Every health professional you meet these days is touting the benefits of eating fewer processed foods and more whole grains. You may or may not be fully on board, but we think incorporating a variety of grains and legumes into the nightly routine can also be fun and lets you expand your repertoire. Keep serving the new dishes until one of them delights those meat-and-potatoes family members who are firmly in the “no!” camp.
One way to try something new is to make it look like something you already know. Millet, familiar as birdseed, is gaining popularity on the supper table. Naturally gluten-free, it has been the base of diets in parts of Africa and Asia for centuries. Cooking a batch of millet is no harder than making rice. With that in mind, try millet fried rice with tastes you already know: bright curds of scrambled eggs, fresh ginger, and soy sauce.
Farro, an ancient wheat relative, can also be substituted for the short-grain white rice that traditionally goes into the Italian standby risotto. This version, known as “farrotto,” is a fine alternative to the classic.
Still not ready for full immersion into ancient grains? Start with something simpler like switching out half the white rice in a dish of brown. Or stir quinoa into your favorite rice meal to add vitamins and antioxidants. Quinoa is not actually a grain, but an edible seed that has been sustaining populations in South and Central America for thousands of years, and is becoming an excellent addition to the vegetarian diet. Mix red quinoa with brown rice and plenty of sauteed mushrooms for a main course. And if that isn’t enough, pop a fried egg on top.
Chickpeas, a legume native to the Middle East, and also known as garbanzo beans, are packed with protein and fiber. They are most nutritious when cooked from their dried state (versus canned). Since hummus has become the new baby food, your little ones’ taste buds will perk right up with any dish featuring the iron-rich beans. Here they’re mixed with smoky Spanish paprika, caramelized onions, and spinach.
The best thing about making any of these grains, seeds, and legumes is their versatility and ease of reheating. Choose one item, such as barley, make a large, plain batch on Sunday, and parcel it out as lunches and dinners for the rest of the week. Add it to soups, eat it hot as a side dish, whip up a simple vinaigrette and toss with orange segments, toasted pecans, and dried cherries, or add milk and fruit to create a breakfast porridge.
The options are endlessly delicious; you just need to keep an open mind. And convince everyone else at the table to do the same.