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New Foods for the New Year

How to be deliciously daring with your diet

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Holiday partying has come to a close. The colder, darker days of winter are upon us, and we’re cooped up indoors far more than we’d like to be. Under these conditions, it’s easy to suffer a letdown and experience the winter blues.

But you don’t have to. You can use the indoor time constructively, give yourself something to look forward to, and start the new year with excitement and adventure. The way to do that is to explore new gluten-free foods in your kitchen.

It turns out that most “new” foods are simply indigenous or heirloom foods that have been rediscovered. Some are historic foods that are produced in new, innovative ways. The following foods add different, often exotic tastes and colors to an everyday gluten-free diet. What’s more, eating these not-so-common plant foods comes with a bonus: You help preserve genetic diversity, leaving all of us a wider selection of foods to choose from instead of the limited selection available through modern large-scale agriculture.

Many people are intimated by the idea of buying and making foods that they’ve never had before. But don’t worry. The foods on this list are both easy to make and to incorporate into your diet. New Year’s is the perfect time to celebrate the best of the past and to welcome the new. To do both, start the year off by trying these foods:

Red quinoa. Like traditional white quinoa, red quinoa is an ancient nongrain food related to beets and chard, but its seeds are used like a grain for culinary purposes. It’s a complete vegetable protein providing all essential amino acids in a balanced pattern and is light and easy to digest. Red quinoa is a bit chewier and has a slightly earthier flavor than white quinoa, so some people prefer it. It cooks up in just 15 minutes and can substitute for white quinoa or rice in virtually any recipe. Look for organic prewashed red quinoa sold under the trademark Inca Red by Ancient Harvest.

Heirloom or SRI rice. There are thousands of types of rice, but only a few are familiar to most of us. Fortunately, several types of heirloom or indigenous rice grown in different areas of the world are now available. They include Forbidden Black Rice, Bhutanese Red Rice, and Brown Kalijira Rice. You can also try SRI rice. “SRI” stands for System of Rice Intensification, a breakthrough method of cultivating rice that uses less water and less seed. Varieties of SRI rice on the market include Madagascar Pink Rice, Cambodian Flower Rice, and Indonesian Volcano Rice, all available from Lotus Foods. Each rice has its own unique flavor and most varieties take less time to make than brown rice. By cooking up one of these or using one in place of brown rice in recipes, you can take your taste buds on a culinary trip and make meals much more interesting.

Wild rice. Another indigenous food, this seed of an aquatic grass imparts a distinctive hearty flavor to dishes. It also has fewer carbohydrates and calories than rice. To use true heirloom wild rice in dishes, look for wild rice that specifically says it is grown in the wild and hand-harvested. To cook wild rice, follow package instructions, since cooking times can vary by type and brand.

Heirloom vegetables. Just like heirloom grains and grainlike foods, there are heirloom vegetables, too. This time of year you might find heirloom root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, and heirloom greens like kale, in winter farmer’s markets and natural food stores that offer locally grown produce. If you want to really branch out with your diet this year, start experimenting with more heirloom vegetables in place of mass-produced vegetables in your recipes. Heirloom vegetables hold historical interest, often have unique flavors, and sometimes have very different colors than what we’re accustomed to. Imagine purple carrots, yellow beets, and white eggplant that looks like a white egg, just like what it’s named after!

Mediterranean Lamb and Red Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Serves 5

Here’s an off-the-beaten-path stuffed pepper recipe made with lamb, lemon, and red quinoa. It’s a healthful, colorful, and festive entrée to ring in the New Year. Try serving the stuffed peppers with green beans or salad. Reprinted from the Going Against the Grain Group, 2011, by Melissa Diane Smith.

1/3 cup organic red quinoa or organic red and white quinoa mixed

2/3 cup gluten-free organic chicken broth

5 medium red, yellow, or green peppers, rinsed

1 Tbs. organic extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

1 lb. grass-fed ground lamb

4 Tbs. lemon juice

1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves

1½ tsp. dried oregano leaves

1 tsp. ground thyme

1 tsp. grated lemon zest (optional)

1½ cups chopped fresh spinach leaves

3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Unrefined sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Bring quinoa and chicken broth to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
  3. Slice bell peppers in half lengthwise through stems (retaining stems) and remove seeds and veins. Place halves, cut side down, in two baking pans. Bake until slightly browned and tender when pierced, about 12 to 16 minutes.
  4. While peppers are roasting, heat oil in a large frying pan, add onions, and sauté until tender. Add garlic, ground lamb, and 2 Tbs. lemon juice. Stir until lamb is browned and crumbly, 3 to 5 minutes. Add herbs, lemon zest, and cooked quinoa, then add spinach, and stir until just barely cooked.
  5. Take frying pan off burner, and mix in parsley and salt and pepper to taste, an additional 1 to 2 Tbs. lemon juice to taste. Turn pepper halves over. Fill each with lamb mixture and bake 25 minutes. Transfer peppers to a platter and serve.

per serving: 387 cal; 19 g prot; 25 g total fat (10 g sat fat); 21 g carb; 66 mg chol; 151 mg sod; 4 g fiber; 7 g sugars