Why Go Against the Grain? Two Recipes that Get Whole Grains Right

By Maria Speck
I serve whole grains all day long, for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- yet I never set out a plate or bowl of "healthy whole grains." With our well-meaning efforts to improve our diets and change our fast-food habits, we have done whole grains a disservice. We have labeled them as wholesome, nutritious and "oh so good for you."

Few people associate whole grains with mouthwatering flavorful meals. But imagine a warm breakfast bowl of citrus-infused millet simmered in milk with a drizzle of honey and topped with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt. Or a mound of comforting Parmesan polenta with a dab of butter next to your sizzling steak. What about the gentle chew of nutty bulgur in a tomato-infused soup, combined with red lentils, a classic Middle Eastern preparation? Surprising to most, these delectable starches make exquisite desserts too.

I would love for everyone to discover the versatility and rich variety of these ancient staples that have been part of our diet for thousands of years.

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3 tips for grains:

>> How do you cook whole grains?
>> Time to rethink your oatmeal?
>> What other grains make a tasty granola?

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Today, supermarkets across the country carry trendy quinoa, brown rice, whole grain pasta and different whole grain flours, such as whole wheat, white whole wheat or buckwheat. Here are two easy recipes that get whole grains just right.

1. Wheat berry fools with grand marnier figs

From Zester Daily contributor Maria Speck

I love to cook up a stunning burgundy rice pudding, studded with dates, using soft-textured Chinese black rice, or a lifelong favorite, creamy wheat berry fools with Grand Marnier figs. The dessert can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead. Add a dash more liqueur to the figs reserved for the garnish, if necessary.

Serves 6 to 8


¾ cup finely chopped dried figs, preferably Turkish or Greek
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other good-quality orange-flavored liqueur
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt (use low fat yogurt if you prefer)
4 tablespoons honey, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest (about 2 oranges)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup cooked soft whole wheat berries
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled


1. Combine the figs and the liqueur in a small bowl and set aside to plump for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, while you prep the ingredients.

2. In a large bowl, beat the yogurt with 2 tablespoons of honey, 1 tablespoon of orange zest, and the cinnamon until smooth. Stir in the wheat berries.

3. Using a hand mixer, whip the cream at medium speed in a medium bowl until foamy. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons honey and continue whipping until soft peaks form.

4. Drain the figs, reserving their juices. Toss 2 tablespoons of the figs with the remaining 1 teaspoon zest in a small bowl and set aside for garnish.

5. Stir the remaining figs into the bowl with the yogurt mixture. Fold in one-third of the whipped cream using a spatula. Fold in the remaining whipped cream in 2 additions until just incorporated. Divide among serving bowls, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours.

6. To serve, top each bowl with a bit of the reserved figs and their juices.

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2. Waffles for the new year

From Zester Daily contributor Lauren Chattman

Tips for perfect waffles:

>> Stick with buttermilk to moisten your healthy waffle batter because of its tangy taste and the bubbly texture it lends to the finished dish.

>> Be careful not to overmix the batter (which will deflate its air bubbles and over-develop the gluten, making them flat and tough).

>> Grease the grids of your iron with nonstick cooking spray before baking each batch.

>> Try not to overfill the machine (a leaking waffle iron used to be my specialty).

>> Bake them on your machine's highest setting (for a crispy exterior and a properly cooked -- not raw -- interior).

>> You could top these waffles with pats of butter and drown them in maple syrup (I won't lie -- they taste great this way). But a lightly sweetened fruit topping will add bright flavor as well as more vitamins, minerals and fiber. Try sliced bananas drizzled with just a little of that maple syrup, berries macerated in a teaspoon or two of turbinado sugar, or my personal favorite, honeyed oranges and pomegranate seeds.

Serves 4


For the waffles:

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
¼ cup rolled oats
¼ cup raw sesame seeds
¼ cup flax seeds
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups nonfat buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Nonstick cooking spray

For the honeyed oranges with pomegranate seeds:

2 large oranges, peeled, segmented, pith cut away from segments
2 tablespoons honey
Seeds from one pomegranate


1. Heat the waffle iron.

2. Stir together the flours, oats, sesame seeds, flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.

3. Whisk together the buttermilk, egg, honey, and oil in a large glass measuring cup.

4. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until moistened. Do not overmix!

5. Spray the grids of the waffle iron with nonstick cooking spray. Pour some batter (how much depends on the size of your waffle iron) onto the grids and spread it to the edges with a spatula. Cook the waffles until they are golden brown, 4 to 7 minutes, depending on your machine. Serve immediately, repeating with the remaining batter and spraying the grids with more cooking spray before beginning each new batch.

Maria Speck is the author of the whole grain cookbook "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals," a New York Times Best Cookbook of 2011. Lauren Chattman, a former pastry chef, is the author of 14 books, most recently "Cake Keeper Cakes" and "Cookie Swap!"

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