Grains


I’ve been quiet recently because I’ve been preparing to give a talk to the Atlanta Perl Mongers. In the meantime, though,  I produced this graph as an example  of the charting software I’m going to talk about.

Worldwide quinoa production, from the Wikipedia article on quinoa.

Quinoa production is largely dominated by  two producers, Bolivia and Peru, with a third adding about 1% of  the commercial market. My understanding is that they’ve tried to grow it in the States in Colorado and Minnesota. Minnesota, lacking the co0l mountain climate of Colorado, grows large healthy plants that don’t seed.

Other sources note the production of commercial quantities in Colorado since the 1980s. For example, one American farm growing quinoa is White Mountain Farm, in Colorado. At the same time, prices have risen in Bolivia to the point the poor can no longer afford quinoa.

The first useful breakfast cereal I found post dietary changes was Cheerios. After that came Fiber One, which uses a little artificial sweetener to mask the addition of fiber in their product. After a while, too much Fiber One and you can feel as if you’re eating sawdust.

Nature’s Path has a good multibran cereal that I use sometimes. This new cereal is also pretty good. Not my find, my wife dug it out on a trip to Whole Foods.

Almost nothing out there can best Cheerios as a cereal for use by a diabetic. Almost nothing has fewer calories. Almost nothing has fewer sugars. And organic Cheerios wanna-bes simply lack the toasty flavor of the original. That said, Nature’s Path Organic Flax Plus Multigrain has a reasonably good taste, and is absent a ton of sugars in its 3/4 cup serving size.  I’m finding it at a number of stores in the Atlanta area.

Cafe Sunflower is a pretty vegetarian restaurant in the strip mall on the southwest corner of Hammond and Roswell Road, near one of the last intersections on Roswell before reaching the 285 loop from the north. We went there recently for lunch, a coworker and I, in part because I’m eating a lot of vegetarian foods for lunch, and in part as a change of pace.

It’s pretty inside. I wish I could say more, but all I remember are the nice tables and solid wooden chairs, the kind that just seem to fit. The staff seemed largely Asian and was quite efficient.  Service overall was good.

We had soft drinks. I had their stir fried vegetables with tofu, my partner had their special, a stuffed pepper, full of quinoa. Of the two dishes, the stuffed pepper was quite spectacular looking, a mountain of quinoa with a slight brown cast to it. I asked him what he thought of his dish, on a scale of 1 to 5, and he rated his a “5”. He had never had quinoa before, and he liked it a lot. I liked my dish, full of vegetables and lego sized chunks of tofu. I was confused by the rice, both short grain in size but chewy as brown rice is. Looking at the menu after the fact, it must have been a short grain brown rice. I’m more used to long grain brown rice.

Verdict: All in all, I liked it. I almost had their three bean chili, and someday I’m coming back to try that one. It looks good, and I assume any vegetarian or vegan, or just someone like me, can find what they want at Cafe Sunflower.

Cafe Sunflower
5975 Roswell Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 256-1675

Cafe Sunflower/Sandy Springs on Urbanspoon

The DeKalb Farmer’s Market is the grand daddy of all the large markets in this city, and huge doesn’t begin to cover it.  It’s at the corner of Laredo and Ponce De Leon, and the entrance to De Kalb is one of the four ways you can go at that light.  The parking lot is about a block in size and as large as the lot is, it is equally as large inside. Once inside, there is a vast array of vegetables, about as ordered as any market could be, with the produce marked by country of origin, name, and with a drawing of the produce to boot.

The wines, two aisles of them, are separated by country of origin and type. In between the wine are stacks of beers, everything from Miller Light to Belgian ales. Grains and beans? Just to look at two examples, they had red, green, yellow, brown, and French green (a smaller variety) lentils, along with whole mung beans, and plenty of dals. Quinoa? Not only did they have the white and red varieties, but also wild black quinoa, not seen anywhere else that I’ve looked. Nuts and candied fruits are available in large quantities, neatly sealed in plastic bags.

They have good breads, and one thing I bought the day I was here was a sack full of whole wheat rolls. They were tasty and chewy once I got them home, just perfect. Just past the breads and vegetables is the fish section, which in my opinion is the very best part of this store. When my wife is after the freshest fish she can get, she comes here. She comes here because of the selection of live fish, and the ease with which this place can clean those fish. Perhaps something compares in this city, but I haven’t found it yet.

Meats are past the fish, and they serve a startling variety of product. Besides fine beef, you can get rabbit here, quail and cornish hens, duckling, goat from Australia, and lamb from Colorado. You can get bison, if you want it. A selection of fine cheeses is nearby, slices off large wheels, and the dairy section, also nearby, has items unavailable anywhere else.

Before I do nothing but sing praises to this place, I’ll note a few downsides. It is full of people and often cramped here, more so in the smaller aisles. There are shoppers who park in those narrow aisles with their flock of full grown kids for eternity it seems, blocking everything. If you take a cart inside, PUT SOMETHING IN IT IMMEDIATELY. If you do not, your cart will be taken. Though this is an international market, with international vegetables, it is not a particularly good Asian market, and Asian staples like Asian (often called “Korean”) yams just aren’t here. Go to Super H Mart for those kinds of goods. Meats tend to be pricey and if you want cheap meats, a market like Lilburn International Farmer’s Market is a better choice.

Still, there is nothing like it in the city, and it comes with the highest of recommendations.

From Snellville, perhaps the fastest way to this market would be to head down 78, then south on 285, and take the Ponce De Leon exit westward. An alternative path is to take 78 to Scott Boulevard, Scott down to Clairmont Ave. Head south, and take Clairmont until it ends at Ponce De Leon (hang a left when Clairmont ends). If you get forced left on Commerce, just keep going. It runs into Ponce De Leon as well.

Because of the kinds of jobs I do, I’m always looking for something that is cheap, filling, good, low sodium, low glycemic index, requires little refrigeration, and microwaves easily, to serve as a “good lunch”. And although I’m very happily omnivorous, I’m conscious of the kinds of themes that Michael Pollan touches on in the books, “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food“. I’m equally aware of the kinds of issues that Mark Bittman touches on in “Food Matters“,  in the article “Vegan Before Dinnertime“,  and in what I regard as his best article, “Putting Meat Back in Its Place.” And I believe this “more plants, less meat” trend is attracting attention not because it’s outrageous, but because it makes both sense and dollars and cents. In the case of the “good lunch”, interestingly, these disparate themes merge. Vegan dishes tend to have all the traits I’m looking for, and I can control the salt content if I cook it myself.

Kashi makes a number of prepared products, some of them good, others really good, but they also make a 7 grain cereal mix:

Kashi 7 grain pilaf.

Kashi 7 grain pilaf.

With 2 cups of water and a cereal packet from the box, you can make a nice hot cereal in about 25 minutes.

Uncooked kashi, with 2 cups of water

Uncooked kashi, with 2 cups of water

I was thinking I didn’t want just cereal, and it would be a shame to waste those nice grains. So I decided on a stir fry. To note, there are very few Kashi based stir fries in the blogosphere, and this one from the Plain Cook site is more complicated than I wanted.

Total time required: ca 40 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 package Kashi 7 grain pilaf.
2 cups water
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced finely
2 stalks of celery, sliced thin
1 poblano pepper, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, diced
some green onions
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin.
ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil.

So, we put the kashi in a pan once the water is boiling and simmer 25 minutes. In my case, it wasn’t quite done at 25, there was still some water, but I had started and ended the first 25 minutes with the pot covered. I’m much more likely to leave it uncovered after 10 minutes or so, if I do this again.

Prepare the vegetables as the kashi simmers and just before the kashi is ready, add olive oil to a pan and heat the pan on high. Once the pan is hot enough, add vegetables, and reduce the heat to medium.

Vegetables, ready to stir-fry.

Vegetables, ready to stir-fry.

Let the vegetables cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring, waiting for the onions to begin to turn translucent. At this point add the kashi and let it cook for about 3 minutes more. Afterwards, put the stir-fry into serving bowls and season to taste.

A kashi stir-fry. Season to taste.

A kashi stir-fry. Season to taste.

The recipe above serves about 3-4. In practice, kashi is a bit stickier in the pan than quinoa, so my suggestion is transfer it into microwave bowls (that portion you’re preserving for lunch) as soon as you can.

The vegetables I chose were simply those I had around. You can substitute as you wish (cubes of zucchini would be good here, and I’m personally fond of baby bok choy).

It can be scary what a bachelor (or in my case, a husband in a family with a working wife) can do if they master a few techniques. I don’t cook many different foods, but quinoa is very easy to prepare and tastes good even if it’s plain. Quinoa salads are one popular way to prepare foods with this pseudocereal, but I’ve been fond of a recipe.. no, more a way of cooking that the blogger Feed Yourself demonstrated and I like to use. Although Feed Yourself called it a pilaf, it’s really more of a stir-fry.  This time the point was to make something good tasting out of vegetables I had to cook or let spoil. Oh yes, and also leave enough behind to do lunch the next day.

Ingredients:

4 ounces quinoa (rinse if necessary)
carrots, several of the “bite” sized pieces, diced
celery (rescued pieces), equal to about 2 stalks
1/3 large red onion, diced.
4-5 mini bell peppers, halved, deveined and deseeded, and then thin sliced
2 cloves of garlic, thin sliced.
2 sprigs each, oregano and thyme.
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce (optional)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil.

Get a 2 quart saucepan and add quinoa and the cup of water (and some soy if you want), cover, heat until simmering,  ca 15 minutes, when the water is gone. Set the quinoa aside. Prep the veggies you need. To note, the combination of onion, carrots, and celery is common enough it has its own name. And in my case, the onion had sprouted, the celery had bad spots, the peppers were showing their age, and the oregano and thyme were almost dry (but smelled so good it was a shame not to use them). I cut the bad pieces out and threw them away.

Put one tablespoon of oil in the frying pan, let it heat on high (I like a drop of water in the pan, to tell me when the pan is hot enough to use. The drop will boil off and that’s your sign). Add vegetables, and turn the heat down to medium. Stir until the onions just begin to change color, about 5-7 minutes. Add quinoa, and the leaves of the spices. Stir for a minute or two, so the quinoa is nice and warm. Pour into a bowl, season to taste, and serve.

Two servings of a quinoa stir fry.

Two servings of a quinoa stir fry.

Notes: on the blog Pink Spots, there is a very nice looking pineapple cashew quinoa stir-fry. The blogger Au Naturel has a recipe she calls an Asian quinoa stir-fry. The blogger Fat Free Vegan has a nice recipe she calls vegetable fried quinoa. The blogger Adventurous Eater likes adding a bit of egg to her quinoa stir-fry.

I’ve bought at least 3 new cookbooks over the short term, and I thought I would mention them briefly. “Whole Grains for Busy People“, by Lorna Sass I found to be a fun read, though not as clued into “pure” whole grains as I had originally anticipated. That’s not necessary a bad thing. Foods like couscous and bulgur cook quickly, and everyone can use a recipe or two that is fast to the table. Second is Mark Miller’s “The Great Chile Book“, which is a paperback that is roughly 3″ by 9” and his nice long color pictures of the peppers that he speaks about. It’s not much of a cookbook, though there are recipes in the back. Better is Mark Miller’s “The Great Salsa Book“, also in 3 by 9 format. The salsa recipes he publishes all look fantastic. Some look to be doable even with modest kitchen skills, such as mine.

In terms of my grandmother’s holiday lizzies, I wrote Barry Popik on the matter and he replied that he had posted an article on lizzies about a year ago. His understanding is the origin of the phrase is unknown, but in a Dallas Morning News article (dated 21 November 1952) that he quotes, you see the following:

…and if you’ve lost your grandmother’s recipe for Brown Lizzies, those rich Christmasy cookies, you’ll find it on Page 67….

My point simply is that if lizzies were a “grandmother’s recipe” in 1952, they must have been decades old at the time.

In terms of the Guam boonie pepper, seeds from both eBay sellers (rightbbq and floralys) have arrived. Seeds from Reimer Nurseries have yet to appear. I’ve planted some of pepper pilot’s (aka rightbbq; they’re the same) seeds and we’ll see how they do. I’ll also note the site Garden Web, which I have joined. There are a number of gardeners seriously growing (or attempting to grow) boonies there and you can get a host of good advice on Garden Web on getting your peppers off the ground. I started mine in Jiffy peat pellets because Garden Web regulars have had good luck with peat pellets and boonies. We’ll see how they go. I planted some jubilee tomato seeds at the same time as the peppers, using the same method, and they have already sprouted. Speaking of jubilee tomatoes, the blogger Out of the Garden has a good looking tomato chutney that uses jubilees.

boonie seeds in jiffy peat pots

boonie seeds in jiffy peat pots

Last but not least, let’s post this link to Haley Suzanne’s salsa criolla. It just looks fantastic.

Update: from this post on cheftalk, JonK notes that Cross Country Nurseries will sometimes sell boonie pepper plants. I have verified that they do. Be warned there is a minimum purchase of 12 plants from them and shipping is not cheap.

The day started out mostly as an idle web search. I searched on the phrase ‘heirloom beans’ and found this book (now on order).  In the process of poking around links related to that book, I ran into a discussion of beluga lentils. And after finding this very enjoyable article discussing ways to cook lentils, I just had to stop by the closest Whole Foods and see what they had. And yes, Whole Foods is very much out of the way and not a typical place for me to shop, but when looking for exotic goods, you go where you have to.

After I was there, I took stock of the grains available there. A store clerk told me there were no beluga lentils.  But there was amaranth, at least six different brands of quinoa – quinoa pasta even. For the first time since I’ve been looking in Atlanta, I found farro:

Inexpensive quinoa and farro can be found at Whole Foods.

Inexpensive quinoa and farro can be found at Whole Foods.

Afterwards I bought odds and ends for my wife and left.  Trader Joe’s is on the way home, I needed something to eat and I like shopping Trader Joe’s.  I was kind of wanting their baklava collection, and of course, once I was there, I couldn’t find it. I did find beluga lentils. They were cooked, so I wasn’t interested (I want dried legumes). I found some nice baby broccoli, and there was a well priced cut of steak (under $5). On the way out, the clerk found the baklava for me. I had just walked past it.

A price comparison: 1 lb box of Trader Joe’s quinoa is 3.99. The 1 pound bag of ‘365’ brand Whole Foods quinoa was $2.99.

Third stop was Publix, to check out what N. K. Hurst products they had, get a feel for prices, etc.  N. K. Hurst is an American company located in Indianapolis that sells bean based soups. They have recently started a blog, which posts recipes of their products (and potential products). It is currently undervisited, and if you like the “HamBeens” line of soups, drop by their site and give them a try.

Hurst has a 15 bean soup, which has not gone unnoticed in the blogosphere.  They sell other soups as well – lentil and split pea based, northern bean based, etc. In comparison to the store brands (when they existed — the 15 bean soup was unique at my Publix), the Hurst products were priced anywhere from 50 cents to 80 cents more. The value added is in the recipes on the back, and a spice pack included in the product itself. It’s just my feeling mind you, but if the package had the url of the new blog on it, it might do their customers even more good. The blog has pictures of the things that can be done with Hurst beans, more so than just boiling them and tossing in the flavor packet.

Take home? It’s nice to see an established brick and mortar American company try new and innovative ways to reach their customers. Kudos to N. K. Hurst.

In terms of availability, I wish their combination lentil product were for sale at Publix. I didn’t see it there.

Back to food. Dinner was going to be pan seared steak, along with snow peas and some version of the baby broccoli. I wanted a fast, simple way to prepare the broccoli and I found this recipe.  In My Box’s use of just half a cup of water to ‘steam’ the broccoli, combined with ~ 6 cloves of garlic and 2 tsp soy, looked really good. I tried it. I only had 3 cloves of garlic and I guessed on the amount of soy sauce but it still came out nicely. Once done, my daughter insisted on having some.

ca 2:30pm — I have a pot of black beans simmering on the stove, I have done some shopping and have the stuff for pico de gallo (substituting jalapenos for serranos this time), and I have hard red wheat and red quinoa from Mother Nature’s Market soaking on the kitchen table.

Soaking: hard wheat on the left, red quinoa on the right.

Soaking: hard wheat on the left, red quinoa on the right.

I’m thinking along three lines: black beans and rice as the first dish, some pico de gallo, and then a mung bean soup, with some wheat and quinoa added to provide the grain component of the soup. Of these three, it’s with the black beans and rice that I’m winging it the most. Thankfully WordPress has a common tag named rice and beans.

I threw in some salt, marjoram, a bay leaf and a few cubes of ham after about an hour of simmering, just to see what it would do. It has improved the smell of the pot quite a bit. I want the beans soft though, and different recipes I’ve perused are giving different times to simmer. This recipe suggests an hour and a half (but no salt) and this one suggests (with salt) perhaps three hours.  I’ll note the cubes of ham seem to have disappeared by now, melted into the broth of the beans. This recipe looks fantastic, but I’d have to use the same stuff I want to use to make pico.

ca 3:45pm — The pico de gallo is now marinating in the refrigerator. The last batch really didn’t hit its peak of flavor until 2 days after mixing. Today, the tomatoes were huge, the green onion bunch was huge, and the japalenos were huge, so 3 tomatoes, 1 japaleno, 1/2 a yellow onion and a bit more cilantro this time. It’s amazing how much easier it is to mince cilantro when you have an idea of the right tools (this tool, or perhaps that tool) to use.

The beans are whole and soft and on low heat.. I’m trying to reduce the liquid the beans are in. In a lot of recipes I’ve seen so far, they save the bean liquor and use it to cook at other stages, but if we’re sticking to the principles of Louisiana red beans and rice, we’ll just mix beans and rice and some of the liquor as needed. Flavor should evolve in the dish if we just eat some today and save the rest in the fridge.

ca 4:45pm – black beans and rice are done.

The final result: a bowl of black beans and rice.

The final result: a bowl of black beans and rice.

I cooked the rice (1 cup) by first sauteeing it with a bit with celery ( 1 stick) , onion (1/2 smaller yellow onion) , garlic (2 cloves), and a handful of diced ham. I added water (2 cups) and let it simmer a bit (15 to 20 minutes). I forgot the lid and there were some losses, so I had to add more water as I cooked. The end product was good and soft, but a little sticky. The beans were well nigh perfect and the mixture quite edible. My family came home just as I finished. My daughter liked it, my wife decided it was good, but could use some spices.

I need to get my wife to teach me how to use the rice cooker.

ca 6:45pm — The black beans and rice ended up as half our dinner (smoked sausage being the other half). A single serving of bean and rice is all that is left.

ca 9:30pm — Today’s cooking is done.  But just before I started my daughter walked over to my quinoa and said, “Your quinoa is sprouting.”

My reaction was typical. “No it isn’t.”

“Come over here and see, it’s sprouting.”

And of course, my daughter was right. It’s what happens, I guess, when you soak quinoa almost 24 hours. I guess 4 hours is enough.

In any event, I had to precook the wheat for about half an hour, because I anticipated about 25 minutes of cooking for the mung beans, and wheat needs 45-60 minutes of cooking. I cut up a typical assortment of veggies.. 3 celery stalks, carrot sticks equivalent to a couple carrots,  1 yellow onion, 3 cloves of garlic, some remaining mini-pimentos, and the japaleno I didn’t put into the pico de gallo. I cooked the veggies in the pot in olive oil for 5-6 minutes and then added the wheat berries. Afterwards, I added mung beans and covered with about half an inch of water. In the pan I was cooking the wheat in, I added a quart of water and heated it while I cooked the rest (so I could add hot water as needed). 10 minutes after I started with the beans, I added the red quinoa, sprouts and all.

It took longer to cook (40 minutes, instead of the expected 25) than I expected, because I was keeping the heat low, and at times it was just under boiling.  At the end it began getting the color and consistency I like, so I then spiced (much the same as my red lentil soup):

1.5 teaspoons garam masala

0.75 tsp cumin

0.75 tsp coriander

0.75 tsp Jamaican curry powder

mixed peppers, from a grinder (12 twists)

marjoram, thyme, salt, salt substitute, red pepper to taste.

12 drops of a habanero-mango hot sauce.

The result looked something like this:

Mung bean, wheat berry, and red quinoa soup

Mung bean, wheat berry, and red quinoa soup

It’s a good tasting soup, and it’s going to be lunch for the next 3-4 days at work.

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