by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist
Grains have been getting a lot of bad press lately, and undeservedly so. It is true that many people have grain allergies and must stay away from grains or pay the price in intestinal distress, hives, and the like. But to those with no allergy issues who avoid grains, that bad press is doing a disservice to you, your diet, and your health.
All grains start out as whole grains. Whole grains are the entire seed, or kernel, of a plant: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The seed is protected by in inedible shell that protects it from pests, disease, etc. The bran is the outer layer of the edible seed. It contains fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants. The germ contains vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. This is the portion of the plant that allows new plants to sprout. The endosperm is the largest part of the seed and is the germ’s food supply. It contains carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains contain all three parts of the seed. Processing removes the germ and bran which removes 25% of the seed’s protein along with 17 key vitamins and minerals.
Grains, in their natural state, are delicious, healthy, and filling. As a food group, grains include oats, barley, rice, millet, wheat, millet, quinoa, amaranth, rye, sorghum, and buckwheat. Studies have shown that eating whole grains, not the refined grains found in breads and cereals, lowers the risk of many chronic diseases. They also help regulate digestion and elimination, lower blood cholesterol, boost heart health, and keep you fuller longer.
Rice is the edible grain of a cereal plant and is most versatile and fascinating; world wide, there are over 40,000 different varieties! Besides the well known and often used white, brown, Arborio, and wild varieties, rice can be long, short, medium grained, sweet or waxy. It can be red, purple, black, and even striped. Rice is a staple food in many countries and as a food, feeds more than half the world’s population. Brown rice is healthier for you because its bran layer has not been removed as with white rice. Rich in complex carbohydrates, rice aids in brain function, provides energy, stabilizes blood sugar levels, provides vitamin B1, niacin, iron, and contains no harmful fats, cholesterol or sodium. Just one cup daily provides 100% of the manganese needed to aid in the production of energy from carbohydrates and protein. It is also a natural and gentle cure for chronic constipation, but it is advised that plenty of water be consumed when eating any fibrous foods such as brown rice.
Many people think of rice as a tasteless and bland food, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rice absorbs the flavor of the broth or juices it is cooked in, but there are varieties of rice that are aromatic all on their own. Basmati rice (grown primarily in India) has a nutty flavor while jasmine rice (grown primarily in Thailand) has a flowery flavor. Both of these varieties of rice are best cooked in water. Rice’s versatility would also be difficult to match. It can be used alone, in soups, stews, risottos, puddings, casseroles, cereals, salads, breads, stuffings, and even pet food. The ratio for cooking brown rice is 1 part rice to 2 ¼ parts liquid. The rice is brought to a boil on the stovetop, covered, the temperature is reduced, and the rice is meant to simmer for about 40 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. The ratio for white rice is 1 part rice to 1 ½ parts liquid and cooked as described for only 20 to 30 minutes. Times and ratios will vary for different types and colors of rice.
Summer’s here and Grilled Vegetable and Rice Salad with Fish-Sauce Vinaigrette takes advantage of summer vegetables and makes a delicious and healthy dinner. This is even better the next day which is good, because it makes a lot.
Grilled Vegetable and Rice Salad with Fish-Sauce Vinaigrette
- 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut ** (optional)
- Vegetable oil
- 12 okra pods
- 3 ears of corn, shucked
- 2 large zucchini, halved lengthwise, centers scooped out
- 2 long red chiles** (such as Holland, Anaheim or Chipolte), stemmed
- 1 small eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1″ slices
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
Dressing and assembly:
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar or (packed) light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nuoc nam or nam pla)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 2 cups (loosely packed) mixed fresh tender herbs (such as basil, cilantro, fennel fronds, marjoram, mint, and tarragon)
- 4 cups steamed jasmine rice
Preheat oven to 250°F. Spread out coconut (if using) on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast coconut, stirring often, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool on pan.
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Brush grill grates with oil. Meanwhile, combine okra, corn, zucchini, chiles, eggplant, and salt in a large bowl; drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Grill vegetables (use a grill basket if you have one), turning frequently, until crisp-tender and lightly charred, about 8 minutes. Place chiles in a medium bowl; cover tightly with plastic to let steam for easy peeling. Set chiles aside for dressing.
Cut corn kernels from cobs; place in a large bowl. Cut zucchini and eggplant into irregular 1″ pieces; place in bowl with corn. Trim any tough tops from okra and cut okra in half lengthwise; add to bowl. Set aside.
Peel or scrape off charred skin from chiles and discard. Purée chiles (with seeds) and garlic in a food processor or mash with a mortar and pestle until a coarse paste forms. Add sugar and process or pound until dissolved. Stir in fish sauce and lime juice.
Drizzle dressing over warm vegetables; add herbs and toasted coconut (if using); toss well. Scoop steamed rice onto a platter and top with salad.
** Ingredient info: Look for unsweetened shredded coconut at natural and specialty foods stores and some supermarkets. Anaheim chiles, also known as California chiles, are available at Latin markets and many supermarkets.
from Bon Appétit, July 2012