The Aztecs were known to deliver chia seeds as tribute. Spelt was sufficiently important to the Greeks that they gave it as an offering to their gods. Farro was even mentioned in the Bible. And yet, as little as 10 years ago, it was almost impossible to find these historical grains on store shelves. That's changed, however, as there has been a huge resurgence of modern interest in these ancient grains.
Chia Seeds. These gluten-free seeds were a linchpin of Aztec civilization. Packed with omega-3s, protein, and fiber, chia seeds are also an excellent source of calcium, manganese, and phosphorus. Their neutral flavor makes them a perfect addition to all sorts of foods-smoothies, cereals, baked goods, salads, and more.
Spelt. A distant cousin to wheat, spelt offers a wider spectrum of nutrients than its modern relative, providing a generous dose of protein, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and zinc. Spelt has a robust nutty flavor and chewy texture. Breads and pasta made from spelt flour are denser and slightly sweeter than those made from white flour.
Farro. Similar in texture and taste to spelt, farro provides a complete protein when paired with legumes, and its lignans offer antioxidant benefits. Resembling a plumper barley grain, it is excellent in pilafs, salads,
Kamut. Known as a high-energy wheat due to its complex carbohydrates and protein content, kamut is also packed with vitamins and minerals, and it maintains most of its nutrition when processed thanks to its low oxidation levels.
Of course, these are just a few options for increasing your grain intake and widening your culinary horizons. Also consider the gluten-free grains millet, sorghum, and amaranth-and don't neglect the ubiquitous quinoa. So head down to your local health food store and get your grain on!
Mix It Up
Take some of your old favorites-rice pilaf, tabbouleh, couscous-and shake 'em up with some different grains. Cook up some millet with saffron, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds for an exciting new version of couscous. Transform a pilaf with spelt in place of brown rice. Or combine plump nutty farro with chopped parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, and mint for a spectacular twist on traditional tabbouleh.
Raspberry-Peach Chia Refrigerator Preserves
Makes about 12 oz.
This fast, simple and delicious spread has no pectin or sugar-so slather it on your morning whole-grain toast with a clear conscience!
1/2 cup smashed fresh raspberries*
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup diced white peaches*
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbs. chia seeds
1 Tbs. local honey
- Combine raspberries, 1/2 cup peaches, lemon juice, chia seeds, and honey in food processor or blender, and process until smooth.
- Stir in remaining peaches, and transfer preserves to glass container. Chill overnight.
PER 12-OZ. BATCH: 182 cal; 3g pro; 4g total fat (<1g sat fat); 38g carb; 0mg chol; 3mg sod; 8g fiber; 29g sugars
Spelt, Sugar Snap Pea, & Peach Salad
This unusual and fresh-tasting salad pairs beautifully with roasted chicken. For a gluten-free version, swap spelt for forbidden black rice.
2/3 cup organic spelt
2 cups water
8 oz. sugar snap peas
1 large peach, peeled, pitted, and diced*
1/3 cup chopped raw pecans
1 1/2 Tbs. blood orange olive oil
1 Tbs. raspberry vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
Handful shredded fresh mint leaves
- Bring spelt and water to a boil in small saucepan. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 55-60 minutes. Drain and cool.
- Steam peas until just past hard but still crisp, about 1½ minutes. Rinse under cold running water, and halve peas with sharp knife.
- In medium bowl, combine spelt, peas, peaches, and pecans. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, add salt & pepper, and toss lightly.
- Mound in serving bowl, and top with shredded mint.
PER SERVING: 172 cal; 5g pro; 9g total fat (1g sat fat); 22g carb; 0mg chol; 7mg sod; 4g fiber; 5g sugars
*If you cannot find fresh raspberries, white peaches, and/or yellow peaches, use frozen fruit. Defrost according to package directions.
Neil Zevnik is a private chef in Los Angeles who is devoted to the idea that "healthy" doesn't have to mean "ho-hum." Visit him online at neilzevnik.com to learn more.