The side dish plays a big part in our nutritional intake, but often isn't given much thought. We worry about our main, our veg - but what about the grain? A 1/4 of our plate is reserved for them in examples of healthy eating*, yet grains often get the short shrift in our diets. We hear much about the over consumption of processed grains, we might mistakenly neglect whole grains. Let's not forget why they're important: whole grains are made up of 3 parts; the germ, which has B vitamins, unsaturated oils, minerals and some protein; the starchy endosperm which provides energy for the germ; and bran, which is high in fibre and B vitamins. When whole grains are processed (making them easier to digest) the bran is stripped away and the endosperm is crushed into tiny particles. This removes most of the B vitamins, vitamin E and almost all of the fibre. It also speeds up the body's conversion of the endosperm's starch into blood sugar (almost as quickly as glucose). However, research shows that a diet rich in whole grains is beneficial to our cardiovascular health, significantly lowers the risk for Type 2 diabetes, has a positive effect on our digestive health, improves overall mortality rates, and might offer some protection against certain cancers.** So we need grains - the right grains.
Legumes are like cousins to cereal grains. A legume is the seed or fruit of a particular family of plants (Fabaceae); they're called grain legumes or pulses. Research shows that a diet rich in legumes is associated with significantly lower rates of coronary heart disease.***
Now that we remember that, how do we incorporate them into our diet? It can't all be oatmeal for breakfast and some beans tossed in a salad. Here are two recipes, one cereal grain and one grain legume, that make delicious side dishes - and, if you make extra, are great saved for a healthy lunch the next day.
LENTIL SALAD WITH FENNEL & KALAMATA OLIVES
2 cups brown lentils
1 small onion, diced
1 small fennel bulb, sliced and roughly diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch of sea salt
2 small (or 1 large) tomatoes, diced
kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
Rinse the lentils in fresh water 3 to 4 times. Put into a pot, cover with water, bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer.
Add the onion, fennel, olive oil, paprika and coriander and stir through. Simmer until the lentils are soft (about 30-40 minutes). Make sure the water doesn't evaporate completely; you may need to add another 1/2 cup of water. Don't add too much at once, you want the water to get soaked in, but you don't want to have to drain excess as you'll be pouring out the seasoning, too.
Add a pinch of sea salt, the diced tomato, chopped kalamata olives and chopped parsley.
BULGUR WHEAT WITH ROAST SWEET POTATOES, LEEKS & FETA
1 1/4 cups coarse bulgur wheat
2 1/2 cups water
2 small or 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
3 large or 5 small leeks, cleaned and diced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 shallot, finely diced
1/4 red chili, finely diced
3/4 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
50 grams (~2 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
Add a small bit of olive oil to a pan and sauté leeks over a low heat with the lid on. Stir occasionally to ensure they don't burn. When soft, remove from heat and set aside.
Place diced sweet potato pieces on a baking tray and roast in oven at 200ºC (375ºF) for 15 minutes, until soft.
Put the water and bulgur into a pot, cover, bring to the boil, then turn down to simmer for about 15 minutes - or until the water is absorbed. Take off the heat, place a clean tea towel over the pot, place lid over and allow it sit for 10 minutes or so.
In a small pot, add a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté shallot and chili for a few minutes to soften. Add balsamic vinegar and reduce a bit. Take off the heat.
Assemble: put bulgur into a large bowl and fluff with fork. Add leeks and sweet potatoes and toss. Pour the shallot/vinegar over and stir through. Crumble feta over.
I served with citrus grilled salmon (juice of 1/2 lemon & 1/2 orange brushed on to salmon then grill.)