Almost all grains are ancient, although the word “ancient” has been used especially to describe amaranth and quinoa, the grains of ancient civilizations.
Wheat, which also has ancient forms, such as spelt, is North America’s primary grain, the essence of breads, pasta, pastries, and a great many cereals. In fact, it takes some effort to avoid eating wheat, but whether you’re searching for a gluten-free alternative or not, there are many other grains to enjoy.
And, if you’re trying to give your diet a boost there is nothing better than adding more variety. Says Kathy Egan, RD, nutrition consultant at Red Mountain Spa, “Variety is often overlooked as an important nutritional concept. In trying to select the “best” foods, individuals end up neglecting the health benefits of eating a wide range of foods.” And, there isn’t a better place to add variety to your diet than with grains.
For a wheat alternative, try buckwheat, barley, oats, or kamut.
Be aware, however, that wheat (which includes spelt), rye, barley, and oats still contain gluten. Buckwheat is a great gluten-free alternative, as it is easy to substitute for wheat flour in a variety of recipes. For more worldly influence, try grains that are identified with particular cultures – teff (from Ethiopia) is high in protein and fiber, quinoa (from the Incas) is also high in protein, and millet (from Africa and China) is a great grain for cereals. For each grain you can name, there are countless varieties, though often we eat only one or two. Keep in mind that grains are the seeds of a “grassy” plant, so staples like rice are also good alternatives to wheat. Says Egan, “Ultimately, selecting a wide variety of whole grains is best, because most of the nutrition and fiber is in the outer layer.”
Quinoa, still new to many, is an easy grain to like – quick, light, gluten-free, and nearly a complete protein. Barley is chewy and substantial and as good in a salad as it is in a soup. Buckwheat works well for crepes and pasta and tends to have more appeal than a bowl of groats, while spelt is easier to incorporate as flour. Finally, rice need not be served as a side dish or in pudding – it also makes a great soup, as you’ll see here.
Buckwheat Crepes with Sauteed Mushrooms and SpinachServes 4
This dark earthy grain makes a delicious crepe with lots of character.Plan to let the batter relax for at least 30 minutes, and longer is better – even overnight. You can cook the crepes ahead of time. I set thevegetables out in a bowl, the crepes on a plate, and let each person fill her own. Using pre-sliced mushrooms and pre-washed spinach speeds things along.
The Crepes (Makes about 12 crepes)
2/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup spelt or wheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups milk (can be soy milk)
2 tbs. canola oil
water as needed
1 tbs. butter
4 tsp. olive oil
10 oz. bag sliced Crimini mushrooms
sea salt and pepper
12- oz. bag spinach leaves
To make the crepes, combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and whisk together the wet ingredients in a second bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, breaking up any lumps, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for the batter to relax. When you’re ready to make the crepes, give the batter a stir. If it feels very thick, stir in additional water or milk to thin it out, between 1/4 and 1/2 cup.
Melt the butter in an 8-inch nonstick skillet. Turn the pan to coat, and then add it to the batter. When the pan is hot, pour in about 3 tablespoons crepe mixture and revolve the pan with your wrist so that the batter coats the bottom. Cook over medium-high heat until bubbles appear over the surface, then turn the crepe and cook the second side for about 1 minute. (It’s not uncommon for the first crepe to fail, but this recipe will make more than you need.) Slide crepe onto a plate and continue making crepes. (Leftover batter will keep for a few days, and buckwheat crepes are great for breakfast.)
To make the filling: Heat the oil in a sauté pan and when hot, add the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Sauté, flipping the mushrooms every few minutes, until they’re browned in places, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and continue cooking, turning the leaves in the pan with tongs until it’s wilted. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Heat the crepes in 2 stacks in a separate skillet, turning them every minute or so to warm each one. Put the crepes on a plate, the vegetables in a bowl, and let each person construct her own crepe.