Grains are portrayed as a nutritional villain these days, and almost everyone I know thinks they should avoid them. I find that most of us have fallen into this trap of making certain foods off-limits, but that goes out the window the second someone waves a slice of pizza in our faces. Unless you are intolerant to grains, there isn’t a reason to eliminate them altogether.
In our society, it’s all or nothing. I think that every food has a place in our diet as long as you don’t have a true intolerance to them. Overly processed grains have little to no nutritional value and crowd out or replace healthier options, but grains can be a valuable, economical, environmentally responsible choice to supplement our diets. We tend to eat too many grains in the form of bread, cereal, pasta and baked goods so the inclination to cut them out completely makes sense if you have a hard time moderating your intake. I have found through self-experimentation that while cutting out whole food groups can work initially in helping moderate my diet and lose weight over time it causes me to feel that I am missing out and crave those very foods. So I focus on whole grains, locally grown when possible and I still try to make them an accessory to a vegetable heavy diet.
One of my favorite grains is freekeh, young green wheat roasted after harvesting. I am fortunate to have access to a local farm that grows it. But don’t despair, recently Bob’s Red Mill started selling cracked freekeh which has a much shorter cooking time. I love the story of this ancient grains inception. Apparently, two farmers were feuding so one set fire to the others wheat field. Instead of writing the entire harvest off the farmer carefully gathered the charred grains and cooked them. The result was a revelation and what could have been a tragedy became a success.
Gathering the freekeh while it is young, results in it ranking low on the glycemic index, and it has three times as much fiber as brown rice and twice as much as quinoa. This is the kind of dish I can eat over and over and never get sick of. The best part is I feel like I get to eat a lot but the nutrition profile is high and it fits into my diet. Because let’s face it, I like to eat, and I am not too into depriving myself when I’m hungry.
For this vegan bowl, freekeh is combined with my favorite vegetable, romanesco and topped with a smoky cashew cream. If you aren’t familiar with Romanesco, it’s a relative of broccoli and cauliflower with a sweet, mild flavor that is less bitter than broccoli and more tender than cauliflower. It’s lovely fractal spiraling appearance is what catches most people’s attention, but I think it’s really under appreciated. It almost seems a shame to eat it, but you should give it a try. If you can’t find romanesco substitute cauliflower, broccoli or a combination of the two.
- 1 cup freekeh
- 1 head romanesco
- romanesco leaves or 1 cup kale
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- For the Meyer lemon cashew sauce:
- 1 cup raw cashews soaked in water for 1 hour or up to overnight
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1¼ cups water
- For garnish:
- Chopped roasted almonds
- fresh parsley
- In a small saucepan bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add the freekeh and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 40-45 minutes until the freekeh is tender adding more water as needed. (If you are using cracked freekeh reduce the cooking time to 20 minutes) Drain the freekeh and cool slightly.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Remove the outer leaves of the romanesco and cut off any tough ends. Slice the romanesco in half lengthwise, break off florets and add to the baking sheet along with the sliced shallots and reserved leaves or kale. Add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes until the
- romanesco is tender and slightly golden, the leaves should be crispy.
- Drain the cashews and rinse well. Add the cashews to a high-speed blender or food processor along with the garlic, paprika, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, salt, and water. Process on high until smooth and creamy. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt if desired.
- To serve, place ½ cup of freekeh into a bowl and top with the romanesco mixture. Drizzle with the cashew sauce and top with chopped almonds and parsley.