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Going with the ‘Whole’ Grain for the Holidays

November 29, 2011

Like countless other cooks in America, I spent hours in the kitchen last Wednesday and Thursday, preparing vegetables, baking pies, and roasting a turkey. My family expects and pretty much demands these traditional holiday foods and, for the most part, I enjoy the ritual of putting them on the table.

This year, I also wanted to spend some time playing with whole grains and finding a way to give them a starring role in the big meal, too. (I once stuffed the turkey with brown rice, an experience I don’t need to repeat.) I decided to put together a platter of grain salads that would be all about the simple earthy and wholesome goodness of these nutritious foods and that would taste great served at room temperature. Variety was key, for color and texture.

I started out by cooking black barley, brown rice, coarse bulgur, farro, freekeh, red quinoa, wild rice, and kañiwa.  (Kañiwa, like quinoa, comes from Peru and Bolivia. It looks like tiny red quinoa but doesn’t need to be rinsed before cooking; it benefits from a quick toasting in a skillet.)

Here’s a look at my kitchen counter. (There are also some split black lentils; these went into a dip.)

Next I raided the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for bits and pieces to prepare and add: sprouted lentils, olives, pecans, dried cranberries, scallions, celery, a mango, fresh herbs, frozen corn. I roasted some red and yellow cherry tomatoes along with orange and yellow peppers and then started making simple dressings.

There are dozens of other things that would have tasted fabulous with these grains: Just about any vegetable diced and roasted, other dried fruits and nuts, black, white, or pinto beans. Diced fresh fruit, like the mango I used, are also great flavor enhancers, but are best added just before serving.

The finished platter, from left to right:

1. Wild rice with corn and pecans in a walnut-soy vinaigrette.
2. Red quinoa and kañiwa with scallions, japaleño, mango and dried cranberries in a curry-yogurt dressing.
3. Brown rice, freekeh, bulgur, sprouted lentils, scallions and olives in a smoked paprika-lemon vinaigrette.
4. Farro, black barley, roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers, and celery in a pesto vinaigrette.

I served this with four spoons and it was a huge hit. Everyone wanted to talk about what they were eating. Mission accomplished. And I think we have a ‘whole’ new tradition to add to our holiday festivities!

Did you incorporate any whole grains into your holiday menu?

–Georgia

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