Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I make it grain

I've been saying a lot lately- here and there (Facebook, actual face-to-face time)- about how dearly in love I am with whole grains.

No, seriously ... I have.

There's so much out there that I have yet to add to my master list. It seems like new grains come to my attention just about every day. It's funny to call them "new" since most have been enjoyed by ancient civilizations for centuries, but have been lost to our society through methods of commercial agriculture and monoculture.

Sorry, this isn't a soap-box posting. It's an ode ... to heart-healthy, belly filling, blood sugar stabilizing, freaking-delicious grains.

Even these guys want in on the action, though they don't have a chance of having those begging glances being rewarded.

That's Jackson on the left, Bear on the right.

My dad is one of the hardest people to convert to the whole-grain bandwagon. Don't get me wrong, he's a healthy-ish guy ... whole grain bread products are a standard in his house, but he hates rice, quinoa ... really anything of that ilk that has a "grainy" texture.

I get it. He's not alone in his plight. Lots of people can't get beyond the look of the stuff, let alone eat it.

That's when my job gets interesting.

That right there is a Bulgar salad. Zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, feta, pancetta.

When something like this hits the table and there are skeptics about, your offering needs to taste good- nay, *great*. Plus, I had to compete with a cobb salad surrounded by deviled eggs. No joke.

See?? That's some serious competition!

Needless to say, a little bit of cheese and a little bit of bacon (traditional, Italian, Canadian, it doesn't matter) makes everything taste better. I consider using bacon a cheat. It really isn't good for you at all, but its horrible attributes can be overlooked if we're trying to overcome a textural aversion.

My salad got two thumbs up (in the form of a second helping on Daddy-O's plate) and that felt great. Grains are a blank canvas to apply flavors to. Sure, some of them have their own curious flavor profile- quinoa and amaranth certainly have something going on- but that doesn't mean you can't delight your taste-buds. Here are some tricks to help you ease into grain-laden-bliss:

Rinse and/or Toast: Toasting grains helps their flavor develop. Rinsing makes a huge difference with lots of these guys. A quick wash in some cheese-cloth goes a long way (colanders are a decent idea, but their holes are often too big for this purpose).

Stock: Veggie, chicken, veal, beef ... forget the directions on the box/bag, cook grains in stock instead of water and you're headed down the road to success.

Flavor Enhancement: Acids and oils can take you places without adding too much salt or fat to the mix. Lemon juice, red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, rice vinegar ... do I really need to go on? Olive oil and sesame oil certainly do the trick. Any combination works well, just be sure to mix your vinaigrette in a separate container before splashing it all over your grains. Quality control, folks ... quality control.

Hot and Cold: I love that you can eat this stuff either way, but keep temperature in mind when you're serving. Temperature will change the texture of your dish and that can make a huge difference to any eater.

If there's a grain you're dying to try, TRY IT! There are so many resources out there to help you find the perfect recipe, you really can't go wrong. Your heart, belly and mind will thank you.

Happy eating. xo

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