3 Whole Grains You Should Probably Eat More Often (With Recipes)

In her inaugural book, At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, Amy Chaplin speaks almost as much to the importance of the pantry and preparing to cook as cooking itself. This is, in our opinion, one of the most inspired cookbooks of the year, celebrating the beauty of whole food cooking and the art of eating well.

In her discussion of the pantry, Amy talks grains. While there are a million great recipes out there for quinoa and brown rice dishes (including in this book) we want to highlight a few of the lesser used grains — namely, amaranth, millet and spelt — and how Amy is using them. Below, Amy lends some explanation to these three whole grains with recipes to get you started on adding them to your pantry and repertoire.

Millet

Millet is a lovely, sunny-colored, fast-cooking, gluten-free grain with a high amino-acid protein profile. It has a nutty, earthy flavor and is the only grain that has an alkalizing effect on the blood due to its high alkaline ash content, which also makes it easy to digest. Millet also helps strengthen kidney function and contains more iron than any other cereal grain. Cook millet up light and fluffy like in Plum Millet Muffins (page 142) or soft as in the Millet, Squash, and Sweet Corn Pilaf (page 138); it can also be cooked for longer with extra water and set like polenta. Of all the grains I keep on hand, I make sure millet is stored with a very tight seal, as it tends to attract bugs. It has a natural protective bitter coating called saponin, so be sure to wash it thoroughly before cooking.

Millet, Squash & Sweet Corn Pilaf With Tamari-Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

When the air is fresh and crisp and there is no mistaking the transition of summer into fall, I make this for breakfast. This pilaf is perfectly good for lunch or dinner, but I love the way a savory breakfast sustains you throughout the day. The flavor combination of sweet squash and earthy millet is a comforting way to begin the morning, and the addition of turmeric lends healing and detoxifying properties. Turmeric is a true superfood; a natural anti-inflammatory, it is the best source of beta-carotene of any food and helps cleanse and tone the liver while strengthening the immune system. I also like how it adds a lovely golden hue to the millet.

Kabocha, red kuri, or buttercup squash all work well here. You can also use frozen corn if no fresh sweet corn is available.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup millet, washed and soaked 12 to 24 hours in 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cups winter squash, peeled, and cut in 1-inch dice
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2½ cups filtered water
  • 1 teaspoon tamari, plus more to serve

To Serve

  • Cold pressed flax oil
  • Thinly sliced scallions
  • Tamari-Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Preparation

Drain and rinse millet; place in a medium pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add onion, squash, corn, turmeric, salt, and water. Stir and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and cook for 30 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and sprinkle with tamari; replace lid and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before stirring gently. Serve topped with a drizzle of flax oil, scallions, tamari-toasted pumpkin seeds, and tamari to taste.

note: To cook pilaf in a pressure cooker, add the ingredients and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lock the lid in place and bring it up to high pressure, then reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the pressure to release naturally. Remove the lid, sprinkle with tamari, gently stir, and serve. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to four days, and steam in a steamer basket to reheat.

Millet is the only grain that has alkalizing properties; it soothes the stomach, spleen, and pancreas; helps strengthen the kidneys; and is a rich source of B vitamins and iron. Note that millet needs to be washed very well, as it has a bitter coating that will alter its flavor if not thoroughly removed.

Spelt

Spelt is an ancient, unhybridized wheat that is higher inprotein and fiber, lower in gluten (though not gluten-free), and easier to digest than regular wheat. I love the chewytexture and nutty flavor of whole spelt berries in salads like the Herbed Spelt Berry Salad with Peas and Feta (page 183) or stirred into stews such as the Roasted Fall Vegetable Cannellini Bean Stew with Spelt Berries and Kale (page 269). Like millet, spelt tends to attract bugs more than other grains, so be sure to store it in a tightly sealed jar.

Herbed Spelt Berry Salad With Peas & Feta

Pink pickled radishes, green peas, herbs, and crumbled white feta make this salad look like a pretty spring dress. The flavors and textures are an excellent combination and always put me in the mood to celebrate spring.

The pickled radishes in this salad can be made several days in advance; their lovely pink color deepens over time. I recommend preparing them when you soak the spelt berries the day before; they take seconds to make with a Japanese mandoline. If you have extra radishes on hand, make a double batch to use as a topping for simple grains or to serve with cheese. Frozen English peas work well when fresh peas are not available.

Serves 4 - 6

Pickled Radishes

  • 5 radishes, very thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ume plum vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons unpasteurized apple cider vinegar

Salad

  • 1¼ cups spelt berries, washed and soaked 12 to 24 hours in 3 cups filtered water
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups English peas, fresh or frozen
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
  • 5 ounces goat milk feta, drained and crumbled

Preparation

1. Place radishes in a bowl and add vinegars; toss well. Marinate for at least 6 hours and up to four days in the refrigerator.

2. Drain and rinse spelt berries. Place in a pot and cover with about 4 cups filtered water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1½ hours or until tender. Add extra water as needed to keep spelt berries covered while simmering. Remove from heat, drain well, and set aside to cool.

3. If using fresh peas, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add peas, and cook 2 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool. If using frozen peas, skip this blanching step.

4. Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden. Stir in peas, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook 2 minutes longer or until heated through. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

5. Place spelt berries, radishes and pickling liquid, remaining olive oil, peas, parsley, dill, and feta in a large bowl; toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Amaranth

Amaranth is a flowering plant whose tiny seeds can be eaten as a grain. Like quinoa, amaranth is an ancient grain from the high valleys of the Andes, a richly nutritious food that is exceptionally high in protein and calcium. It has a delightfully sweet and nutty flavor with an enchanting corn-like aroma. When cooked with brown rice or quinoa, it adds a sticky quality; when cooked alone, it is best served as a porridge or "grits." Amaranth also pops like popcorn, as you'll find in the Amaranth Muesli and Golden Amaranth Superfood Bars. You can even eat amaranth's pretty pink leaves; look for them at farmers' markets in summer and early autumn.

Golden Amaranth Superfood Bars

This bar is inspired by a recipe my friend and fellow chef Georgia Melnyk shared with me many years ago, when we met in the kitchen of a small natural-food restaurant called Terra 47 in New York. Georgia is a talented chef who possesses special capabilities when it comes to cooking truly delicious and healing food.

Not only do I love the tasty flavor and satisfying chewiness of this bar, but I also like its golden caramel color. Goji berries are an excellent (and obvious) addition to this recipe, so feel free to add some in.

Equipment: One 8-inch square baking dish

Makes eighteen 2 × 1-inch bars

Ingredients

  • olive oil for pan
  • 1¼ cup puffed amaranth (see page 130)
  • 1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup toasted unhulled sesame seeds (page 77)
  • ¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds (page 77)
  • ¼ cup hemp seeds
  • ½ cup yakon syrup (see sidebar)
  • ½ cup toasted almond butter, store-bought or homemade (page 117)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup toasted walnut halves (page 78), chopped
  • ½ cup dried mulberries

Preparation

1. Lightly brush pan with olive oil, or if using a metal cake pan, line with oiled parchment paper.

2. Place amaranth, coconut, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds in a medium-size bowl; toss to combine. Add yakon syrup and almond butter to a small pot over medium heat; stir well to work out any lumps. Continue stirring until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla and lemon zest. Working quickly, pour into amaranth mixture and stir until evenly combined. Add walnuts and mulberries, and mix again. Using moist hands, press dough into baking dish until completely even and flat. Place in the fridge to cool for at least 1½ hours or in the freezer for 45 minutes.

3. Cut into 18 bars. Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, bars will keep for up to two weeks, although they are best eaten within a few days.

Yakon syrup is a low glycemic sweetener with half the calories of sugar. It is made from yakon, a highly nutritious root grown in Peru. One of the healthiest sweeteners available, yakon syrup has a pleasant, malty, tropical flavor. (See page 44 for more information.) If you don't have yakon syrup on hand, you can replace it with brown rice syrup, and the bar will still be delicious.

From At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin, © 2014 by Amy Chaplin. Photographs © 2014 by Johnny Miller. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA. www.roostbooks.com

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