By Chef Instructor Bill Briwa, The Culinary Institute of America & Connie Guttersen, Ph.D., The Culinary Institute of America
You’ve probably heard how beneficial it is to fill your diet with whole grains, but how do you go about preparing them?
In today’s world, there is so much information about carbohydrates that is misleading and often confusing. Rather than eliminating an entire category of food, think about how to make the best choices within each category of food. For example, you can use nutrition labels to help you identify sources of whole grains and foods that have a low glycemic index. However, not all foods that have a low glycemic index are necessarily healthy. In addition to checking nutrition labels, look for a stamp from the Whole Grains Council that identifies a food as a whole grain.
Why Whole Grains?
Harvard University conducted a six-year study that followed 65,000 women and found that those women who had a diet high in refined carbohydrates—including white breads, pastas, and cereals—had more than twice the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes than those who had a diet rich in whole grains. In fact, foods that are whole grains and have a low glycemic index are becoming markers for how healthful foods are. Such foods tend to be associated with lower risks of inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Making Healthy Food Taste Great. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.
Whole grains contain three key components: bran, endosperm, and germ. Because of these components, whole grains are filled with nutrient-rich substances. Historically, one or more of those components were removed from the grain—perhaps to create a lighter, whiter, fluffier product, but in essence, key nutrients were lost in the process. In modern times, those key nutrients have been identified and replaced through the process of enrichment, which restores thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and iron. In the process of refinement, some of the key nutrients are added, but not all of them.
In recent years, science has come to appreciate the micronutrients that weren’t replaced through the enrichment process and the synergistic effect of combining the entire package that is found in whole grains. These include the health benefits of selenium, magnesium, and even some vital chemicals and proteins that, when in the company of each other, actually exert a greater health benefit than they would alone. Take advantage of the entire package of your whole grains by looking for those that are high in fiber or protein.
Learn more about the nutrition of whole grains
Beyond their taste, one of the benefits of eating whole grains is receiving more nutrition for your calories.
Cooking Whole Grains
Cooking whole grains is not the easiest task; if it were, everyone would cook whole grains instead of refined grains all the time. As a refined grain, white rice has been stripped of the germ and bran layers. The germ layer has a lot of nutrition, and the bran layer has a lot of fiber. Because it is a refined grain, white rice will cook in only about 15 minutes, but it is lacking a lot of nutrition.
On the other hand, brown rice has both the bran layer and the germ layer intact. Brown rice contains much more nutrition and fiber than white rice, but because of the bran layer, it takes longer to cook. While white rice takes about 15 minutes to cook, brown rice takes about 45 minutes. However, neither needs your full attention, so you can multitask while the rice is cooking.
Learn more about how to make the best choices when it comes to carbohydrates
When you plan to cook whole grains, give yourself enough time to prepare them. Because whole grains take extra time to cook, give yourself an advantage by making a large quantity of the grain so that you can use it in subsequent recipes. Make sure to carefully store the leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer.
You may know tabbouleh as a bulgur salad, but that is not quite right. Bulgur is a wheat product that consists of whole wheat berries that have been steamed, dried, and then cracked. Originally, this was done because whole wheat berries can take three or four hours to cook—far too long to be convenient—so bulgur is precooked, dried, and cracked for convenience.
Because bulgur has already been cooked, you just need to rehydrate it by covering it with boiling water and letting it sit for about 20 minutes, during which time the grain swells considerably and becomes tender. In the eastern Mediterranean, where tabbouleh comes from, people do not consider tabbouleh to be a bulgur salad. Instead, they consider it to be a parsley salad.
With tabbouleh, you get the benefit of whole grains along with the benefit of a lighter salad. Some people would say that whole grains are heavy and contain too much roughage. With this dish, you can prove that whole grains can be light by setting the right proportion of grains to vegetable matter.
Using Whole Grain Tabbouleh in a Salad
proportions to taste
- olive oil
- lemon juice
- ground black pepper
- green onions
- tomatoes, diced
- cucumber, diced
After rehydrating some bulgur, add some garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice to it and stir it together. Then, season it with salt and a little bit of pepper.
Chop a bunch of parsley and add it to the mixture. Don’t be shy about adding too much parsley.
Then, add some green onions to give the tabbouleh a savory flavor. Finally, add some diced tomatoes and cucumber.
Because there are so many vegetables in the tabbouleh, the role of the bulgur is really just to bind the salad together. Often, tabbouleh contains not only parsley, but also some mint, so you can add some mint to your tabbouleh as well if you want to.
Toss everything together and then taste it. Parsley is so assertive that you might want to add more lemon juice after tasting it. You might also want to add some more olive oil and salt. Whole grains have a lot of flavor, and anything with a lot of flavor demands an assertive dressing.
Put some of the tabbouleh onto a plate. If you have leftover tabbouleh, put it in a bowl, and you can keep it in the refrigerator for two or three days. Before using it again, you might want to check it to see if you need to bump up the seasoning a little bit because sometimes as the seasoning is absorbed, it can taste a little flat.
Learn more about some ordinary foods whose health benefits make them extraordinary
In the eastern Mediterranean, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see tabbouleh served side by side with some sort of kebab. You can also serve tabbouleh with some grilled meat, such as lamb, and some grilled vegetables on the side.
Common Questions About Preparing Whole Grains
Soaked grains provide better mineral absorption and release myo- and d-chiro-inositol, which regulate blood sugar.
Phytic acid has pros and cons to ingestion. It has been show to target cancer and remove heavy metals from the body. However, in nutritionally-deficient people it can be a problem; this is largely in developing countries where full diets are not the norm.
Teff, Quinoa, Barley, Millet and Kamut are some of the best whole grains, with Teff acting as a complete protein as well.