Grains have gotten a bad rap lately thanks to the low-carb, gluten-free and paleo movements. I’m not talking about refined products like white bread, which we know are empty calories with little fibre or nutrients to speak of. Even whole, unprocessed grains like farro, millet, quinoa and barley–all of which are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fibre–are being shunned by dieters everywhere.
Paying attention to the latest (reputable) nutrition news and research can obviously be a good thing. The more you learn, the more mindful you’ll be about what you eat and the more you’ll inspire those around you to adopt similar healthy habits. But following a diet trend just because it’s popular, or because a celebrity has endorsed it, isn’t a smart idea. Especially when said diet involves extreme restriction and/or excluding entire food groups without guidance from a professional.
Whole grains, such as “ancient” varieties like quinoa (which is actually a seed), are nutritional powerhouses, so it seems silly to cut them out completely if you don’t have to. (Of course, some people have specific allergies or health conditions and need to avoid certain foods based on advice from their healthcare practitioner. But that’s not the case for the majority of us.)
Here are just a few health benefits of whole, unprocessed grains:
- Rich in health-boosting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fibre
- Help boost digestion and bowel function
- Can take the place of unhealthy refined (a.k.a. processed) products
- Help keep you feeling full
It’s also worth noting that grains are calorie-dense, so portion size is important. One cup of most grains (such as quinoa, barley, millet, wild rice) clocks in at roughly 200 calories, give or take depending on the variety.
There are a lot of whole grain processed products available, like breads, crackers and cereals,
but I prefer to get my fibre fix from plain old whole grains cooked in boiling water. It sounds boring and bland, but it’s really not! On Sundays I’ll cook up big batches and then work them into my meals in different ways throughout the week. One day they might take centre stage in a pilaf, and the next act as a condiment on top of a big salad.
It’s easy to add flavour to plain cooked grains with fresh herbs and spices, citrus juice and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, like in this red quinoa tabbouleh recipe.
Traditional Middle Eastern tabbouleh is made with bulgur, not quinoa, and the grain is used quite sparingly in comparison to the amount of fresh herbs. It’s really more like a parsley salad with a bit of grains thrown in – consider that a warning if you don’t like parsley!
I tried to keep this ratio in mind while adding a few twists to the recipe. The red quinoa’s nutty flavour and chewy texture go really nicely with the chopped herbs. The Persian cucumber and feta cheese aren’t traditional either but pair well with the other components. I was lucky enough to find beautiful purple scallions at the grocery store, so I included them as well for a subtle oniony flavour.
I just love the freshness of this dish. Eating a bowlful actually feels cleansing!
- 1 cup red quinoa
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (discard tough stems)
- 1/2 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 2 mini (Persian) cucumbers, diced
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- Bring a small pot of lightly salted water (about 2 cups) to a boil. Meanwhile, place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse with cold running water. Transfer the quinoa to the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until cooked, 12-15 min. Drain any excess water, transfer to a medium-sized bowl and let cool completely.
- To the bowl, add the parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions; toss to combine. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss once more, adjusting seasoning if needed.
- Transfer the tabbouleh to a large serving platter or bowl and sprinkle with the feta, if using. Serve cold or at room temperature.
- Any type of grain can be used in place of the red quinoa. Try the traditional bulgur, or another small grain such as millet or amaranth.