A lot of people think of energy as a buzz — the kind you get from sports drinks, coffee, and refined carbs like sugar and white bread. But that kind of energy is short lived and often followed by the all-too-familiar crash and burn, leaving you feeling more tired than ever.
That's where whole grains come to the rescue. They provide energy all right, but because the carbohydrates are the complex kind, they generate a steady source of fuel that comes on gradually and stays with you throughout the day. Whole grains also contain valuable minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients, and fiber; many are rich in protein, too. And whole grains' tastes and textures thrill the palate in ways white flour cannot begin to duplicate. Add ingredients that keep the dish light and bring other nutrients into the mix (think flax oil, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, and herbs), and you end up with a satisfying way to load up for action.
Bulgur is precooked cracked wheat, requiring only the addition of water to reconstitute. This twist on traditional tabbouleh includes sun-dried tomatoes, flax oil, and spinach.
Buckwheat is very light when prepared this way, almost like a warm salad. Ingredient tips: Sriracha is a common, fiery red Thai-food condiment; Mirin is Japanese cooking wine. Look for both in the Asian food aisle. Prep tips: When peppery daikon sprouts are not available, substitute microgreens or very thinly slivered scallions. If calamari tentacles creep you out, just use the bodies.
Wild rice is not really rice at all but an entirely unrelated grass. Much of the “wild” rice in stores is actually cultivated, but if you look for it, you can find true wild rice gathered by Native Americans in Minnesota and Canada. It's nuttier, with a less acrid husk. Low in fat, wild rice is high in protein, the amino acid lysine, and fiber. It is also a good source of potassium, phosphorus, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. And it's delicious.
One surefire way to make food enjoyable is to add some fat to it.
Grains in particular come alive in the company of fat. To keep food healthful, however, you need to choose the right fats, namely omega-3s and omega-6s, found abundantly in flax, walnuts, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds (and their oils). To protect the fragile omega-3s from heat damage, only stir in these fats after grains are done cooking. Adding fresh herbs and vegetables further enhances whole grains, creating a garden of delight where health and pleasure synergize beautifully.
Quinoa, a staple of the Incas, is a gluten-free whole protein and a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and fiber.
Serves 8 / The first time I tried amaranth, I hated it. Then I realized that its unique earthy flavor and odd texture require specific treatment, as in this Mexican-oriented dish. I think of it as a sort of Aztec polenta. Ingredient tip: You only need one chipotle in adobo for this recipe, but purée the rest from the can (strain out seeds) and serve alongside for extra heat. Serving tip: This dish has a loose consistency, so serve in wide bowls. Shrimp makes a nice partner.
Makes 1 loaf, about 12 slices / This is an upgraded, 21st-century version of Essene bread, a delicious, chewy, nutty whole-grain bread. Sliced ahead of time, it packs well and makes good fuel for hiking and traveling when paired with a sweet spread, such as almond or apple butter. It also can be frozen for up to a month.
As a former personal chef, Alan Roettinger's signature achievement has been inventing dishes that are both healthy and palate thrilling. His new book is Omega-3 Cuisine (Book Publishing, 2008).
GRAINS COOKING CHART: Click here for a handy guide to cooking grains!