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Ancient grains pack a healthy punch in everyday foods

Friday - 1/17/2014, 8:50am  ET

Millet.jpg
Millet is just one of the many ancient grains featured in 'Grain Power.' Ancient grains come with many health benefits. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON - Imagine a chocolate-chip cookie packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Or a pizza loaded with something more than cheese -- such as ingredients that fight chronic disease.

Sisters Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming, authors of "Grain Power," are on a mission to help home cooks swap their everyday conventional cooking ingredients for a healthier alternative: ancient grains.

"These are fabulous whole foods of the earth that can deliver amazing nutritional profiles," says Hemming, who is also the co-author of "Quinoa Revolution."

In their new cookbook, Hemming and Green focus on lesser-known grains, such as millet, amaranth, sorghum and kaniwa, among others. They hope to bring attention to the health and taste benefits of these grains and make "obscure grains" more accessible to the everyday cook.

"They're sorting them on the grocery store shelves, so we can tell people about how to make this and how to make it good in the foods and the menu items that we're eating in the traditional North American diet and show people how to pump up their nutrition and eat better," Hemming says.

In the cookbook "Grain Power," authors Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming share ideas on how to incorporate ancient grains into everyday cooking. (Courtesy Playback Producers)

The health benefits of ancient grains, which Hemming describes as being "so pure" and "not enriched with nutrition in any lab," are numerous.

"A lot of these ancient grains have very similar nutritional profiles, in that they deliver a natural source of iron and omega-3s and a lot of plant sterols, which are great for warding off cancer," Hemming says.

"On top of that, they all seem to be blood pressure-lowering and cholesterol- lowering and inhibit inflammation and improve immune function."

Ancient grains also suppress the appetite and help the body better metabolize fat. Hemming uses teff as an example when talking about the health benefits of grains.

Teff is a high-protein grain common in African communities. Hemming says many African runners and athletes attribute their skill, speed and endurance to the grain.

"In communities where they eat a lot of it, things like osteoporosis and diabetes are relatively unheard of," Hemming says. "All of these ancient grains have just a realm of health benefits."

If you're new to the world of ancient grains, Heming says one way to begin incorporating these grains into your everyday diet is to start with a few obvious substitutions. Instead of serving rice or couscous, try an ancient grain instead.

Using a blend of grains for breakfast is another way to slowly and easily incorporate ancient grains in your diet.

"Instead of just having a traditional, out-of-the-box cereal … you could have a super-blends cereal which could contain a variety of ancient grains," Hemming says.

She offers an idea for an ancient grain breakfast on-the-go.

"Grab a little mason jar, throw in your ancient-grain combination with your fruit and your other ingredients, shake it up for maybe two minutes, then pop it in the fridge. When you wake up in the morning, you've got a complete breakfast right there waiting for you."

For lunches and dinner, Hemming suggests throwing ancient grains into casseroles, soups and chili, instead of conventional starches and carbohydrates.

Even cookies and crackers can get a makeover with ancient grains. Hemming suggests grinding the grains in a coffee grinder or blender, and using the grain flour in place of a white or whole-wheat baking flour.

And if you really want to impress, Hemming suggests making an ancient grain pizza or a more formal entrée, such as her recipe for stuffed chicken.

"If you really want to … look like a serious pro, you can make a chicken breast that's stuffed with ancient grains and some feta cheese and some Herbes de Provence, and people will think you are a world-class chef," she says.

Interested in giving it a try? Test out the recipe for Cheddar Garlic Ancient Grain Biscuits from "Grain Power."

Cheddar Garlic Ancient Grain Biscuits

Ingredients:

1/2 cup oat flour 1/3 cup sorghum flour 1/3 cup potato starch or brown rice flour 3/4 tsp xanthan gum 2 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp baking soda 1 1/2 tsp garlic salt 3 Tbsp unsalted butter 1/2 shredded reduced-fat aged Cheddar cheese 1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley or 1 tsp dried parsley 3/4 cup buttermilk

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place a piece of parchment paper on a large baking sheet; set aside. Place the oven rack in the center.

Combine the oat flour, sorghum flour, potato starch, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda and garlic salt in a large bowl. Whisk until evenly distributed.

Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until mixture is in pea-sized bits. Stir in the Cheddar and parsley.

Pour in the buttermilk and, using a large spoon, fold the mixture until just combined. Spoon by slightly heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet, 2 inches apart.

Flour clean hands and reshape the edges and flatten into 1/2-inch thick disks. Bake in the preheated oven for eight to 10 minutes, until the edges are slightly golden. Cool slightly and serve.

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