At the corner of 1st and Lemon downtown are double glass doors to Sarasota Whole Foods Market. Behind those doors is a fantastic classroom and kitchen I never knew existed until last month. For as much time as I spend shopping there, I never made the time to sign up for and attend one of the free cooking classes available at our local Whole Foods Market.
Color me impressed. The fantastic stainless kitchen is equipped with all the best cookware and fresh foods a chef could ask for. There is even a camera on the workspace that shows up on an overhead large screen so that one can watch the cooking team at work. Last month the kitchen hosted a grains class by Kathryn McCue, Healthy Eating Specialist and Robin Rosen, Culinary Expert. I do know quite a bit about grains as a plant-based eater, but I found some great pearls of wisdom and cooking tips that were incredibly helpful for everyday cooking, along with some fantastic new recipes.
Whole Foods Market maintains four pillars of Healthy Eating for their Health Starts Here program. Throughout the store, you can find foods labeled with Health Starts Here to tell you that the ingredients inside offer the greatest health benefits.
1. Eat Whole Foods - Choosing foods that are closest to their natural form are best. For example, it's best to choose an apple over applesauce or a potato over the chip.
2. Choose Healthy Fats - Find your healthy fats from plant, nut and seed sources, not from oils or processed fats.
3. Be Plant Strong - Eating a rainbow of foods is a great way to ensure a variety of nutrients. Eat more plants such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
4. Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods - Choose foods that have a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Kathryn's class focused on different types of grains. Some lesser-used grains can provide a great change in diet and nutrients. There are three parts to every grain. The bran, which is the protective layer on the outside, contains fiber, vitamins and minerals. The germ stores the nutrients for the seed and contains fiber, B and E vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant-based antioxidants) that help prevent the growth of cancer. And last is the endosperm, which contains some protein and mostly carbohydrates and sugars. When whole grains are refined, the bran and germ are removed. The problem with many grains now is that they're stripped of all their true nutrients, shelled, crushed, processed and in some cases even cooked before you get them, leaving minimal nutrients in the food. This is why it's so important to choose grains closer to their natural state. For instance, rather than choosing couscous, which is highly processed pasta, try choosing wheatberries, which are the wheat seed or hulless barley which also maintains the whole seed.
As far as gluten is concerned, wheat, barley, rye and oats typically contain gluten. To ensure that grains are gluten-free, it's best to purchase them prepackaged with "gluten-free" on the label to avoid contamination. There is normally a warning on the packaging that says wheat is a possible allergen, or that the grains were processed in a factory that handles wheat. This is particularly important for those with celiac disease and identified wheat allergies. Buckwheat, millet, whole grain rice and quinoa are great gluten-free grain options.
Whole Foods Market Sarasota carries a wide variety of grains prepackaged in their grains aisle ...
... and a huge selection of bulk grains are available near the front of the store in the bulk aisle. These are probably the most economical way to purchase grains without waste.
When reading grain labels, be sure to look for the word whole in front of the grain (whole wheat, whole spelt, etc.). If the word whole is missing, the grain in question has been stripped of some of its nutrients.
In the cooking class, Kathryn and Robin chose to make tabbouleh. Normally the base of this dish is bulgur (cracked) wheat, but they chose millet. Millet looks like small blonde pellets. You might recognize it as bird seed, but it currently feeds one third of the world's population. The great news is that it's gluten-free and cooks very quickly. Millet can be like rice in that it often clumps and sticks together. Kathryn boiled her millet for the recipe in a large pot of water like you would cook pasta. This prevented clumping and left the millet light and fluffy.
I recreated a version of this recipe at home that my whole family enjoyed in a variety of ways as leftovers.
1 cup millet
3 heirloom or a pint of grape or cherry tomatoes, chopped
2 cucumbers, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup lemon juice.
The recipe also called for 1/3 cup fresh mint, but I omitted it because I didn't have any on hand.
I boiled about two quarts of water over high heat (no salt or oil added) and added the millet once the water boiled. I reduced the heat to medium and covered, cooking for about 14 minutes. Then I drained and rinsed the millet and added it to the other chopped ingredients in a large bowl.
I found a few ways to sneak the tabbouleh into lunches and complete meals.
In a salad for lunch, I had a baby spinach salad with sliced cucumbers, grape tomatoes and sliced avocados. I topped the salad with about a half of a cup of tabbouleh, raw walnuts and squeezed lime juice over the top for the dressing.
My husband's lunch was similar, with baby spinach and baby kale topped with a large portion of the millet tabbouleh on top. His salad was topped with small cucumber pieces, watermelon radish triangles, grape tomatoes and whole walnuts along with fresh fruit.
I found a wonderful recipe similar to Whole Foods' "California Quinoa" in the deli, which is one of my personal favorites. I found that another blogger had recreated the recipe, so you can find it here on his blog: Kid Tested Firefighter Approved California Quinoa Salad Recipe. It's oil-free and delicious!
This recipe is a kids pleaser too. With the unsweetened coconut, mango and raisins, the kids will eat this up and forget about the grain in it.
Above, the salad is packed to go for lunch in an Easy Lunchboxes container with kiwi and tangleo slices.
Another trick of my trade in feeding children is to make it pleasing to the eye. I made Columbian lentils for dinner the night before. I took the leftover rice and pressed it into a small flower mold with the back of a spoon. You can refrigerate it overnight in the mold and pop it out carefully in the morning. I added a small red pepper circle in the middle for decoration. You can even use a small cookie cutter on a plate as a rice or grain mold by pressing them in tightly without having to buy special tools.
Another tip for grains is to add raisins, dates or cinnamon for a touch of healthy sweetness to get them to try it. Remember, for some children it takes over a dozen times to taste a food before they decide they like it---so give them credit for trying!
For my little one's lunch above, I used India Tree brand natural food coloring available at Whole Foods Market in the baking aisle. The food dyes are derived from vegetables, unlike their conventional cousins which are petroleum and chemical-based, cause hyperactivity and have been linked to cancer. India Tree dyes are harmless and add an element of fun to entice little ones to try new grains. The heart mold was the top of a heart-shaped Easter container. Again, I scooped the rice into a bowl, stirred in the food coloring and tightly packed it in with the back of a spoon. Then I carefully squeezed the rice out on top of the lunch. In this case it was black beans and sweet onions.
I made small rice balls into an animal face with the help of some fun tools from my favorite bento box supply store, Bento USA by All Things For Sale. They carry the small rice molds and fun animal picks you see in my sample lunchboxes. I used Stretch Island fruit leather for the mouth, beans for the eyes and an animal pick stuck in the top for ears. I don't recommend the picks for children under the age of three, but they're a great option for older kids.
Kathryn, Whole Foods Market Sarasota's Healthy Eating Specialist, is available for store tours. She teaches a monthly cooking class on the third Thursday of each month. Please see Whole Foods Market Sarasota's Facebook page for a schedule of classes and events. Just call the store to sign up for the cooking classes and tours.
Happy, healthy eating!