Welcome back to Week 3 of 5 Weeks of Flexitarian Eating. Were you inspired to make any tofu dishes last week? How did your family react? My Let’s Talk Tofu Pinterest Board has some great recipes if you’re looking for inspiration. This week we’re going to work on increasing the amount of greens and grains in our diet.
Along with beans, greens and grains form the foundation of the flexitarian diet. By mixing and matching among the three you’ll get many combinations to keep your belly full. You will expand your options by examining food from other cultures, like mujaddara, a combination of rice, lentils and Middle Eastern spices.
By greens, I’m talking about hardy leafy greens like kale, collards, swiss chard and spinach, although technically lettuces and members of the cabbage family are included too. There are over 1000 species of edible leaves, can you believe that? It explains some of the unusual looking ones I’ve come across in farmer’s markets. As a group, they are low in calories and fat and high in fiber, iron and calcium.(Wiki) Greens can be stir fried, stewed, steamed or eaten raw. They can be used in smoothies, in salads or as wraps as a bread/tortilla replacement.
The easiest way to combine greens and grains is in a soup as shown in the Lemony Red Lentil and Onion Soup. More often we’ll add handfuls of kale, chard or spinach (whichever we have in the fridge) near the end of cooking time.
Greens will pair with beans, too. White beans, pintos and lentils are good candidates for matching with your favorite greens as in Caldo Gallego the famous soup from the north of Spain.
Cereal grains are staples in many cultures. Many nations depend on rice, wheat, millet and corn for subsistence. Rice is used almost universally. Cereal grains can be consumed as a whole grain or ground into flours which can be used in a variety of ways. Non-refined (whole) grains are the best choice nutritionally as refining strips away the portions of the grain which contain the good stuff. (Read more about it at The Whole Grains Council)
In the grocery store you’ll probably find the grains near the dried legumes. Try the Latin section for varieties of rice, and some flours like rice and corn flour. The gluten free section will be an excellent source for grains and flours you may not be familiar with like teff, spelt flour and Bulgar wheat, used to make the Southwestern Tabbouleh in the photo above. When all else fails, make a trip to the local Health Food Store. You’ll find all kinds of good things to eat there not carried by your average grocery store.
There’s a group of foods called pseudo-grains which are used as grains but are technically seeds. Quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat are examples of this. Buckwheat is used to make soba noodles in Japan. In Central and Eastern Europe it’s used in many dishes. Cultivated in Central and South America for thousands of years, quinoa and amaranth are delicious to eat and require a simple preparation. They retain a bit of their crunchiness as they cook so you have to bite through the seeds to get to the soft center which makes a nice change from the softness of other cooked grains. In the photo above, quinoa was used to make a vegan porridge for breakfast, along with some stewed apples and slivered almonds.
Your assignment this week– should you choose to accept it– is to try one grain and/or one green you may not have had before. You don’t have to eat them together, but if you switch barley for rice you’re halfway through the assignment. Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. I’ll try to steer you in the right direction.
NOTE: It’s 2018 and in the four years since I wrote this post the market for heirloom grains, vegetables and beans has really expanded. We have more to choose from than ever before. I’ve updated the post to include more recent recipes and photos.