The Complex World of Whole Grains, Made Simple – NYTimes.com

The Whole Story

Whole grains, whether truly “whole” or not, have gone mainstream.

You can’t mention quinoa without hearing about the plight of the Bolivians who can no longer afford to buy their crop because we’re willing to pay so much for it. The word “rice” has become loaded: there are more colors (red? black?) and types (extra-long brown Basmati?) than those of us who grew up knowing only Carolina and Uncle Ben’s could have ever imagined. The other day I heard half a talk show devoted to what couscous really is. (Pasta, and I don’t know why it was so hard to figure out.)

It gets more complicated. Manufacturers claim processed foods are, or contain, whole grains when it isn’t true. Debates rage about the relative benefits of “whole grain” pasta versus the real thing. Then there’s the “are whole grains even good for you?” thing.

Feh. You shouldn’t care. They’re fantastic.

What they’re not is a panacea, or a substitute for anything except the hyper-processed grains that replaced them in the first place. But at this point, the widespread, almost universal availability of farro, quinoa and millet alone would be more important and valuable than all of the gorgeous heirloom beans that have been rediscovered in the last decade. Legumes we already had; these are new to most of us.

Throw in spelt, kamut, wheat berries and brown rice, along with the semi-processed bulgur (cracked and steamed wheat) and steel-cut oats, as well as couscous, which is usually treated as if it were a grain, and kasha (buckwheat groats, which few people seem to like), and it’s a new world out there.

This isn’t even a complete list. They are all filling, chewy, satisfying, delicious options that complement both meat and vegetables as perfectly as, well, white rice. With more flavor, more texture, more fiber.

These questions seem to baffle many people: 1) How do you cook them? And 2) What do you do with them?

These are the answers, in short: Until they’re done. And whatever you’d like.

Glibness aside, the first answer is for real. Whole grains don’t all taste the same — far from it. But they all act pretty much the same, so you can treat them all, including bulgur and steel-cut oats, pretty much the same way: Cover them in abundant salted water and simmer until tender but still chewy. (There are occasions in which you’ll want to overcook whole grains, chief among them that their burst kernels make a good binder. But that’s another story.)

Cooking can take as little as five minutes (for bulgur) or as long as an hour (for wheat berries), but that doesn’t matter. If they threaten to dry out, you add water, preferably boiling, so as not to slow down the cooking, but don’t worry if you forget. If they’re soupy when you’re done, drain them. There are a zillion other techniques, but you don’t need to know them.

As to what happens next, I’d nominate grain salads as the way to go, especially this time of year.

There is one mistake many of us have made in producing grain salads: we’ve not only featured grains, we’ve downplayed everything else. A pile of cold brown rice with a few chopped vegetables and some soy sauce or a mound of wheat berries with vinaigrette is about as one-dimensional as it gets.

As great as the grains are, they cannot stand alone; they are role players. They need vegetables, fruits, meat or fish, and they need well-thought-out sauces. As with plain rice, there’s nothing wrong with any of these under a stir-fry, or with a pat of butter for that matter (and plenty of salt and pepper). But if you want a grain that people will really notice, you have to treat it right.

That’s what I’ve tried to do here. There’s a mash-up of a niçoise salad, with the tuna in a powerful vinaigrette, half of which gets tossed with farro. (Any hearty grain could take its place: one of the many “brown” rices, spelt, kamut, wheat. Farro is interesting in that it’s relatively fast-cooking for a whole grain.)

The millet with corn, mango, shrimp and arugula — and peaches! (or mango) — is a riot of color and flavor and, I think, the best use of millet I’ve ever found. Here its grassiness seems an advantage rather than a drawback. If you don’t want millet, or don’t have it, I’d go with couscous.

Finally, there’s a puffed brown rice salad. You can shoot white rice from cannons (or however it’s done), load it up with sugar and call it breakfast cereal. Or you can treat brown rice the same way, forget the sugar and turn it into something that’s as amusing as it is delicious.

Yes, there is a load of big-flavored and interesting ingredients here. But the point isn’t just to eat whole grains “because they’re healthy.” The point is to enjoy them because they’re good.

KS

Food Styling: Picture-Perfect Sushi Salad – CookKosher.com

We’re back with another food styling special. These posts are here to help you plate a food item to perfection. Just like the pro’s do it. Don’t forget to check out out our Picture-Perfect Soup.

Sushi is a trend that’s here to stay. But there is no need to always serve it the conventual way. For you next brunch, shabbos or seudah shlishit, make Sushi Trifle Salad.

You can choose to make this in a large bowl or serve it in individual glasses. No need to have matching glasses, as assorted ones add a fun twist.

Start by layering cooked sushi rice.

Crumble or cut Nori sheets over the rice.

Add some cubed avacodo for color.

Add some cucumber. The original poster suggested cubed cucumbers. Our food stylist used a peeled to create ribbons out of the cucumber for a prettier affect.

Top with pieces of salmon. Sprinkle with dressing.

And garlish with sesame seeds.

Easy, Elegant and Delicous.

On a budget? Try these affordable six superfood staples from Naturalfood.com

Buying organic bulk produce, grains, and beans and becoming your own chef will save you money by not selecting processed foods packaged at higher prices. Those only make you trade health for convenience.

You’re paying for the packaging, additives, and usually bad oils used in those foods, some of which may contain GMOs. Focus more on bulk items and do your own prepping and cooking.

A tip for those concerned about phytic acid or phytates in grains and beans that are reputed to inhibit mineral absorption: Simply soak whatever you plan on eating overnight or for several hours in purified water with added lime or lemon juice.

This process can significantly reduce phytic acid. To prepare, remove the soaking water and replace it with water for cooking.

Inexpensive healthy food staples you can buy in bulk

(1) Organic rice from bulk bins is cheaper and healthier than the packaged stuff. There are a variety of rices from which to choose. Basmati brown and basmati white are usually available in most. Then there are some more exotic choices as well.

Ayurveda practitioners usually recommend parboiled white basmati rice as a main staple. Parboiling is a method discovered in India to remove the outer husk and still retain most of the rice’s nutrients. You may have to seek out an Indian or other food specialty store for parboiled rice.

Rinse all bulk rices in a hand held strainer, rapidly shaking it side to side under a strong stream of water until there is no more cloudy water. There’s often a mineral oil coating to protect the rice that needs to be rinsed out.

You can create several combinations of white or brown rice with peas, beans, veggies, herbs, and spices that will offer your pallet the variety you think you’ve lost by moving away from processed foods (http://www.naturalnews.com/028007_food_shortage_costs.html).

(2) Soaking beans overnight is actually required for dry bulk beans, which are much cheaper and healthier than canned beans. It would take hours to cook beans that haven’t been soaked overnight. The one exception is lentils, which are inexpensive and high in plant protein.

Black or turtle beans require hours of soaking, but once any batch of beans is soaked, you can keep the soaking beans in the fridge for a couple or few days. Black beans are high in anthocyanins, which are strong antioxidant flavonoids.

All beans contain many nutrients, including protein, and they are high in fiber. Nutty flavored garbanzo beans (chick peas) require very little to create a tasty dish, hot or cold. You can make bean salads from cold cooked beans.

(3) For breakfast, buy a batch of organic steel cut oats from bulk at $1.50 or less a pound. Just before you go to bed, measure two to one water to oats in a pan and let is soak until you awaken. Then turn on the stove, bring the oats to a boil, cover snugly and turn off the stove. It’ll be ready in 20 minutes or less.

(4) Organic yams and sweet potatoes are cheap and nutritious. Peel and slice them into small pieces, then boil them. Try mashing them in real butter, a squeeze of lemon, and a little real maple syrup. Add some chopped nuts. Delicious!

(5) Greens and more greens from the organic produce section. Kale, chard, broccoli, and leafy lettuces should be an every day eating event steamed or mixed into salads. You can add avocado, a true superfood, to your salads. They don’t have to be organic. Avocados from Mexico are abundant and inexpensive.

(6) Now for the pricier part of better living through good whole food. The two healthiest oils for cooking and salads are organic cold pressed virgin coconut oil and olive oil.

Contrary to weight loss diet fad philosophies, our bodies need healthy fats. You should be able to afford them after saving money with bulk purchasing.

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How to Use Leaves as Wraps – vegetariantimes.com

Soy-Sesame Bok Choy Rolls

When prepping for a recent visit from a gluten-avoiding friend, I decided to prepare a meal that was naturally wheatless instead of reaching for a gluten-free facsimile.

I could have centered the main dish around rice, millet, or even quinoa, but rather than go the predictable route, I opted to use a collard leaf as a wrap, filling it with sprouted sunflower-seed paté, thick slices of avocado, homegrown sprouts, shredded carrot, and thin slices of spicy red pepper. I topped it with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing and rolled it, burrito-style, into a manageable envelope that could be eaten out of hand or with a knife and fork. (We chose the former.)

Weather you are avoiding gluten or not, using leaves as wraps is a great way to cut calories and liven up your lunch or dinner. Kale or collards make super stand-ins for tortillas while Iceberg or butter lettuce leaves make great taco shells or “cups” for Asian-style fillings.

Watch “Kitchen Tricks: How to Use Leaves as Wraps” to learn how to roll your own from organic foods chef Ani Phyo.

Try these recipes from the VT vault that make creative use of leaves as wraps:

Raw Swiss Chard Veggie Wraps with Creamy Pecan Spread

Rice and Chickpea Kale Rolls with Pineapple Salsa

Soy-Sesame Bok Choy Rolls (pictured)

Ginger-Miso Yam Wraps

Curry and Chickpea Lettuce Wraps

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Farm Bill: Sticky Rice Gets Price Premium – WSJ.com

Peanut, cotton and rice farmers are big beneficiaries of price guarantees tucked into agriculture legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill. But another big winner may be producers of what is known as sticky rice, the kind used in sushi and other Asian dishes across America—and grown by a congressman who helped push for the provision.

The federal subsidy in the House bill guarantees farmers of Japonica Rice that if market prices drop below 115% of the average price of all types of rice, they will get a government payment to make up the difference. Japonica is the formal name for medium- and short-grain rice strains commonly called sticky rice.

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Associated Press

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (right), shown last year when he was in the California state Senate, is a fourth-generation Japonica Rice farmer.

The move shines a light on guarantees against drops in commodity prices that are in some ways replacing the much-maligned direct payments to farmers Congress is seeking to end. Subsidies for products such as corn, wheat and cotton cost taxpayers about $5 billion a year. Rice growers have received a total of more than $2.6 billion in subsidies since 1995, according to the Environmental Working Group, a liberal advocacy group that is tracking government spending on the agriculture industry.

The sticky-rice provision won strong support from, among others, two Northern California lawmakers from neighboring districts, according to congressional aides and people working with the rice industry: Freshman Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a fourth-generation Japonica Rice farmer who sits on the House agriculture committee; and Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, a rancher and pear farmer.

“What industry would have the temerity to demand that the government guarantee a price?” said Scott Faber, a vice president at EWG, which opposes such price programs. “Sushi rice costs more to produce, but it yields more per acre, and costs more to buy,” he said. “This is like guaranteeing a price for the iPhone 5.”

Mr. Garamendi said U.S. farm policy is moving toward price-loss coverage programs to replace direct subsidies to “cover multiple varieties of losses, including price collapse.” Mr. Garamendi, who said he helped fashion the rice provision, called the insurance program a “significant improvement” over direct subsidies.

Kevin Eastman, a spokesman for Mr. LaMalfa, said the lawmaker wasn’t available to comment. Mr. Eastman said the agriculture committee has been working on changes to rice language since last year, before Mr. LaMalfa was elected. He called the House provision a “technical correction” addressing regional differences in rice varieties, pricing and production costs. He didn’t respond to questions about Mr. LaMalfa’s role in the farm bill.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.), a member of the agriculture committee, criticized the “generous” price guarantees. “We claim to be cutting the direct subsidy system, and instead we’re creating a safety net for big agribusiness,” he said. Mr. McGovern added that the bill was written behind the scenes and presented to the committee. “When I raised questions about the price-protection provisions, you would have thought I’d committed treason,” he said.

In the price-protection program, farmers get subsidy payments if a commodity slumps below a target price, a percentage of an average price determined annually by the Agriculture Department.

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The Senate, which has passed a bill, and House, which could vote early in the next week, would still need to work out a final version. The Senate bill doesn’t single out California Japonica rice. In a bow to powerful Southern lawmakers, both the House and Senate versions have high price guarantees for peanuts, cotton and rice.

Disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over how much to cut back on food-stamp assistance and other farm-support programs could block passage of a farm bill this year. House efforts to produce one fell apart last year, leading to a one-year temporary extension of many programs.

Charley Mathews Jr., a Marysville, Calif., farmer who is chairman of the California Rice Commission, a lobby group, said Mr. LaMalfa promoted subsidies for rice growers as a state senator and promised farmers he would fight for Japonica rice when elected to Congress.

The LaMalfa family farm has received almost $4.7 million in farm subsidies since 1995, including nearly $1.2 million in direct payments, according to EWG.

The executive director of the California Rice Commission, Tim Johnson, said standard crop insurance provides few benefits to rice growers, because its primary function—protection against floods—isn’t useful.

Rice growers fear prices could drop because of potential hurdles thrown up by governments in prime Asian export markets. Mr. Johnson, however, also said California farmers don’t expect the subsidies to kick in because the price of Japonica rice has been relatively stable.

Write to Alicia Mundy at alicia.mundy

A version of this article appeared June 15, 2013, on page A7 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Rice Gets a Price Premium.

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