About Whole Grains and Healthy Eating

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

You can lead a horse to water…but you can’t make it drink! I’m reminded of that old idiom when trying to encourage more people to eat more healthfully.

We all know that what we eat impacts our health. And we can all agree that eating more whole grains is part of the solution. But people eat what they’re accustomed to, and it’s hard to convince them that nutty, chewy and sometimes bitter qualities of whole grains can not only be palatable, but downright delicious!

Enter Everyday Whole Grains, New Recipes from Amaranth to Wild Rice by Ann Taylor Pittman, published by Oxmoor House, ©2016 Time Inc. Books.

I’ve known Ann, Executive Food Editor of Cooking Light, from a trip we took together to Ireland years ago. And to keep up with her life today, I follow @annietaypitt on Instagram where her photo feed is simply mouthwatering. When she announced the publication of Everyday Whole Grains earlier this year, I was quick to purchase a copy.

Recommended by her Cooking Light editor to author the book, Ann recalls, “I wanted to take on a big project and a big challenge, sharing ways to make over lots of family favorites and hopefully inspiring new ones.

“As a mom, I feel that one of my biggest responsibilities to my kids is to raise them with healthy eating patterns as their default—I don’t want to fill their growing bodies with junk. So this project allowed me to expand my own repertoire for my family and in doing so, hopefully give other families new go-to recipes.”

A Real Life Healthy Eating Mom

As the mother of twin boys, Ann practices at home what she preaches on the job at Cooking Light. For her sons, healthy eating “…has just always been the norm,” Ann says. “To them, bread is brown. That’s just the way we’ve always eaten, so it’s normal to them. When we have rice pilaf, it’s made with brown rice; casseroles are bulked up with farro and quinoa. It’s just how we eat. That said, we do sometimes enjoy Asian short-grain white rice, or a nice white baguette—but those are more the exceptions,” she qualifies.

“By living and eating this way, my kids' palates are established to accept the nutty, toasty flavors of whole grains because we’ve just always eaten them,” she adds. “I’m also really lucky because they’re just great eaters; they’re really adventurous, and they do get it that enjoying good food is one of life’s greatest joys.”

How to Get Your Kids—And Yourself—Primed

I asked Ann for tips on how to get kids hooked on whole grains. Her advice also works for skeptical adults who need some convincing that they can change their own eating habits. “For some parents, getting buy-in on whole grains can be a real challenge,” she acknowledges. “I’d like to encourage these parents to keep trying. One of the best ways to introduce whole grains is to include them in a dish that’s familiar. If you throw too many new ideas at the family at one time, it may be too much. But if, for example, you’re making your chicken and dumplings with wheat flour, or you’re tossing some freekeh into sloppy Joes, your family may just love (or not even notice) the whole grains. I’ve tried to include lots of those kinds of ideas in the book.”

Everyday Whole Grains is obviously a labor of love and Ann has packed this book with all the background information you need to get started. There is a primer on grain basics, including descriptions of the grains; buying and storing information; and cooking and baking techniques. The book features deliciously appealing photography, sidebar tips, and headnotes from Ann to introduce each recipe with personal insights.

“In working on the book, I really took the notion of ‘everyday’ whole grains to heart,” Ann explains. “So I worked hard to include recipes that fit everyday occasions, that are versatile and cover most needs—from easy weeknight dinners to celebration dishes, to weekend cooking projects. I tried to hit a balance of recipes that introduce new whole grains to folks who may be unfamiliar with them, as well as offering next-level ideas to cooks seeking new ways with whole grains.”

Here's a recipe from Ann’s book, featuring quinoa, that was a big hit at my house. The recipe may look daunting, compared to the usual Special Fork recipe, but it’s not. You simple roast the eggplants, make the soup in about 30 minutes, purée it in a blender and top with Crunchy Fried Quinoa. If you don’t want to take the time, skip the topping—the soup will still taste delicious. Or, make the topping in advance and store it airtight at room temperature for up to a week, or freeze it for longer. You can use fried grains to top yogurt, salads, ice cream or mac and cheese—add a sprinkling any time you want some crunch in a dish.

Fiery Thai Eggplant Soup

2 (1-pound) whole eggplants
½ cup chopped shallots (about 2 ounces)
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons fish sauce
4 garlic cloves
1 or 2 Thai bird chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
3 cups water
½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 cup light coconut milk
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup Crunchy Fried Quinoa (recipe below)
Cilantro leaves
Lime wedges

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Place eggplants on a foil-lined baking sheet; pierce each a few times with tip of a knife. Broil eggplants 20 minutes or until skin is charred and flesh is very soft when tested with a knife, turning occasionally to cook evenly. Cool slightly. Remove and discard skin; set pulp aside.
  3. Place shallots and next 4 ingredients (through chiles) in a mini food processor; process until minced and almost paste-like, scraping sides as needed.
  4. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallot mixture; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 3 cups water and uncooked quinoa; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until quinoa is very tender. Pour mixture into a blender; add eggplant pulp, coconut milk, and ¼ cup water. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth (about 2 minutes). Return mixture to pan; stir in lime juice and salt. Heat over medium-low heat 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
  5. Ladle soup into each of 8 bowls. Top each serving with Crunchy Fried Quinoa. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves; serve with lime wedges. Serves 8.

Recipe from Everyday Whole Grains, 175 New Recipes from Amaranth to Wild Rice, by Ann Taylor Pittman, © 2016 Time Inc. Books. Published by Oxmoor House.

Special Fork Note: Do not overfill blender; blend in two batches if your blender capacity is small. If you want to skip the Crunchy Fried Quinoa, this soup will still taste totally delicious.

Crunchy Fried Grains

3 cups cooked whole grains (works best with quinoa, barley, farro, spelt, millet and brown rice)
6 cups canola oil or peanut oil

  1. Line a jelly-roll pan with several layers of paper towels. Spread cooked grains out into a thin layer on paper towels. Let stand 1 to 2 hours to dry out surface moisture, stirring grains occasionally.
  2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven until a thermometer submerged in oil registers 375⁰F. Do not use a smaller pot (moisture in the grains will cause the oil to bubble up vigorously). Add ½ cup cooked grains to oil; do not add more than this, or oil may bubble over. Cook 4 5o 5 minutes or until grains are browned and crisp; do not allow temperature of oil to drop below 350⁰F. Remove fried grains from pan with a fine wire mesh ladle; drain on paper towels. Repeat procedure with remaining grains, ½ cup at a time. Makes about 3 cups.

Recipe adapted from Everyday Whole Grains, 175 New Recipes from Amaranth to Wild Rice, by Ann Taylor Pittman, © 2016 Time Inc. Books. Published by Oxmoor House.

Note: Ann says the fried grains will keep up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature or 3 to 4 months in the freezer.

Special Fork notes: Be extra-careful when working with hot oil and follow instructions exactly. A clip-on frying thermometer is the best way to measure oil temperature.

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Posted: Oct 30th by Sandy_Hu