Haven’t most of us followed the same things our moms or grandmoms did in the kitchen? There have not been many times that I have questioned my mom’s cooking methods. I just saw and did the same. But on a recent trip to Vana, a wellness retreat in Dehradun, India, I met Sneha, a nutrition consultant who opened my eyes to something different than what my mom did. I was a little taken aback that even after cooking for so many years, I was unaware of the science behind a basic daily practice in my kitchen.
The modern healthy diet suggests eating whole grains is the way to go. There have been countless recipes I have come across in gourmet magazines, websites and blogs that are based on whole grains, lentils, and beans. Yes, it’s true that whole grains can be a vital source of energy but only when they are prepared in the right way. Otherwise, they can be the cause of some nasty digestive problems, Crohn’s disease and colitis, and also mental disorders associated with celiac disease.(1) Improper preparation of high grain based diets can also lead to many health problems like tooth decay, indigestion and bloating, poor bone growth, short stature, rickets, narrow jaws, and osteoporosis.
Here is the secret to making sure that the grains are actually working for and not against you. All whole grains, beans, and lentils need to be soaked at least for 12-24 hours before cooking them.
Why should whole grains be soaked?
1. The outer hull or bran of whole grains have a natural protective layer that contains organically occurring phytic acid. When consumed, phytic acid binds with minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc in the intestines, blocking their absorption into the body.
2. Phytic acid also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin, needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates.(2)
3. Soaking whole grains for at least for 12-24 hours in warm water and an acidic medium like lemon, vinegar, kefir, yogurt, cultured milk, buttermilk, or whey helps to reduce phytic acid levels and activates phytase, an enzyme present in the grain that helps in digestion.
Other recommended methods of preparing grains are sprouting and fermentation. It is important to note that after sprouting, the grains should always be cooked before eating.
Grains have been a part of traditional diets for a long time but back then people took pains to prepare their grains well before they ate them. The modern generation that demands things instantly has lead to harmful methods of preparing grains that are actually detrimental to health. Breakfast cereals that are now part of every family’s kitchen cabinet show how cruel man can be to their grains. By putting grains under high temperature and pressure through a process called extrusion, not only does it strip away all nutritional benefits of the grain, it completely denatures the delicate proteins in the grains and they end up being quite toxic and allergenic.(3)
Preparing your grains for a healthy life is not difficult. It just requires some planning and thought. Let’s get back to our roots and see if we can cultivate nourishing habits.
Here is a great chart that I found on http://www.nourishsystem.com/recipes/soaking-and-sprouting-grains-nuts-seeds-and-beans/
To start you off in the right way I prepared a simple bulgar pilaf with vegetables and am sharing the recipe with you. Easy to make, nutritious and tasty!
Herbed Vegetable Bulgar Pilaf
Serves: 1 main dish/ 2 side dishes Soaking time: 12 hours
Prep time: 15min Cooking time: 15min
¼ cup whole bulgar, soaked for 12 hours
¾ cup vegetable stock
½ carrot, peeled and cut into ¼” thick diagonal slices
¼ zucchini, cut into ¼” thick diagonal slices
¼ cup cauliflower, cut into small florets
4 cremini/champagne mushrooms, cut into ¼” slices
handful of edamame beans, cooked in water and drained
½ small red onion, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup basil leaves, torn
2 Tbsp parsley leaves, minced
2 tsp dried cranberries
1 tsp pine nuts, toasted
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Cook the soaked bulgar in ¾ cup vegetable stock on a simmer. Cool.
Taking one vegetable at a time (carrot, zucchini,cauliflower, mushroom and onion), combine with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the veggies on a heavy cast iron grill till you see beautiful black charred marks. Set aside.
Take 1 tsp butter in a skillet, saute the garlic for a few seconds. Add all the vegetables and bulgar and season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper(optional). Add the cranberries, basil, parsley, and pine nuts and serve warm.