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Sound Consumer | January 2002

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

Recipe below: Spiced Whole-Wheat Bran Muffins

When you ponder healthier eating, think whole grains! Whole grains pack nutrients into every bite. The Food Pyramid is on target with its advice to include half of our daily calories from grains. Beyond the quick-energy we derive from its stored starches, whole grains deliver much more: They haven't been stripped of their fiber by over-milling and processing. They also deliver high quantities of several B vitamins, vitamin E, iron and other minerals.

The labels of refined grains and grain products that say "enriched" should instead state they have "partial nutritional replacement." After excessive refining, no fiber is returned, and the only nutrients replaced are three of the B vitamins, iron and, in some cases, folic acid. Yet whole-grain wheat, rice or other whole grain delivers "the full deal meal," with more than 30 nutrients, on average. Heavily refined grains, grain flour and grain-flour products simply do not compare favorably to whole grains.

The following are questions I typically receive, with the answers I give on how to include more whole grains in a diet, deliciously.

Q: I know it's best to use more whole grains on a daily basis, but I'm not sure how to do that and keep it interesting. I buy some whole-wheat bread for toast or sandwiches, and make brown rice about once a week, but I'm not sure what else to do. Help!

A: That's a good start! Here are some ideas: Begin fueling up with whole grains at breakfast. Toss standbys such as cooked rolled oats — or cooked brown rice — into a bowl with raisins, sunflower seeds and a dash of cinnamon. Don't forget virtuous granola, which usually consists of whole-grain oats, nuts and fruits. Make it hot by warming milk or milk substitute, then dig into a warming porridge that Goldilocks would have wrestled the three bears for! Or choose whole-grain cold cereals from the market's shelves; vary your cereal choice to sample several grains, such as spelt, amaranth, quinoa and kamut. Try frozen whole-grain waffles from PCC's freezer cases; some are wheat or dairy-free. (Homemade waffles can be individually frozen in bags, and heated in the toaster.)

Eat corn tortillas or whole-wheat tortillas (also called chapattis) for breakfast. Quickly warm one on a hot griddle — no oil necessary — and wrap it around scrambled eggs, tofu or leftovers such as mashed beans, stew or meat. Or grate some reduced-fat cheddar or jack cheese onto one, cover it with another tortilla and warm both sides briefly. Add a drizzle of salsa to kick start your morning!

For those who simply can't face food early in the day, pack a whole-grain snack for a mid-morning break. Buy something from the PCC Deli, or bake a batch of whole-grain muffins during the weekend, and freeze them in individual sandwich bags for your own "grab 'n go." These are terrific to munch on during the afternoon droops or while stuck on I-5. (See Spiced Whole-Wheat Bran Muffins recipe below)

Whole grains can come to lunch in many guises: in a sandwich, as an accompaniment to hot soup or as an ingredient in grain, vegetable and protein salads. Simply use what you have, such as leftover brown rice, millet, buckwheat groats (kasha) or quinoa. Toss it with grated raw veggies; try carrots, cabbage or turnip.

(Yes, turnip or rutabaga is delicious and crunchy raw.) Add crunchy chunks of bell peppers or celery, a few cherry tomatoes, minced onions, or leftover bits of cooked veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower or green beans. Or pull frozen corn or peas from the freezer. To add an extra protein punch, consider throwing in bits of cold chicken, plain or seasoned tofu, hard-boiled egg, cheese or canned tuna or beans. Toss with a simple dressing for a terrifically satisfying lunch.

Q: How do I learn to cook and use some of those whole grains you've mentioned? I imagine they may taste quite bland. I'm just not sure how to serve grains like buckwheat kasha, quinoa or millet.

A: Most of us are "comfortable" with rice. We know rice can be cooked plain or seasoned, added to salads, added raw in soups or cooked in casseroles or used in sweet dessert puddings. We may need to adjust to whole brown rice's heartier flavor and longer cooking time, but we aren't too puzzled by rice.

We can use other whole grains in many of the ways we use rice. Plus, many whole grains cook in less time than refined white rice. Plain or toasted buckwheat groats or quinoa cook in about 15 to 20 minutes, millet takes about 20 to 30 minutes, and, like rice, most need twice as much liquid to raw grain. Notice I didn't say "water," but "liquid." Add nutrients and delicious flavor by sometimes cooking your grains in chicken or vegetable broth; for breakfast or dessert dishes, cook grains in fruit juice such as apple cider.

Some whole grains that take as long, or longer, to cook than whole brown rice are absolutely delicious, and worth the extra time. These include hulled barley, which has more nutrients and fiber than pearled barley. For 1 cup of dry barley, use 2 1/2 to 3 cups water or broth. If pre-soaked for a few hours, it cooks in about 1 to 1 1/2 hours; otherwise, barley may need 2 hours cooking. (See our "Beans and Grains Cooking Guide" in the Co-op Information Center). Prepare whole rye, spelt, kamut or wheat berries in a similar fashion. Add these nutty-tasting grains back to soups (after cooking them), or serve them with meat or vegetables. They are also excellent as "pilaf" dishes, prepared in broth, with sautéed mushrooms, vegetables and herbs.

Finally, consider taking PCC's FoodWorks Cooking classes. The new schedule is in this issue of Sound Consumer. The FoodWorks instructors place particular emphasis on timesaving, delicious ways to use whole grains, beans and vegetables. I also invite you to attend one of my frequent, free walk-and-talk Natural Foods Kitchen classes (listed on the back page of the FoodWorks schedule).

Spiced Whole-Wheat Bran Muffins (with raisins, apples and walnuts*)

Yield: 36 regular size muffins; Time: 35 to 40 minutes

  • Dry ingredients:
  • 3 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 3 cups whole-wheat bran
  • 2 rounded tablespoons Rumford non-aluminum baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup raisins or date pieces
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Wet ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat or whole milk, or plain or vanilla yogurt
  • 4 cups unfiltered apple juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup unrefined sesame or safflower oil

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. In a separate bowl, briskly whisk together the wet ingredients. Gently fold liquid into dry, and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. During this time, the batter should "tighten" but still be loose; if it isn't, gently fold in more juice or water and wait another 5 minutes. If the batter is too stiff, the muffins will be very dry; if it's too wet (runny), the muffins won't be full. (Working with this much added bran takes a little experience.) Fill oiled muffin tins level to the top of each well, and bake in pre-heated 425°F oven, for about 20 minutes. Remove and cool on cake rack. Enjoy warm, but plan on freezing several individually, or 6 to a bag.

*One muffin: 120 calories, 4.5 g fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 18 g carbohydrates (4 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar), 4 g protein

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