A dear friend entertaining out-of-town guests for a summer soiree sought out some recipes from my repertoire for safely and elegantly feeding her lactose-intolerant, gluten-sensitive, nut-allergic and vegetarian crew that wouldn’t knock her off her feet to prepare, and might also be served cold.
For starters, I suggested my stone fruit quinoa tabouli (see recipe below) that filled the bill for her requirements. Taking a page from the book of Thai restaurants — where diners select items from designated categories, including grains, proteins, vegetables and heat levels to compile a customized dish — here are groupings to help navigate through your culinary quandaries. Now, pick your winners!
• A Grain of Truth: Not all grains are created equal. Some are easy to digest, others hard on the gut, still others are nutrient-dense, while others empty carbs. The family of ancient grains is a hearty load of nutty nuances. Amaranth, the Methuselah of grains cultivated 8,000 years ago, is botanically a seed that can be cooked like oatmeal or polenta, sprouted, popped or ground into flour for baking. This high-protein, gluten-free “super grain” also contains lysine, an amino acid for protein synthesis.
Barley, whether fully-loaded with bran and endosperm, or the polished pearl form also boasts black and purple heirloom varieties to add an exotic earthiness to assorted dishes. Oblong-shaped farro, reminiscent of barley in texture and taste is a larger, chewier grain. Einkorn, a primitive unhybridized farro variety with a sweet, nutty richness contains gluten, but its protein combination makes it easily digestible.
Buttery-tasting emmer is a protein- and mineral-packed hybrid cross of einkorn and wild grass more robust than pedestrian wheat. Spelt aka “dinkel wheat,” is the marriage of emmer and wild grass, a larger, heartier grain that holds up well in stews and soups. Tiny, mineral-packed millet with a sweet mild flavor cooks up either creamy like polenta or fluffy like couscous.
Teff gives stiff competition to quinoa for gluten-free preferences. This petite powerhouse contains a surprise store of Vitamin C, and comes in designer shades of ivory, red and earthy brown. Teff can be ground into flour for baked goodies, or enjoyed in its whole-grain form as a warm breakfast cereal, or base for polentas, stews, crepes and veggie burgers.
Use your noodle and choose mild-mannered, protein-dense, gluten-free buckwheat noodles for Asian dishes of all manners, whether chilled or hot. Delicate egg noodles, whether thick pappardelle or ribbony tagliatelle, pair well with robust Bolognese or grilled seafood. Protein-rich, whole-wheat pasta with sweet nutty notes is a better choice than pasty refined wheat pasta.
If rice is your grain of choice, be mindful of the size classifications, as recipes will not tolerate substitutions. Stubby shorties like sushi rice cook up sticky and creamy. Medium-grains tend to be moist with a bit of a chew, including Arborio and Bomba for risottos and paellas, while long-grain Basmati and aromatic Jasmine produce fluffy, dry rice ideal for pilafs and sides for assorted ethnic dishes. All rice, including wholesome brown, and grassy wild are naturally gluten-free.
• Meat of the Matter: Add a lean protein to the mix, whether roasted turkey or chicken breast strips; immune-boosting lamb (shoulder chops, or ground meatballs); grilled deep-sea scallops, wild-caught shrimp, or a firm fish like Salmon, Cod, or Halibut. A scrambled egg blended with an ancient grain makes a tasty change-up from ho-hum fried rice.
• Cherry on Top: Enjoy fruits and vegetables raw and crunchy, or grilled and smoky. Choose colors of the rainbow for an antioxidant oomph blending reds (peppers, beets, heirloom tomatoes, radishes, cherries, strawberries, pomegranates), greens (snap peas, arugula, zucchini, avocadoes, pears) yellows (wax beans, corn, peaches), oranges (carrots, citrus, squashes, yams), and purples (blueberries, eggplant, grapes, plums, cabbage).
• Spice of Life: Jazz up your dishes with fresh or dried herbs like parsley, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, mint, dill, tarragon, chives and chervil. Kick up the heat with cayenne, peppercorns, ginger, and chili powder; add an exotic mystique with smoked paprika, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, and Himalayan sea salt, and some whimsy with spice blends from around the globe.
Recipe: Stone Fruit Quinoa Tabouli
• Ingredients: 1 cup quinoa, red or white; 3 firm nectarines, halved and pitted; 2 tablespoons maple syrup; 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder; 1/2 cup walnut or avocado oil; juice from 1 orange and 2 lemons; 1 teaspoon honey; 1/2 cup dried cherries; 2 Persian cucumbers, diced; 1/2 cup each fresh flat-leaf parsley and mint, chopped.
• Method: Cook quinoa to package instructions. Fluff with fork. Cool. In a small mixing bowl, blend syrup, ginger, salt and pepper. Drizzle on nectarines. Brush grill with oil and cook nectarines on medium heat until tender. Slice. In a small mixing bowl, whisk oil, juices, honey and seasonings. In a large bowl, combine quinoa, cucumber, nectarine slices, cherries and herbs. Add dressing. Toss well.