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Grain of Truth

Super grains or alternate grains have taken the culinary world by storm. While I am no nutritionist myself, I do believe these grains give you a sense of general well being and are easier for the body to digest. Quinoa, amaranth, oats, brown rice, black rice, barley (jau) and millets of various types are now available in every corner shop. These are simple local grains which our ancestors used to consume earlier, straight from farm to table with minimal processing.

“Gluten-free” was an unfamiliar term in India till only a few years ago. People have now widely recognised that their body cannot process wheat based food. In my opinion, one always felt bloated and uneasy after consuming “maida” but it was a small matter temporarily solved with an over the counter digestive pill! Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, ragi , jowar, bajra and the various other types of millets are gluten free. These provide ample variety and are an easy substitute for wheat.

Some top restaurants in the country now serve gnocchi and other pasta dishes made with jowar. Millets and quinoa breads and cakes have replaced the conventional stuff on bakery shelves. Quinoa burgers, buckwheat pancakes and ragi (finger millet) dosa and rotis are the in thing.

Look out for ready made flour made from these grains. Alternatively, finely grind them in a powerful blender and make your own healthy rotis, breads, pasta, cakes and biscuits at home.

Here’s my recipe for a lovely moist quinoa chocolate cake. It is gluten free and you wouldn’t even tell!

Chocolate Quinoa Cake (Gluten Free)

What you need:

· 2 cups quinoa, cooked

· 1/3 cup milk

· 4 eggs

· ½ cup butter, room temperature

· 1 tsp vanilla extract

· 1 cup sugar

· ½ cup cocoa powder

· 1 ½ tsp bakinp powder

· ½ tsp salt

· Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Putting it all together:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease and line a 9” cake tin with butter paper.

2. Melt the butter

3. In a blender or food processor, put the quinoa, milk, eggs, melted butter and vanilla. Pulse to combine till smooth.

4. Add the sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt and blend again till combined.

5. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 mins or until the top of the cake is firm and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

6. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 15 mins in the tin. Turn onto a wire rack and cool further.

7. Finish with your choice of frosting or décor. You can just dust some icing sugar for a simple yet elegant look.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

What you need for the cake:

· 50 gms butter, softened at room temperature

· 80 gms icing sugar

· 100 gms cream cheese

· Zest of one orange

· 2 tbsp orange juice

Putting it all together:

1. Beat the icing sugar and soft butter together. Add the cream cheese and beat further.

2. Add in the orange juice and zest to taste and combine.

3. This can be stored in the fridge for a week.

My family has switched to brown rice from white rice and we all feel much lighter. Yes, this also means the kids having khichdi, pulao and dal chawal with brown rice. I love the course nutty texture of brown rice and once you add all the flavour, you forget what white rice was all about!

Black rice, also known as “forbidden rice” is the next new grain gaining momentum. It’s gorgeous purple black colour comes from antioxidants found in other food with a similar hue like blueberries and blackberries. This rice has its root in Ancient China where it was cultivated only for emperors and the common folk were prohibited from consuming it. Hence the label- forbidden rice! I often make an Asian style fried rice or just toss the the boiled black rice with some herbs and butter. It has a nice bite to it and gives a lovely texture and colour to any salad or soup.

Barley is also a great alternative for white rice. I use it for risottos or simply add some olive oil and seasoning to accompany a baked fish or chicken.

Here are some innovative recipes with this grain.

Barley Risotto Primavera

This is a healthier version of an Italian risotto instead of Arborio rice. This is a basic risotto with seasonal veggies- throw in whatever you have in the fridge. You can do a mushroom version by substituting the veggies with mixed mushrooms. Careful not to overcook the dish towards the end or it may get mushy. Adding some lemon zest and juice gives it a nice fresh lemony flavour.

What you need:

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 cup Barley (soaked for 2 hours)

2 tbsp butter

½ cup parmesan cheese , grated

1 cup white wine

Olive oil

2 cups assorted veggies, finely diced (carrots, peas, zucchini, broccoli)

½ cup chopped parsley

Putting it all together:

1. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil with 1 tbsp butter. Add the onions and garlic and sauté.

2. Add the barley and toast for 2 mins.

3. Add the wine and allow to evaporate.

4. Add the veggies. Season well with salt and pepper

5. Add hot water, ladle by ladle. Stir occasionally not allowing the barley to dry.

6. The risotto is done when the barley is cooked al dente. It should be a bit soupy. Grate some lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon (optional).

7. Take off heat and stir in the remaining butter and parmesan. Garnish with some parsley.

8. Allow to stand for 2-3 mins and serve warm.

Roast Pumpkin and Barley Salad

What you need:

· 1 cup raw barley

· 2 cups pumpkin, diced

· 2 tbsp olive oil

· 2 cups green beans , cut as you like

· ½ cup dried cranberries

· ¼ cup toasted almonds, chopped

· ½ cup fresh mint leaves, washed

The Dressing

· 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

· 4 tbsp orange juice

· 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lime juice

· Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Putting it all together:

1. Preheat the oven to 160 C. In a baking dish, toss the pumpkin cubes with 2 tbsp olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Bake in the oven on a lower rack for about ½ hour or till tender. Toss in between to prevent burning on one side.

2. In the meantime, boil the barley for about 20-25 mins till cooked al dente. Over cooking will make it gluggy. Drain and put aside to cool.

3. Steam or boil the green beans till tender with a bite. Be careful not to lose its bright green colour. Drain and put aside to cool.

4. To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Adjust the lime juice and extra virgin olive oil to taste.

5. To assemble the salad, mix the cooked pumpkin, beans and barley in a large bowl. Add the cranberries, almonds and fresh mint, toss all together with the dressing. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Millets are a great source of iron, protein and minerals. There are various types of millets with each one having its own property. I use the ‘foxtail millets’ in almost everything. It has a couscous like texture when boiled but healthier and gluten-free. My kids love upma made with these millets or they have it as a rice substitute. Just add a cup of it to any salad and you have a well rounded meal. Toss it in a pan with some minced garlic and onion and serve as an accompaniment to your usual curry.

This protein packed lentil and millet salad is very popular on my blog. It’s also a great way to glam up the humble “kala masur dal”.

Lentil, carrots and millet salad

What you need:

· 1 cup cooked lentils (kala masur)

· 1 cup cooked Millets

· ½ cup grated carrots

· ½ cup spring onions, chopped

· Fresh basil or parsley, chopped

· Your choice of toasted nuts and seeds

· For the dressing-

· 1/2 tsp lemon zest

· 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

· 2 tsp honey

· 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

· 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

· Salt and pepper to taste


Putting it all together:

1. In a bowl, combine the lentils, quinoa, carrots, spring onions and basil.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing. Combine half the dressing with the salad mix and let it soak for an hour or so in the fridge. Save some dressing for later

3. Before serving, add some more dressing, nuts and seeds and serve.

Amaranth, a super tiny seed has loads of health benefits. Use it to make breakfast porridge, granola or add a handful of cooked amaranth to your bowl of dal. I like to combine it with some veggies to make tikkis or burgers for the family.

There is no limit to how you can cook and consume all these healthy grains. These are health foods which actually taste good and can easily be a part of your family’s regular diet. Start with one grain at a time and decide what works best for you!

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