Gillian’s New Year’s resolution this year was to pick one cook book a month and cook from it almost exclusively. Gillian is quite the chef, and we have a nice little cook book collection, and she wanted to really spend time with some of the books, and that seemed like a good way to do it.
For January she chose Whole Grains, Every Day, Every Way by Lorna Sass. Sass is also a specialist in vegan cooking, but I won’t hold that against her (ha ha). This book is decidedly not vegan, or even vegetarian.
This book has changed my life. I am now a whole grains evangelist. I am spreading the word about this book and about eating whole foods.
The recipes include some things I may have heard of, but never before eaten, like kamut or spelt. We have tried many recipes already, and have loved them all. Each one has been absolutely delicious. So far we have tried and loved kamut, broccoli rabe, and sausage medley; masa harina-beef casserole; faro risoto with butternut squash, ham, sage, and toasted walnuts; and (I think my favorite so far) bulgur pilaf with Moroccan roast chicken. And did I mention the granola? It is the best I’ve ever eaten, and super easy to make.
The bonus is that we feel great, too. There has been a real difference in my energy level each day. Not to mention the positive effects on the digestive system, if you know what I mean (and I think you do).
There are many real health benefits for eating a whole grain diet. Sass points to studies that show that a whole grain diet can lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, can lower cholesterol, reduce risk of stroke and obesity, and can protect against digestive system cancers. A colleague of mine told me that her father has increased whole grains in his diet during the last year, changing nothing else about his diet and exercise regime, and within a year he naturally lost twelve pounds. You can check out some of the scientific literature on the health benefits at the Whole Grains Council website.
And health benefits aside, this stuff is really delicious! The left overs are awesome. You’re having healthy food that doesn’t feel at all overly virtuous to eat. I really like to eat for pleasure. Food is passion. I don’t believe in dieting as discipline on principal. I don’t like processed foods – I like to know where my food comes from and what is in it. I like my food to be food.
Michael Pollan wrote a really great piece for the New York Times Magazine on January 28, Unhappy Meals where he talks about how the majority of Americans consume highly processed food products. Have you walked into a Safeway or Albertsen’s or any grocery store chain recently? Everything is prepackaged and processed. What is in that stuff anyway? I can’t pronounce half of the ingredients list on some things. It is so hard to find unprocessed food these days. We are fortunate in the Bay Area to have several grocery stores that stock things like spelt and kamut, but if we lived in Kentucky we might have to mail-order these things.
Gillian and I have always eaten very well, and we are relatively heath conscious, but not obsessive about it. Mostly, we eat for pleasure. My friends think I’m a little crazy, but I feel that I’ve had a conversion experience. I am a believer.
We are enjoying cooking from this book so much that we’ve decided to continue focusing on it, cultivating a “grain bank” as Sass recommends, menu planning primarily using Whole Grains. Gillian may move on to other books eventually, but we have decided that whole grain recipes are going to stay a staple of our diet.
Alright, I’ll climb down from my pulpit, but I’ll leave you with one of our favorite recipes from the book (with slight modifications).
2/3 cup grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups unsalted nuts (your choice), coarsely chopped
1 cup dried fruit
Place a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 225.
In a small saucepan, blend the syrup and oil. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until warm (3-5 min). Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the oats, wheat germ, coconut, and nuts together. Stir in the syrup mixture until the oats are evenly coated.
Spread the granola mixture evenly onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Stir the mixture every 20 minutes, and rotate the baking sheet so that the mixture will be evenly toasted.
Transfer to a large storage container. When cool, stir in the fruit.* Cover and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or refrigerate for up to 2 months.
* We used dates, throwing them in the mix to toast with everything else. They were delicious after a toasting.
Variations: Use rolled barley, spelt, or rye in place of some of the rolled oats. Also, try adding 1/8 cup of sesame seed and/or flax seeds.