I recently had the honour of being invited to participate in an excellent initiative by a fellow dietitian colleague. Kristyn (@KristynHall) envisioned a club of sorts where dietitians would meet regularly to cook, taste, eat and share, with the aim of gaining knowledge, skills and recipes to pass on to their clients. This idea came into fruition on a sunny Sunday in March, where four dietitians (plus one massage therapist and one community health educator/parenting specialist!) gathered in Kristyn's gorgeous kitchen to cook up some ancient grains.
Kristyn was a gracious and organized hostess - she picked out all of the recipes (most were from The New Whole Grains Cookbookby Robin Asbell) and laid out the mise en place, including soaking/cooking some of the grains ahead of time. She also helpfully prepared a comprehensive list of common whole grains, listing water-to-grain ratio for cooking and brief nutrition information. We were all pleasantly surprised to find that many of the grains were very rich in protein - I think we are so used to looking at grain products and focusing on the fibre, that we forget how much protein they have when the bran and germ (the latter especially) are intact.
After discussing some of the information and looking at the different grains Kristyn had laid out for us, it was time to split off into groups and cook. Kristyn acted as a resource, helping us find the right utensils in the kitchen, and snapping photos in between. I love these closeups of all the hands at work.
Another group made the Blueberry-Wheat Berry Salad from the US Highbush Blueberry Council website. This was one of the crowd favourites - like the farro, the chewy, nutty wheat berries added heartiness to an otherwise light salad of celery, parsley and green onions. The blueberries - both fresh and dried - added sweetness while the chopped walnuts added crunch.
My personal favourite was actually the Rich and Tangy Buckwheat and Chèvre Gratin. The buckwheat groats were all but hidden under the caramelized shallots, parmesan and chèvre. The dish was warm and gooey - the ultimate comfort food.
I was particularly intrigued by the Millet-Cauliflower "Mashed Potatoes". Millet is a very fine grain and cooks into a soft and thick "mush". If I hadn't seen the recipe I wouldn't have known that I was eating a grain-vegetable purée instead of a tuber! With some extra butter and perhaps some roasted garlic, I'm sure even the most acute of palates would be fooled. There were some issues getting the millet to cook in the African Millet Salad with Corn and Peppers, but we all loved the spicy flavours of the garlic, ginger, paprika, allspice and cayenne that went into the cooking liquid. Would love to re-create this, but perhaps with couscous to start because I at least know that it will work ;)
There was also an ancient grain dessert! Kristyn made the Double Dark Chocolate Buckwheat Pudding the night before as the buckwheat takes time to cook. It was rich and creamy, though there were still some chewy groats sneaking around in there!
We also tasted a few other grains - rye berries, spelt berries and amaranth - simply dressed in a ginger-honey-apple vinaigrette.
The rye berries and spelt berries were very similar (though I think the rye berries were slightly nuttier-tasting than the spelt), while the tiny amaranth grains were quite different from anything else I've tasted. I'm curious to see how they would work in a recipe... I know I've seen popped amaranth in Brendan Brazier's The Thrive Dietwhich sounds quite interesting!
I sampled just a little of everything, but it was still a very hearty and filling lunch! It was so much fun cooking with such a knowledgeable and inspiring group of ladies and I can't wait to cook with them again.
I will share the recipe for the Blueberry-Wheat Berry Salad with you since it seemed the most popular. The wheat berries do require soaking overnight and still take quite a bit of time to cook but it's *totally* worth it - a great source of fibre and protein. For those with celiac disease/gluten intolerance, I think buckwheat groats (aka kasha) or wild rice would make good substitutes.
Blueberry-Wheat Berry Salad
Adapted from US Highbush Blueberry Council
Makes 6 cups
- 1½ cups (375 mL) hard winter wheat berries, soaked overnight, drained
- ½ cup (125 mL) finely chopped celery
- ½ cup (125 mL) finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup (60 mL) finely chopped green onion
- 3 tbsp (45 mL) fresh lemon juice
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
- ¾ tsp (4 mL) salt
- ¼ tsp (1 mL) white pepper
- 1½ cups (375 mL) blueberries
- ½ cup (125 mL) dried blueberries
- ½ cup (125 mL) toasted walnuts, chopped
Nutrition Info (per cup): 320 calories, 11 g fat (1 g saturated, 0 g trans), 0 mg cholesterol, 50 g carbohydrate (8 g fibre, 11 g sugar), 9 g protein, 302 mg sodium. An excellent source of vitamin K, magnesium, manganese and selenium. A good source of thiamine (vitamin B1), folate (vitamin B9), vitamin E, iron, phosphorus, zinc and copper.
- Place wheat berries in a large saucepan and cover with 2 inches water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered until wheat berries become chewy, about 1 hour. Drain, rinse and allow to cool.
- In a large bowl, mix together cooked wheat berries, celery, parsley, green onion, lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Add fresh blueberries, dried blueberries and walnuts; toss just to combine. Serve chilled.