*Yes, I do consider cooking “play”ing.
Thanks Alexa, for letting me provide this guest post!
Singin’ In The Grain
[or, what would happen if Pythagoras and Dr. Oz met to discuss whole grains]
Today I was craving my “go-to” grain dish, referred to affectionately (only in my mind, because I don’t think I’ve ever actually referred to it in normal conversation) as “Goat Grains & Sun-dried Squash,” since it involves zucchini and yellow ‘summer’ squash, sun-dried tomatoes, and (have you figured out how much I love) goat cheese. I typically make it with bulgur and it is quick, easy, satisfying, and delicious.
Well, having finished my ‘bulk bin’ bulgur the last time I had a grai-ving (Get it? Grains. Craving. Grai-ving… Not to be confused with grav-ing [verb]: hanging out in graveyards.), I had to turn to my handy dandy Grain Dish Algorithm (Yes, I teach math. Yes, I have been recently watching old episodes of Numb3rs.):
G+V+P [(n) C]
My friends, all you have to do to compose a perfectly delicious grain dish is remember the algorithm, pronounced as a chant-like mantra, ignoring the plus signs and with the (n) functioning like the slang ‘n, as in mac ‘n cheese, or sugar ‘n spice (and everything nice). OK, let’s try it. Ready? Set…Go!
G-V-P, ‘n C! G-V-P, ‘n C! (Say it with me now) G-V-P, ‘n C! G-V-P, ‘n C! G-V-P, ‘n C!
Follow that, and you can get THIS!
The G stands for, of course, Grain. Unless you have been living in a bubble of nutritional denial for the past few years, you know that whole grains are key to a healthy diet and lifestyle. People who eat more whole grains get more fiber, have less fat around their abdomens (which is a risk factor for heart disease), and have less chance of contracting Type II diabetes. Unlike refined, white flours, whole grains are low on the glycemic index, meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar as rapidly. The benefits are enormous. Each of the various types of grains also has their own unique health boosters. And there are SO MANY to choose from: oats, rye, buckwheat, wheatberries, millet, bulgur, barley…
Because I lacked any more of my beloved bulgur, I turned to what might be the ultimate superstar of the grain world: quinoa (keen-wa). Why is it so Oscar-worthy? Well, it is the only grain containing a balanced set of the essential amino acids, making it the only grain to also function as a complete protein source. [I like to imagine a scenario where this discovery was made public via Twitter and vegetarians everywhere stood up at their office desks (obviously not really working on that spreadsheet) and formed a Conga line chanting “Oh we love our Quin-OA, oh we love our Quin-OA”…or magically transformed into ninjas and started karate-chopping everything and shouting “keen-WA!”……………but I digress.]
Back to the algorithm.
Remember it? G, V, P [(n) C]!
G = Grains Today, I chose quinoa. Feel free to choose whatever you have on hand.
V = Veggies Choose any veggies you like. The more the merrier. Phytochemicals and all that. Another V to think about is V for variety. Variety is the spice of life (and the key to getting all of your nutrients).
I went with frozen squash and zucchini. This bag is $2.00 at Giant, and compared to paying $1.99/lb. for the scraggly-looking “fresh” stuff, I’d say I have a deal on my hands.
I do like to rinse the frozen veggies briefly with warm water to get some of the chill off, but I find that the little ice crystals that develop can actually help them steam/cook in the pan without adding excess oils or fats.
I also had some sun-dried tomatoes from the amazing CVille Market. They aren’t packed in water or oil, and they’re still soft and pliable, no need to reconstitute. AND you can buy them at bulk bin prices. 🙂
P = Protein For vegetarians, you could easily say “B” for beans, or “T” for tempeh or tofu. Non-vegetarians, less is more when it comes to meat in your diet anyway, so I would still go for beans, tofu, or maybe some shrimp. Because I love shrimp. A lot. (When I spent a month in Costa Rica, they told me I was going to turn into a shrimp. Or a pineapple. Imagine me with the head of a pineapple and a tail of a shrimp. It’s OK to chuckle.)
I used up some of the leftover chickpeas from my veggie burgers! Hooray for recycling!
Here is where the algorithm gets a little tricky…and why the rest is in brackets. N = Nuts and C = Cheese, both of which could also sub in for your protein, or put in additionally for a more complex dish. Yet, you want to be careful, because both can be highly caloric and fattening, although nuts have great mono-unsatured fats and both are good sources of other nutrients, including bone-friendly calcium in the case of cheese. To make a healthier dish, choose low-fat or lower fat cheese, like a goat’s milk cheese, or small amounts of really strong flavored cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano.
I rarely add nuts. I always add cheese. Cheese is amazing. It just is. (So are nuts, but I prefer them in butter form. As in, peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter…) Today I went with feta.
Follow these basic steps and you will have a perfect grain dish every time:
G+V+P [(n) C]–The Only Grain Recipe you Need
1. Cook up your whole grain, generally 2 parts water to 1 part grain. Add onion, spices, fruit juices to the water if desired. Or substitute broth or stock for water. (If you have left over grains from the night before, just add a bit of water or broth and reheat. You’re one step ahead of every else!)
2. In a small pan, saute your chosen veggies with your favorite spices (garlic and pepper are always good, but you can get creative with oregano or basil in a Mediterranean dish, curry powder and cinnamon for a Middle Eastern flair, or cumin and chili powder for a Mexican infusion.)
3. Add beans or tofu to the veggies to cook. If using a meat or poultry source of protein, pre-cook. (Pre-soak beans if not canned.)
5. Add nuts and/or cheese. (If serving your dish warm, you can microwave it for a second to melt the cheese a bit. Scrumptious!)