I wasn't doing very well with my New Year's resolution to eat more whole grains, until last week, when I had a brainstorm while glancing at a cookie recipe on a box of oats. Why not incorporate barley, millet, buckwheat groats, cornmeal and quinoa as well as oats into baked goods?
The health benefits of eating whole, unprocessed grains are well-known by now. They contribute fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to a variety of recipes and have been linked to decreases in heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Just as important for bakers: Whole grains can contribute pleasing flavor and texture to a variety of standard recipes.
Cornmeal As well as baking corn muffins, you can add stone-ground cornmeal (rich in iron and phosphorus) to pie dough, for vegetable tarts and potpies.
Oats Oatmeal cookies are great, but so is pizza dough made with whole wheat flour and some cholesterol-lowering rolled oats. Top your dough with a mixture of thawed chopped frozen spinach (be sure to squeeze the excess water from it), some low-fat ricotta cheese and a few minced garlic cloves for a nutritious vegetarian dinner.
Barley This grain can contribute to regulating blood sugar, isn't just for soup. Soak some pearl barley overnight and then add it to blueberry scones, to give these breakfast pastries a pleasant chewiness and earthy flavor.
Millet An ancient grain chock-full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, millet is soft enough to contribute crunch to homemade granola without breaking your teeth. Combine 2 cups of rolled oats, 2 cups of rye flakes, ½ cup millet, ½ cup chopped nuts, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and ¼ cup of maple syrup or honey in a bowl, spread it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven until golden around the edges, about 15 minutes. Add some raisins or dried cranberries to your cooled granola and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Buckwheat Groats My grandma cooked toasted buckwheat groats with onions and bow-tie pasta to make kasha varnishkes. But nutty (and anti-inflammatory) buckwheat groats can also be soaked for 10 minutes in boiling water, drained and added to quick breads and muffins. Stir some soaked buckwheat groats into your next pumpkin bread to give it a satisfyingly chewy texture.
To inaugurate my whole-grain baking project, I added some cooked quinoa, the much-hyped high-protein grain imported from the Andes, to banana bread. Cooked quinoa has a neutral, slightly nutty flavor. The small grains are pleasantly chewy and added moisture to the bread without making it soggy. I topped my banana bread with brown sugar and unsweetened cacao nibs, which contain fiber, antioxidants, and heart-healthy flavonoids. If you haven't seen them yet, keep on the lookout for these bits of roasted, hulled and chopped cacao beans at natural foods stores. They add deep chocolate flavor, an intriguing hint of bitterness and some crunch to this quick bread as well as cookie dough, brownie batter and candy.
BANANA AND QUINOA BREAD
1/3 cup water
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
2/3 cups quinoa
¾ cup packed brown sugar, divided
½ cup cacao nibs
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 large ripe bananas, mashed well (about 1½ cups)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup toasted and chopped walnuts
1. Bring the water and ¼ teaspoon salt to boil in a small pot. Add the quinoa, stir, cover, turn the heat to low and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Let stand covered, off heat, for another 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely. You should have about 1 1/3 cups.
2. Combine ¼ cup brown sugar and the cacao nibs in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan.
4. Whisk together quinoa, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, remaining ½ cup brown sugar, baking powder and remaining ½ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Whisk together bananas, butter, eggs, milk and vanilla in large glass measuring cup. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. Gently stir in the nuts.
5. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle with the cacao nib mixture.
6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert onto the rack and then reinvert. Cool completely before slicing and serving. Makes one (8-inch) loaf.