Flavourful ancient grains celebrated in new cookbook ‘Grain Power’

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TORONTO – It took some convincing by Patricia Green to get sister Carolyn Hemming to try quinoa, but now she’s a firm believer in its health and dietary benefits. And after penning two cookbooks devoted to the gluten-free seed, the two have continued with a new book devoted to ancient grains.

“It’s such a natural progression of what we’ve been doing really. Quinoa’s really our thing and to actually talk about more ancient grains that are still gluten-free that still have this fabulous nutritional profile, it just sort of came naturally that we talked about the ‘friends’ of quinoa that are quite good as well,” said Hemming.

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In their third cookbook, Grain Power: Over 100 Delicious Gluten-Free Ancient Grain & Superblend Recipes (Penguin Canada), the quinoa queens demystify such ancient grains as amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, oats, sorghum and teff.

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But as they discovered when they began working on Quinoa 365 and the followup Quinoa Revolution, research available to enlighten the average consumer was lacking. They scoured scientific and medical journals and called on the few experts to gather the correct information.

“It’s got to be more than just a cookbook when you’re talking about something people don’t know a lot about, so to have something that’s comprehensive and to have something that the average person can sit down and educate themselves accurately was important to us and the integrity of the book,” Green said during a promotional visit to Toronto.

Although called ancient “grains” for culinary reasons, many are not grains but have been grouped with them because of their cooking profile and similar nutrient content. Many of them are, in fact, seeds. For each one, they have compiled an overview with notes on its origins, flavour, texture, forms and how to cook it. A photo of each is included.

“We worked with quinoa enough to be able to be aware of the other ones and to see people knew how to cook quinoa, but they didn’t know how to cook some of the other ones that are also nutritious,” said Green, who lives in Calgary and has two teen daughters.

With teff, for example, the smallest of the ancient grains and with a history of more than 5,000 years, “you ask the same questions: what can you do with it, how do you prep it and then you start experimenting,” explained Hemming, who has a toddler and lives in Aberfoyle, Ont., west of Toronto.

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Not all grains are gluten-free, but the ones they’ve featured in the book can be consumed by people who have a gluten intolerance.

Ancient grains not only provide unique textures and flavours to meals, but they also have health benefits.

With quinoa, “it was something that Patricia was introduced to that she started to eat a lot of and then she really convinced me to do it,” said Hemming. “I was not a home cook. I was very busy. I’m really a product of her sort of training because she was on me, ‘You have to try quinoa, you have to try quinoa. You’re running marathons, you’re going to work, you have a busy life and where are you getting your nutrition from?’ I resisted for the longest time and then once I did I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t. It’s so simple,” she added.

“I’m actually very in tune to my body and I actually feel a difference when I eat it. It’s just really, really efficient vitamin and mineral delivery. I was just so excited and then we started putting it in everything we possibly could and then it just got to a point where is there anything we can’t do with it because it’s so amazingly versatile.”

When Green, who has some postsecondary education in nutrition along with commercial cooking experience working for the Department of National Defence, creates recipes using ancient grains, she considers the flavour and texture profile. Take teff, for instance, which has a gelatinous consistency when cooked, similar to chia.

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“To be able to put that in a recipe where it tastes good, you have to look at the teff first and then say how can we make this work in the best recipes. What does this work best as? After you experiment enough you realize what the flavour affinities are and if you put it in milk it doesn’t get gelatinous so then you create recipes based on that. It evolves when you’re experimenting,” she said.

“We like to pick the dishes we know, the North American diet people are really familiar with, so how do you take what people are eating and make it even better for them?” said Hemming. “That’s kind of been our underlying thread through everything. We’re sort of helping to transform the North American diet into something that still has the same flavours but with pumped-up nutrition so people can feed themselves better.”

They attribute ancient grains being rediscovered to a growing interest in the source of one’s food and a realization food can impact health.

“So many people are finding their families are sick, their friends are sick. It seems like every second day we hear of somebody we know has got cancer or something awful,” said Hemming. “I think we are just starting to realize we’ve got to start eating better. People are getting more savvy at choosing their foods.”

“Even something as simple as finding out you’re nutrient deficient in something or with your children you’re trying to get more iron into their diet more naturally as opposed to giving them a supplement, there just seems to be so many reasons. You wonder why we haven’t been eating like this,” said Green.

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“How could we be so forgetful of all these wonderful things?”

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