Would you purchase a Ferrari just to strip out the Italian leather seats and polished walnut trim
or get the latest desktop computer with a Core 2 Duo Processor, Blu-ray disc media and wall
mountable flat screen monitor just to swap it for a Celeron processor and 20 GB of hard drive
space? Then why do we do the same to an ideal nutritional powerhouse of a grain then proceed
to strip it of its bran and germ and leave a tasteless, nutritionally lacking refined mass of starch?
I say that if we make any nutrition or diet related promises over the course of the Year of the
Rat, we vow to consume grains as they were meant to be consumed; whole and healthy. What
better way to greet the
nezumi than eating like he would.

Whole Grain Nutrition

Whole grains were meant to be consumed in their natural state complete with fiber, vitamins
and minerals. If that doesn’t interest you because you take a daily multi-vitamin and
supplement your diet with Metamucil, you may be interested that there have been a multitude
of articles published in the major scientific journals that attribute a higher whole grain diet to
reduced incidences of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, colon and pancreatic
cancer as well as reducing obesity and elderly mortality. Though most of these studies haven’t
proven a direct cause-effect relationship, there is a strong correlation in reducing these maladies.

Whole Wheat

The granddaddy of the whole grains, whole wheat bread has been around almost as long as I
have been around, 32 years or so. Depending on the generation you were raised in, your first
encounter with whole wheat bread may have been akin to bread meets large hockey puck.
Whole wheat dough is denser than refined white flour and is harder to process manually since it
is also stickier – add enough flour to prevent sticking and the finished loaf has the same
moisture content as cardboard. However with technology (and mass production done in high
tech machines), whole wheat bread is just as palatable as refined white bread and a LOT more
flavorful. Therefore I implore you to switch your pre-sliced supermarket variety to whole wheat
– look for 100% whole wheat on the label. More flavor, more nutrition, same texture and better
for you. This change also applies to bread applications, namely stuffing and bread puddings.
Instead of cubing white bread for your dressings and stuffings, make the switch to whole wheat
bread cubes. After you’ve added your sautéed onions, celery, seasoning and stock your family
will be none the wiser that it’s whole wheat that they’re wolfing down with the turkey.
If you’ve already made the switch to whole wheat bread, what about switching to whole wheat
pasta? Nay you say after trying whole wheat pasta in the 70s. Unpalatable, sticky, dark brown
noodles that ruined your best marinara. Though we never say never, pasta making technology
has also improved leaps and bounds. Many Italian made whole wheat pastas compete with best
refined semolina with good texture and a color that is just a shade darker than their refined
brethren. Once again, if you pre-sauce your pasta before service, your family will never know
that your meal is delicious AND healthy.

Farro

Probably the oldest cultivated grain, farro (
Triticum dicoccum) or Emmer wheat is still widely
used in Italy. After boiling for 2 hours (or pressure cooking for 1 hour), each
grains retains its shape and texture so that it can be used in soups and salads (I
also add cooked farro to curries and stews). If the 1 to 2 hour cooking time is a
little longer than your favorite TV show runs, then might I suggest cracked
farro. These cracked nuggets of goodness cook in 20 to 30 minutes with all of
the taste and nutrition of the uncracked grain, the only difference being
consistency. Cooked cracked farro looks a little like bulgur and can be used in
the same applications like
tabouli salad.
Unlike commercial wheat, farro is lower in gluten and may actually be
tolerated in people with gluten intolerances (if you do have a true gluten allergy, you also want
to avoid farro). Farro is high in protein – up to 20% - and also a good source of B vitamins.

Buckwheat

While it’s not a member of the wheat family nor a member of The Little Rascals,
Fagopyrum
esculentum
does provide an earthy flavor not found in wheat, corn or barley
and is the grain primarily responsible for
toshikoshi soba.
Because it doesn’t contain any gluten, it is safe, even for those with gluten
allergies though it does pose a problem for bread and noodle makers. Despite
this biochemical roadblock, the Japanese, Korean and Italian cultures have
mastered the art of gluten free noodles with
soba, memil guksu and
pizzoccheri.
Like the other whole grains, buckwheat is a good source of B vitamins, iron,
and fiber and has a low glycemic index and load meaning it won’t overload
your bloodstream with sugar after you eat it. However if nutrition or noodles
don’t catch your fancy, you can enjoy buckwheat as is, as kasha or boiled whole buckwheat
grains. Usually toasted to produce a nutritional cereal, these whole grains can also be added to
chili, stews and curries to make it a nutritious, high fiber, one pot meal.

Other Whole Grains

I previously highlighted the merits of brown rice (The San Francisco Treat – Nov 2006 & Got
Rice? – Mar 2003) and barley (More than Just for Beer – Mar 2006) so I won’t elaborate on
the details bur like all other grains, the whole grain variety provides a whole cornucopia of
nutrition and flavor. Therefore my message to you in the Year of the
Nezumi… and beyond is
to try to add whole grains to your diet wherever possible. Other than the additional health
benefits of better nutrition and added dietary fiber, added flavor (when was the last time you
thought simple white bread was delicious) and knowing that you’re consuming food the way it
was meant to be eaten, doesn’t simply adding whole grains to your diet sound better than
dieting for the New Year?
If adding whole grains sounds like too large a step to take, how about trying this whole wheat
savory bread pudding as your next starch dish at the family gathering?
From the Gochiso Gourmet and his
ohana to you and yours, may the New Year bring Health,
Happiness and Peace of Mind. Shinmen Omedetou Akemashite Gozaimasu.

Whole Wheat Mushroom Bread Pudding

1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small finely diced onion
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
4 cup coarsely chopped fresh shiitake mushroom caps
4 cup coarsely chopped button mushrooms
4 cup coarsely chopped oyster mushroom caps
     (or 8 to 12 cups of coarsely chopped mushrooms of your choice)
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 cups skim milk
½ tsp poultry seasoning
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
2 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
1 lb stale whole wheat bread, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350º F. Spray bottom and sides of a 13” x 9” shallow baking dish with non stick
spray.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook onions and garlic until translucent but
do not brown. Stir in mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, allowing mushrooms to render
their liquid. Cook until liquid almost gone then add thyme and rosemary. Cook uncovered,
stirring frequently until all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 to 8 minutes.  Add the milk,
poultry seasoning, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Continue cooking until just before milk boils then
remove from heat and cool. Once the mixture is cool to the touch, pour over the cubed, dried
bread and let sit for 10 minutes. Mix in the beaten eggs and parsley. Transfer the mixture to the
baking dish; bake uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes. Pudding should be firm and a knife blade
inserted into the middle should be clean when removed.  Serves 10-12 people.
Sow Those Wild Oats, and Farro, and Buckwheat…