Whole Grain Affinity

by Valerie on January 13, 2012 · 14 comments

insalada di riso 004Reinvented Mac and Peas with Mushrooms (12)

Non-Traditional Insalata di Riso and Reinvented Mac and Peas, with Mushrooms

As you might remember from my Breakfast Bias post, I am participating in in the Food Network’s Healthy Eats blog January Healthy Every Week Challenge. The idea is to get started on a healthier 2012, one week at a time. This week’s challenge is to eat more whole grains.

I often get asked how I continuously eat a healthy diet and whether my palate has changed.  To some extent it has –  I do not find traditionally bitter foods (endives, dandelion greens, even kale) as bitter as I used to. I also really like nutritional yeast now, while I was only tepid on it at first. But in other ways my palate is the same – for example, I have always liked chewy hearty whole grains. Since I did not discover gluten and I are not friends until my early 30s, I had three decades of eating chewy whole-grain breaks replete with seeds, 100% spelt bread (and no, spelt is not gluten-free), or things like wheat berries and barley.  Before going gluten-free I had also already discovered delicious gluten-free grains like teff, quinoa and buckwheat (the later two are sometimes called pseudo-grains). 

kale salad and no-barley chewy pilaf 016lunchboxes 027

Quinoa Buckwheat Pilaf & Roasted Onion Quinoa Azuki Salad

Rice and pasta however – that was a different story.  As much as I was all about the whole-grain bread, I loved my white rice – whether it was delicate sushi rice or chewy risotto, I loved it all.  Also, I thought brown rice tasted like pebbles and whole-wheat pasta’s texture just did not work for me (that was not helped by the raging stomach aches such pasta gave me).

Before we fast-forward to today and I tell you all about my favorite gluten-free grains, however, I wanted to share a little story about how I got to liking brown rice.  It all is because of my friend Danielle – we were at a restaurant one day (this was either at the end of law school or right after, so let’s say 2004 to 2006) and she remarked that it had brown rice, and I was kind of meh about it,and she was like “you should try it again, it is not that different” and then I got ranty about how it tasted like pebbles, and she was like “no, really, try it".” So I did, since she is often right about life and food.  And I realized that brown rice is all about cooking it right.  Also, that it was more satiating than white rice, which invariably would leave me hungry.  After I experimented with different ways to cook it, I loved it.  A few years later, I even made Brown Rice Risotto which was risotto-worthy, as well this hearty Azuki Beans and Brown Rice bowl:

 Wednesday lunch 049brown rice bowl

Brown Rice Risotto and Azuki Beans and Brown Rice

Obviously the wheat berries and spelt bread and barley soups had to go when I cut out gluten, but at the time, I also decided that when I ate my (gluten-free) grains, I would eat whole grains,  so I use quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice and teff in whole form as part of my meals, though of course, I also sometimes make sweet or savory baked goods with flours made from these grains, or purchase gluten-free brown rice pasta. Iris also taught me a trick – use soaked quinoa to blend up into crusts, such as Quinoa Pizza and quinoa-based Scallion Pancakes .

lunchbox and pizza 016quinoa scallion pancake 006

  Quinoa Pizza and Scallion Pancakes

A note: when I initially went gluten-free, I did not buy gluten-free-certified gluten-free grains. After reading up on the potential of cross-contamination of gluten-free grains, I have been much more selective in how I purchase my gluten-free grains and buy certified grains only.  I also tried a phase of low-grain, almost grain-free, as I was trying to improve my digestion – I am not sure whether it helped me, or had a placebo effect, or whether increasing nuts and greens in my diet as a result of lowering my grain intake is actually what helped me, through a substitution effect, but I ended up deciding I missed grains too much, and was really craving them when I started ramping up my working out from some yoga to more yoga and adding gym time.  I find grains very grounding to eat though I have noticed that my sweet spot with whole grains is no more than two hearty servings a day, and many days it is more like one serving – so in that sense the grain-free/low-grain phase helped me realize I did not need whole grains at every meal (definitely a crutch I relied on when switching to a gluten-free diet).  I do best with quinoa, which is good because that has become my favorite pseudo-grain, as you can tell from the numerous recipes I have linked to.  Above and below is some recipe inspiration, but sometimes, the simplicity of quinoa with some extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, as I had as part of dinner tonight, is lovely as well.  

Whole-Grains Inspiration:

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hannah January 13, 2012 at 3:28 am

Fabulous (and inspiring!) post! I must try Azuki beans, as I’m pretty sure I’ve only had them as sweet bean paste before…

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2 Valerie January 14, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Azuki are wonderful, though it took me a while to find recipes I liked for them.

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3 Debi January 13, 2012 at 3:31 am

Awesome post, Valerie! I agree with you about brown rice. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t. I have found though, that I do much less grains than I used to. There are times where I feel I need grains (which I always keep in my pantry) and times when I don’t want them at all. So, even if I don’t plan for a grain dish, I can easily add some to whatever I make. :D

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4 Valerie January 14, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Very true! I definitely have been needing them more with the cold weather and working out more, so it has been nice to reach for them!

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5 JL goes Vegan January 13, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I love this post! I’m one of those vegans who lives and loves beans/greens/grains meals. So I really appreciate these new-to-me grain recipes. Thank you!

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6 Valerie January 14, 2012 at 10:45 pm

You’re welcome. I get lots of grain inspiration from your beautiful photos.

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7 bitt January 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I love adzuki beans, I think the first time I had them I was smitten enough to name my adopted stray dog after them. I have been really into brown rice for awhile, I read in some library book in my teen years that it was the most essential food you need (not true but it pushed me to try it) so I started cooking it up. I got into wheat berries via tabbouleh before my celiac raged out of control. I also liked dense wheat bread. I loved pretty much anything wheat. I have had a hard time figuring out which grains do well with me. I am taking a bit of a break right now from all grains just to re-set. (even buckwheat) I feel like they are inflammatory, but I can’t tell which ones because I’ve never done a proper test. You are inspiring me to find my “sweet spot” with grains or pseudograins too.

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8 Valerie January 14, 2012 at 10:44 pm

I hope you find one – they really are delicious. BEfore I went grain-free, I was definitely eating some non-certified grains/pseudo-grains, which I think was not helping me at all, you know?

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9 Gena January 14, 2012 at 3:38 am

Love this post!!!! A refreshing and sane alternate to the no-grain trendiness, and of course a testament to the quality, satiating power, and deliciousness of whole grains. Love.

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10 Valerie January 14, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Thanks Gena! You and JL provide so much whole-grain inspiration too :)

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