Editor’s note: Carrie Floyd, Culinate’s food editor, challenged herself to eat whole grains at every meal for a month, and we all pitched in with her efforts by posting on the blog below. Read this intro, and then jump to the bottom of the blog and read posts from bottom to top, so you can get a sense of how she did throughout the 30 days.
The more I read about whole grains, the more I realize that I’m fooling myself if I think I’m eating enough. I know that a diet rich in whole grains is good for cardiovascular health, regulating digestion, and maintaining a healthy weight.
But in truth, a lot of the grains I eat are refined: bread, pizza, pasta, baked goods. I don’t have an aversion to eating whole grains — I actually love the taste of brown rice and quinoa. I’m just not in the habit of preparing and eating them every day, at every meal.
Thus the Whole-Grain Challenge was born: To spend the month of June practicing eating more whole grains. To eat whole grains at every meal. To choose whole grains over refined, processed grains.
To think twice about what I’m eating, when I’m eating grains.
Sign up with me for this challenge, and together we’ll separate the chaff from the grain. When we wrap it up June 30, I hope we’ll know the whole story when it comes to eating grains.
An added bonus: In an effort to help inspire members of the challenge, throughout the month, we’ll be giving away copies of Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way and Bob’s Red Mill Baking Book. Join us to be eligible to win.
After 30 days of a daily diet of whole grains, how do I feel?
Better informed and pleasantly full.
My awareness about whole grains has tripled. I can tell a groat from a grit. I say “whole grain” with the nonchalance some say “dude.”
When it comes to cooking quinoa, brown rice, and wheat berries, I prepare them with the same ease I boil pasta. I’ve ventured into the world of baking with whole grains and am less anxious and dubious about the outcome. And my taste buds have changed; white bread (even those crusty artisan loaves) tastes boring to me. White rice — bluck.
I always liked the taste of whole grains, but after a daily dose, I now prefer them. Whole-wheat bread, rye crackers, granola, hot cereals, grain salads, popcorn, corn tortillas, brown rice, bulgur, polenta, and quinoa are all staples in our house. Leftover grains get folded into burritos, soup, even muffins. I’ve earmarked a gazillion recipes I want to try.
Though I didn’t get to as many new recipes as I intended, I did find a lot of easy ways to work whole grains into my daily diet. I learned that I don’t have to clear the decks (aka counters and calendar) to eat more whole grains. I don’t have to make bread or unmold millet timbales; I just have to buy/choose/cook them as an alternative to refined grains.
Through the Whole-Grain Challenge, I learned a lot and came to realize that there’s still a lot to learn; I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to cooking the wide variety of available whole grains. Teff, beware!
There’s also been a ripple affect. I didn’t set out to reprogram the children, but a steady diet of whole grains has made an impact. My daughter now helps herself to the pot of brown rice and requests quinoa salad. My son asks suspiciously, “Is this really a whole grain?” while downing handfuls of popcorn; oatmeal, whole-grain pancakes, and not-quite-monster cookies are standard fare.
What I appreciate most: heightened whole-grain awareness. Turning my full attention to grains allowed me to experience them in new ways.
I discovered the absence of whole-grain choices in restaurants. This has prompted me to do two things: ask for them (perhaps enough requests for whole grains will shift the trend?) and eat enough whole grains at home to make up for the occasional omission.
I realized that it really doesn’t take that much longer to cook brown rice than white and that it’s okay to take off the lid to see how it’s doing. In fact, I’m a convert to boiling grains like pasta until al dente. (Then I drain the grain, put it back in the cooking pot, cover it and let it steam — no heat — while I finish making the rest of dinner.)
I learned that whole grains are cheap and filling. And I confirmed what I already knew: talking about regularity is a good way to stall a conversation.
Best of all, though — and forgive the born-again tone — instead of thinking of whole grains as a food I should eat a whole lot more of, I just eat whole grains because it’s now routine.
Though the Whole-Grain Challenge officially ended on the last day of June, we’ve decided to continue the blog, albeit less vigorously. Look for continued posts here as we further explore the whole wide world of eating whole grains.
And I have to ask: How was it for you? Let us know in the comment section.
Prior to starting the Whole-Grain Challenge, I amassed a collection of cookbooks — from my bookshelves, the library, and the Culinate office — and piled them into a tower next to my desk. Over the last month, I have gleaned cooking tips from these books, earmarked recipes (more than I actually cooked), and referred to them for various posts, as well as the Whole-Grain Glossary. If you’re interested in reading and eating more whole grains, check out the following 12 cookbooks.
When I wrote about oat groats a couple of weeks ago, I promised that I’d post again after perfecting the art of cooking the groats in my rice cooker. I’m happy to report that I did that, successfully, this morning. And it was easy — almost embarrassingly so.
I cooked the groats per instructions (and ratios and settings) for white rice. In my rice cooker, it took about an hour to cook two rice measures of oat groats. I think the pictures say it best.
Raw oat groats in rice-cooker measure.
I washed and rinsed the oat groats — just like I do for rice.
For two measures of groats, I added water as for two measures of white rice.
After an hour, the groats were done, with great texture.
Served with fresh strawberries.
Or with cranberries and pumpkin seeds.
Thanks for following along. You may need to adjust proportions slightly for your rice cooker — do let us know. Now, back to the career as a folk-singer.
Pasta, in my household, appears on the table weekly. The kids like it, and I like its “blank slate” versatility. But in the three-plus weeks that I’ve been eating whole grains every day, I have cooked very few pots of noodles.
Prior to the Challenge, I stocked my pantry with several varieties of noodle: soba, whole-wheat spaghetti, quinoa shells, spelt and brown-rice noodles. The soba went without a hitch, as that’s what I usually use for peanut noodles. It was the whole-wheat spaghetti that derailed me.
It’s awfully hard to tell the kids to buck up and tuck in when I’m making faces at my plate, too.
I’ve tried several different brands, but the only one I really liked was the one that started out brown and ended up blonde. Hmm, makes you wonder about how integrated those whole grains are, doesn’t it? I always liked the Bionaturae cappellini, but it seems to no longer be available.
My problem with whole-grain pastas is not their taste, but the texture: Too gummy, too soft, too mealy.
Help me out here. Do you have a type or brand of whole-grain pasta you like? Or perhaps a cooking tip for me? I’m all ears.
Since I was on the road for the first half of June, I kind of figured I’d take a pass on the Whole-Grain Challenge. But two weeks of bland, refined flours and grains (in pasta, bread, and rice) made me realize that I did kind of like my whole wheat.
At the end of the third week of June, however — my first week back in my own kitchen — I trolled through Carrie’s posts one more time and sighed. I do occasionally cook real whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and even millet. (I don’t find millet as hard to cook as everybody seems to think, and it’s a nice alternative to ordinary couscous.) But most of what passes for “whole grains” in my household is actually “flour made from whole grains.”
So far this week, we’ve downed a batch of Carrie’s whole-grain pancakes, a package of whole-wheat spaghetti doused with puttanesca sauce, and two loaves of No-Knead Bread tricked out with whole-wheat pastry flour, barley flour, and flaxseeds.
Apart from those flaxseeds, however, pretty much everything virtuous on this list got that way thanks to flour, not whole grains. In other words, pulverized grains, not the real deal. Even the granola we occasionally eat for breakfast has rolled oats, not oat groats.
In my defense, I claim that the hippie flours are still healthier than the bleached, ultra-refined flours. And we do eat these flours pretty regularly, not just during The Month of Whole Grains. Still, I was bummed (like Kim) to realize that lentil salad isn’t listed in the whole-grain dictionary.
Best discovery of the week: Whole-wheat pasta made by the Italian company Bionaturae ain’t bad — especially compared to the mushy dreck that first hit the market a few years back.
Carrie Floyd told me that at the baseball game last night, she saw a sign that made her look twice. “Does that sign say ‘oats’?!” she asked her daughter.
“It says outs!” replied her daughter, with all the exasperation a sweet 12-year-old can muster. “Jeez, Mom.”
So goes the Whole-Grain Challenge. I have to admit, I feel a little sheepish when Carrie describes the hoops she’s jumping through to try to eat whole grains at every meal. I try . . . but I give up pretty quickly, especially when I’m eating out. Most restaurants dwell in a processed-grain world; when was the last time you went out for a burger and got it on a whole-grain bun? Or for a pizza on a whole-wheat crust? (I did learn that the pappadums at Vindalho are made of lentil flour, which — as lentils aren’t grains — doesn’t count.)
So Carrie’s eating in a lot (which I admire, always) and cooking a bunch. Not only that, but she’s put together a mighty useful glossary of 20 of her new best friends: whole grains, from amaranth to wheat berries.
It’s a great resource, and if you haven’t seen it yet, check it out before your next grain quest. Maybe you’ll find something there to inspire you. Personally, I’m on the hunt for red or black quinoa; I want to try this recipe from a singer I admire greatly, Pink Martini's China Forbes.
In the two weeks that have transpired since the Whole-Grain Challenge began, I’ve learned a few strategies for making sure I eat grains every day, at (almost) every meal.
The first lies in stocking the pantry. A field trip to Bob’s Red Mill yielded many bags of nubby, golden-brown bits, aka whole grains. With a pantry bulging with oats, rice, variations on wheat (bulgur, wheat berries, kamut), as well as rye crackers and popcorn (good snacks), the excuse of “there’s nothing in the house to eat” simply doesn’t fly.
Breakfast, I’ve found, is an easy meal at which to eat whole grains. If there’s time in the morning, I’ll make a pot of oatmeal or whole-grain pancakes. Otherwise it’s granola — which I made a huge batch of last week — or whole-wheat toast topped with jam or a soft-boiled egg.
Having a stocked pantry, however, means nothing without the second strategy: cooking. Unless I want to eat raw whole grains, which I don’t, cooking is required. Cooking in large batches ensures easy, future meals. (Exhibit A: Granola.) My favorite lunch is a bowl of grain salad — quinoa, wheat berry, bulgur — with a piece of fruit.
If there’s no salad in the fridge, I’ll make a quesadilla with corn tortillas or a sandwich on whole-wheat bread. Or eat leftovers.
Leftovers lately means a lot of brown rice, which brings me to the third strategy: preparing large quantities of whole grains. Lorna Sass, author of Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way, calls this the Grain Bank: purposefully cooking more grains than needed to turn leftovers into future meals. Having cooked grains in the fridge means it’s a quick trick to fold them into other dishes: rice into burritos or a stir-fry, millet into soup, quinoa into salad.
As for dinner, I’ve been rethinking it: Overrated. (Just kidding.) In truth, with the Challenge on my mind, I’m looking at dinner through a new set of lenses. Instead of building a meal around meat, I think Grain and put it at the center of the plate. I consider what sounds good, then brainstorm which grain I could marry to both satisfy the craving and meet the contents of my fridge or freezer. Examples: Italian Sausages with Polenta and Tomato Sauce, farro with sautéed leeks and roasted vegetables, brown rice with stir-fried greens and ponzu.
Putting grains front and center, instead of relegating them to Side Dish, is the best way I’ve found to guarantee a serving of whole grains at dinner.
This leads me to the fourth and final strategy, which is really the Überstrategy, the one that underlies all of the above: Planning.
Without planning, stocking up and cooking large mean nothing. What works best (but doesn’t always happen) is to jot down a week’s worth of meals and a grocery list, with an eye on the calendar to make sure my ambitions aren’t out of line, then shop and cook accordingly. All the grains in my pantry and recipes on deck to try — amaranth cookies, injera bread, saffron quinoa, millet pie — will languish without a plan.
As will those leftover cooked grains.
Wandering agog among the bulk bins, Carrie Floyd and I spent the morning last Friday at the Bob’s Red Mill store. We were lucky to link up with Lori Sobelson, self-acclaimed Grain Geek, aka the Assistant Director of Retail Operations and Event Coordinator. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more enthusiastic advocate for whole grains. Lori was practically evangelistic, describing various grain and gluten-free dishes she’s developing: teff pudding and teff pie crust, millet loaf and millet mulligatawny.
“Oh, it’s so good,” she said, over and over, about everything from seven-grain cereal to spelt berries. And that mulligatawny, which we got to taste, was good. (I’ll have to get back to you on the spelt berries.)
“I think Americans have it backwards,” says Lori on the topic of mealtime. Instead of eating small breakfasts and lunches, then big dinners at the end of the day, Lori says we should be eating our biggest meal early in the day, and our smallest in the evening. Not only does a hearty breakfast in the morning sustain energy throughout the day, but it’s also good for our hearts and, um, regularity.
As for breakfast, Lori says, when it’s whole grains you can eat as much as you want. Her favorites include multi-grain hot cereals (there are many to choose from in the Bob line) and oat groats. One look at Lori and you can see she’s on to something: Radiant and energetic, she’s as fit as — farro?! “I never worry about calories,” she says.
Lori advised us to cook up a batch of grains to keep in the refrigerator and eat throughout the week. “Just be sure you rinse your pans and bowls well afterwards,” she said. Whole grains might be great for internal plumbing, but it turns out they’re hell on the dishwasher lines.
When I began the Whole-Grain Challenge earlier this month, I thought perhaps it would help me to find ways to integrate more whole grains into my daily diet. While it has done that, the big surprise to me so far has been my discovery of some entirely new foods: millet, which I have always thought was just for the birds; and farro, which . . . well . . . I always thought was just for the Pharaohs.
But the biggest revelation of all has been oat groats, a simpler variation of one of our most common Western cereal products: the lowly oat.
Though I love souped-up breakfasts such as bacon and eggs, omelets, etc., I try to limit these to special occasions (although my recent reading of In Defense of Food is making me reconsider this). My typical breakfast, which I consume probably 80 percent of the time, is a bowl of granola with milk or yogurt, topped with whatever fresh fruit I can find. I’ve been eating this for years. My major complaint is that I think the makers of my brand of granola sweeten it too much, though I’ve been too lazy to make my own consistently or find an alternative.
Which brings me back to oat groats. Two weeks ago, if you’d asked me I would have said, “What the hell are oat groats?” I now know: They are oats that have had their hard outer husks removed. Period. That’s it. Done. (Groats are further processed by rolling them with big rollers when “they” make rolled oats for oatmeal, and chopped up when “they” make steel-cut oats.)
But apart from husking, and maybe a light toasting, oat groats are oats in their “wholest” edible form (you’d have to be a goat to like the husks). So if you’re trying to eat more minimally processed foods, they’re a great place to start.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I came to talk about the draft. (Damn, I like totally forgot to become a folk singer.) I’m here to say I absolutely love oat groats. Putting it nicely, I’ve always been ambivalent about oatmeal, which I find mushy and bland. Oat groats, however, cooked for about 45 minutes in a 3:1 water:groat ratio, are great. Topped with some toasted flaxseeds and walnuts and a splash of milk. No sweetener needed. Nutty. Chewy. Interesting. Healthy. And a welcome break from 20-some years of granola.
The only downside has been the long cooking time. I’m going to investigate cooking them in my Zojirushi rice cooker, which I can set on a timer the night before. (Our rice cooker — which we call “the Neuro Fuzzy” based on some quasi-technical marketing claims by the manufacturer, is almost a member of the family, its merry tunes part of many a meal.) I promise to report the results soon, with recipes and pictures (yes, 8-by-10 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one).
My wife has decided that oat groats are great with a little olive oil and salt, and we heard from a friend who cooks them in batches for the week. Got other ideas for oat groats? Pass ‘em on — don’t bogart those ideas, my friend.
It’s almost funny how much millet I’m eating these days. Funny, because prior to the The Whole-Grain Challenge the millet in our pantry wasn’t getting any younger. In the past, my attempts at cooking millet yielded pots of mush that recall orphanage porridges of English storybooks: Neither attractive nor tasty, pushed around the plate even by the adults.
But the millet I’ve been eating lately has not been cooked in a pot of water; it’s been stirred into cookies and shaped into confections. The latter I made from Lorna Sass’s book Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way: In a large bowl, measure out two cups of puffed millet (look for this in the cereal section at the store; see photo), and a half cup each of currants and sunflower seeds. Melt eight ounces of good chocolate (bittersweet or milk), pour the chocolate over the millet mix, and stir until well coated. Shape into cookie-like confections and place on a large foil-covered baking sheet; cool in either the freezer or refrigerator until the chocolate hardens; serve cold.
“Weird, but good” was the consensus. They reminded me of the cocoa haystacks my mom used to make, albeit chewier.
The remaining two cups of raw millet in my pantry I vow to cook without sugar, but I could use some help with this. Do you have a recipe or favorite way to prepare millet?
One of the things I’ve been stumped by in researching whole-grain recipes is deciding what comprises a whole-grain dish. Obviously a bowl of brown rice is a bowl of whole grains, but risotto consisting mostly of arborio with a half-cup of barley thrown into the mix is not.
To my reasoning, a recipe for cornbread that calls for all-purpose flour is not a whole-grain bread, though it includes a whole grain: cornmeal. But a cornbread recipe that is half cornmeal and half whole-wheat pastry flour is a whole-grain bread because all the grains used are whole, not refined.
I’m challenged, though, when it comes to baking, because usually I don’t like the dense texture of pastries and cakes made exclusively with whole grains. On the other hand, to eat a baked good made only with white flour — except for the occasional treat — seems like a missed opportunity.
When it comes to the grain recipes we’ve culled on Culinate — the Whole Grains collection — the criteria are these: at least half the grain or flour called for in a recipe must be a whole grain, or the recipe must specify in the Introduction or Notes how to work in more whole grains. The recipes in this collection come from Culinate contributors, cookbooks on the site, and our own busy kitchens.
I was off to a stellar start: yogurt with berries and granola for breakfast, brown rice with stir-fried greens for lunch, and Indian-spiced cauliflower over (more) brown rice for dinner. In the evening my daughter and I experimented with a batch of whole-grain cookies (and actually liked them). I was smug by the end of Day 1. Not exactly adventurous — oats and brown rice — but then again, not everyone stirs a cup of millet into a batch of cookies.
I’m feeling good on Day 2, out of the starting blocks making a pot of oatmeal. All morning I feed my brain whole grains — perusing recipes, sifting through resources. For lunch I meet a friend at one of my favorite Thai places. While eating a soul-satisfying bowl of curry noodle soup, I tell her about the Whole-Grain Challenge. She doesn’t miss a beat asking me if the noodles we’re slurping are made from whole grains.
Of course not! There’s nary a whole grain on the menu, and if there were I probably would have passed over it in favor of the khao soi kai. I feel a teeny, as in teff-size, pang of remorse, but resolve to make up for my wanton ways at dinner.
The evening meal, it turns out, my husband has already started by the time I get home: French toast with bananas and maple syrup. I am so grateful that he initiated dinner I don’t have the heart to resist or reproach. It’s 7:30, and the not-so-little beasties and I are hungry. And no, it wasn’t whole-wheat bread but slices cut from a delicious (and fair as the driven snow) artisan loaf. I finished the meal with a millet cookie and wondered how many more I’d have to eat to meet my daily quota of whole grains — 10? maybe 15?
Whole grains at every meal? This is a challenge!
In short, it’s the whole grain: germ, bran, and endosperm. But what is a grain? The edible fruit/seed of a cereal or grass plant.
Though grains are always seeds, seeds are not always grains (think sesame or poppy), and obviously not all grains — sand, truth — are edible (or easy to digest, I should say). Strictly speaking, some grains that we call grains are not true grains, like quinoa, which is actually a pseudocereal (because it’s not a grass).
Beware of tricky names, especially when it comes to wheat. Did you know that buckwheat is not a wheat? It’s not even a cereal, for that matter, but a member of a flowering plant in the same family as rhubarb. Spelt, on the other hand, is a kind of wheat, a mild-flavored ancient strain.
Confusing, I know. Botanical classifications aside, for the purposes of this challenge whole grains are unrefined, minimally processed, edible seeds. Intact, whole grains are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein.
What am I hoping to gain by eating more whole grains? A diet based on more plants, less meat. Lower cholesterol. A colon that runs like the Tokyo underground. Good health through good eating.
|Alex Joyce||karin gaffney|
|Ann M||Ken Barnes|
|Anne T.||Kim Carlson|
|Ariel Tindolph||Lori Parker|
|C @ FoodieTots||Mary|
|Debra McKinney||Melissa M.|
|Deirdra Harris Glover||Monica Shaw|
|Donna D||Myra Siegel|
|Donna Goodman||Myra Siegel|
|Elise Pratt||Myra Siegel|
|Erika (SWEET PEA)||Paula|
|Jessica Hammond-Brouwer||Susan Rubin|
|JM @ Versagrain||Teresa M|
|Julie P||Virginia Rumfelt|
|Karen Hibl||yanina flannagan|
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