Ancient-GrainsIn the search for nutritionally dense whole foods, everything old is new again. Find out why people have relied on these grains for centuries, and learn how they can be healthful additions to your modern lifestyle.

“Once revered by the Incas, quinoa has become the darling of chefs and home cooks alike in recent years,” says Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. “This is no surprise,given that this gluten-free grain cooks up fast and is amazingly versatile. It can be used as a side dish, in salads and soups, and it pairs well with many vegetables and even fruit in a warming breakfast bowl.”

Corinne Dobbas,MS, RD, owner of Green Grapes Nutrition in the San Francisco Bay area, explains that quinoa is one of the rare plant sources of complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids. Quinoa, she adds, is also thought to help decrease migraines since it is a good source of magnesium, a mineral that helps relax and
open blood vessels.

“High-protein spelt is a type of ancient wheat I often use in my kitchen,” Speck says. “I cherish its wonderful, mild, natural sweetness and nuttiness.” She uses spelt and spelt flour in soups, grain salads, pizza crust,flatbreads, and even cakes and cookies.

Spelt is high in insoluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and offers some protection against gallstones,
Dobbas notes.

Millet was a main staple in Europe during the Middle Ages before it was replaced with corn and potatoes from the New World, says Speck, who compares the mild, comforting grain to polenta or Southern grits. She enjoys it as a simple side dish with a dab of butter or a drizzle of olive oil.

Speck notes that some Americans poke fun at this simple, versatile, fast-cooking grain. “This staple, still widely eaten in India and Africa, is often derided as bird food, so I like to bring it to my table hidden in main dishes, sides, and desserts, and then it’s a great success.”

It’s also a nutritional success. “Millet is a heartfriendly grain, rich in dietary fiber and phytonutrients,particularly lignans, that may help diminish the risk of heart disease,” Dobbas says.

Barley is a fabulous source of both insoluble and soluble fiber. “Barley helps lower the risk of heart disease by acting like a sponge, soaking up fatty substances such as cholesterol,” Dobbas says. The insoluble fiber improves bowel function and may be beneficial in lowering the risk of colon and other cancers, she says, adding that studies have proven a diet rich in whole grains such as barley provides significant cardiovascular benefits, particularly to postmenopausal women with heart disease.

Barley has a wonderful earthy aroma, is slightly sweet and low in gluten, and stands out among grains for its low glycemic index, Speck says. “To introduce people to the distinct aroma of the grain,I don’t hesitate to use refined pearl barley. It still adds considerable fiber—about 8%—to your diet,” she says, because its fiber is not concentrated in the outer bran but throughout the kernel.

Whole grains are so important, says Keri Gans, MS,RD, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet. “They help prevent heart disease and lower cancer risk and are high in fiber, making them helpful for digestion and regulation of blood sugar. Adding these grains into your diet is a great nutritional investment.”

Lemon Quinoa With Currants, Dill, and Zucchini

Delicate quinoa is a more recent addition to my European-inspired grain universe. I often reach for it when I’m pressed for time. This tangy dish, studded with plump currants, is a mixture of a soothing rice pilaf and a refreshing salad. Pair it with grilled or pan-seared salmon or shrimp, or with sautéed chicken breast. For a light summer dish, simply top with crumbled feta, or just spoon some creamy yogurt over it.

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped green onions (about 6)
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained
2 cups water
1/2 cup dried currants
1 lemon

To Finish
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small)
4 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. To make the quinoa, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the green onions (the oil might spatter!) and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the dark green parts wilt but do not turn brown, about 2 minutes. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring occasionally,until the grains start to crackle and turn dry, about 3 minutes. Add the water, the currants,and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile finely grate the zest of the lemon until you have 1 teaspoonful, and then squeeze the lemon until you have 2 tablespoons juice.

3. To finish, remove the pan from the heat. Stir the zucchini, lemon juice and zest, 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons of the dill, and the pepper into the quinoa. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Cover and let sit for 3 minutes.

4. Transfer the quinoa to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons each of sesame seeds and dill, and serve.

TD&N Nutrient Analysis (based on 4 servings): Calories: 299; Total Fat: 10 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 4 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 373 mg; Carbohydrates: 46 g; Fiber: 6 g; Protein: 9 g