egg, beaten

q 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

q 1/2 cup dried cranberries

q 1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed and drained

Berry Topping

q 1 jar (10 ounces) blueberry or blackberry fruit spread

q 1 tablespoon lemon juice

n In a small microwavable bowl, heat the fruit spread and lemon juice on high for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spread is melted and smooth. Pour over the pancakes.

n For the pancakes: In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder and salt; mix well.

n In a medium bowl, combine the milk, egg and vegetable oil; blend well. Add the dry ingredients all at once to the wet ingredients; mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Gently stir in the cranberries (do not overmix).

n Heat a griddle over medium-high heat. Lightly grease or spray the griddle with non-stick cooking spray.

n For each pancake, pour a scant 1/4 cup batter onto the hot griddle-quickly top with 8 to 10 blueberries. Turn the pancakes when edges look cooked.

n Serve with berry topping. Makes about 16 pancakes.

n Source: Quaker Oats Co.

Baked Garlic Cheese Grits

q 6 cups chicken broth

q 1 teaspoon salt

q 1/4 teaspoon pepper

q 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

q 2 cups regular grits

q 16 ounces Cheddar cheese, cubed

q 1/2 cup milk

q 4 large eggs, beaten

q 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

q 8 ounces grated sharp white Cheddar cheese

n Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 4-quart casserole dish.

n Bring the broth, salt, pepper and garlic powder to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan.

n Stir in the grits and whisk until completely combined. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the grits are thick, about 8-10 minutes. Add the cubed Cheddar cheese and milk and stir.

n Gradually stir in the eggs and butter, stirring until all are combined.

n Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with the white Cheddar cheese and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until set.

n Source: Paula Deen/Food Network

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