Monday, 14 January 2013

Adding Multi-grain to Everyday meals

Grains form a large percentage of our diet and an integral part of every meal. However, most of our diets strongly favor only rice and wheat and ignore all other nutritious edible grains. Introducing them to our diet not only ensures we have variety but gives our body a host of different nutrients we can’t possibly get from just wheat and rice. Here's a look at how every meal can be a multi-grain meal.

Let's begin with breakfast. Porridge is one of the healthiest and easiest breakfasts to make. It is made by simply adding a cereal to milk or water or both and cooking it to form a thick broth-like paste. Most often porridge is made with oats. However, one can even make porridge with barley, millet, quinoa, rye, flax and buckwheat. Porridge is also often made with pounded red rice or brown rice (brown or red poha). While oats themselves are extremely healthy, they have a much higher fat content and lesser dietary fiber than millet or rye. They can be a great addition to oat porridge, if not a substitute. Similarly, when choosing a packet of muesli, select one which has many different grains. 

We associate soups and salads with vegetables and meat but one can introduce small quantities of
grain to these as well. For instance, tabouleh is a Middle Eastern salad that is made by combining
raw soaked bulgur wheat, parsley, tomatoes, olive oil and herbs. The little bits of bulgur wheat give
the salad an interesting texture and crunch. Similarly in Morocco and North Africa barley is cooked
in boiling water till al-dente and added to salads along with fresh vegetables and greens. The best
part about introducing grains to a salad, is that it gets extra body and become more filling, thereby
curbing one's need to follow it up with a portion of bread or rice.

When it comes to soup, corn is probably the first grain that comes to mind. It can be used whole in Italian minestrone or ground into a paste to make a thick Chinese sweet corn soup. Similarly one can even use quinoa, barley or bulgur. You don't really need to look for a fancy new recipe. Just make your favorite Peppery Chicken soup and add to it some cooked barley or throw some cooked soft quinoa into a Roasted Bell Pepper soup. You can even use grains as a thickening agent instead of cornstarch. Just grind the soaked or cooked grains into a paste, as fine of chunky as you like, and add it to the soup while cooking to get a thick comforting broth. Grains can be added in much the same way to casseroles and stews. 

Let's not leave out dessert! All baked confections like cakes and brownies can be made with other grains as well. One can add rye or oats to muffins. Biscotti can be made with quinoa flour, cornmeal or even oat flour. The consistency isn't the same as when you use white wheat flour, as all of these grains have more dietary fiber. If you do not enjoy their texture, you can replace half the white flour with a ground grain of your choice and you will hardly notice the difference. Where Indian sweets are concerned, kheer or payassam can be made using jowar, bajra and even oats. The same grains can also be used to make delicious healthy laddoos.

A multi-grain diet has several health benefits. To begin with all these lesser used grains are lower in saturated fat, higher in dietary fiber and many are gluten free. They are an important part of traditional food cultures in several parts of the world but have somehow been forgotten and slipped out of our diets. Now that their health benefits have been recognized, it's time to befriend them once again. 

Monday, 7 January 2013

Alternative Grains – Healthier Rice Substitutes

Rice is such an important part of our diet. It is a staple most of the world depends on for sustenance.
India is one of the great rice growing countries of the world. Rice even holds a sacred place in our
culture; a new bride and groom are showered with rice grains as they take their wedding vows to
symbolically bless them with bounty. Rice is a healthy carbohydrate, rich in minerals and vitamins,
yet if you look into most kitchen cupboards you'll find rice that is neither healthy nor nourishing.
Unfortunately, the beautiful grains of white rice that most of us eat on a daily basis are overly
processed, polished in excess and rid of all their goodness.

White rice is nothing but brown rice that has been milled to remove the outer husk. This makes the
rice grain look aesthetically pleasing and easier to cook but actually that depreciates its nutritional
value. The main reason rice is polished, is to increase its shelf life but in doing so much of the
valuable dietary fibre is lost. Brown rice, or rice with the bran helps in weight management and
helps control diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar levels. It is extremely simple to cook brown rice
and needs no extra effort. The only difference is that brown rice absorbs more water than white rice
and usually takes slightly longer to cook. Once cooked, brown rice can be used in much the same
way as white rice. The consistency is a little different; brown rice has a little grainer texture and
more of a bite. It perfectly complements coconut based Asian curries or can be used in stir fries,
broths and to make porridge. People even use brown rice to make desserts like kheer or payassam.

Some varieties of rice have a husk that is reddish in colour instead of being brown. This sort of
rice grows abundantly in South India, parts of Bhutan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and parts of Africa.
Red rice is also a great healthy alternative to eating white rice. It is almost gluten free, very high
in Vitamin B, iron and calcium. In flavour it is nutty, sweet and has a chewy consistency. Just like
other varieties of unhusked rice, it needs more water and a longer time to cook. It can be prepared
in a pressure cooker, in a rice cooker or on the stove top. Red rice is a perfect accompaniment for
South Indian meat and fish curries. Both red and brown rice can be used to make rice dishes like
pilafs and biryanis.

Another great healthy substitute for rice is quinoa. This super-food is slowly gaining popularity
in all parts of the world for its versatility and its nutritional value. Quinoa is actually a seed which
can be used like a cereal or a grain. When it is cooked with water, quinoa seeds fluff up. They
form a light, nutty, mild tasting alternative to white rice. Quinoa responds well to seasoning and
takes on the flavour of herbs and spices. It can be eaten along with gravy dishes; it makes a perfect
accompaniment as it soaks up liquid just like rice does.

Couscous is a staple Middle Eastern and North African food that is made with semolina. It is much
lighter than rice and can also be made with millet. Couscous can either be made with refined or
whole grains. Whole grain couscous is usually made with unhusked durum wheat and is pretty low
in calories. Traditionally, couscous is eaten with stews or goulash but it can be eaten in several
different ways. One can even make upma, sheera and kheer with couscous. It can be cooked along
with meat and vegetables to make a pulao-like dish.

Turning to these white rice substitutes is about making a healthier choice. Eating whole grains is
one tried-and-tested way of lowering the risk of heart disease, controlling cholesterol, avoiding
diabetes and curbing obesity. The best part is you do not have to compromise on flavour and