These traditional wheat alternative grains will quickly become staples in your kitchen. Not only do they offer a nutritious alternative for those following a gluten-free diet, they have multiple culinary uses and provide creative options for new crops to grow on your farm.
Why eat it: Amaranth stands out among other grains because of its distinct grassy flavor. According to the Whole Grains Council, not only is amaranth approximately 14 percent protein, it also contains lysine, an essential amino acid found in few other grains.
How to use it: Bring 1 cup of amaranth and 3 cups of water or chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until it thickens. The porridge can be flavored with fresh or dried herbs. You can also experiment with stirring in fresh goat cheese or homemade ricotta while it’s still warm. Amaranth is as good sweet as it is savory. Add a few tablespoons of warm farm-fresh milk, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, and chopped nuts or fresh berries for a healthy breakfast.
Amaranth can also be popped into small, puffed white grains that make an ideal addition to garden salads and homemade fruit-and-yogurt parfaits. Simply heat a large, dry skillet over high heat. When very hot, add 2 tablespoons of amaranth and quickly cover with a lid. Cook for 5 seconds, shaking the pan as it pops. Once the grains have turned to puffed white balls, they can be transferred to a plate to cool.
Grow your own: Amaranth tolerates hot and dry climates well. Many varieties are available, but those with white or yellow seeds are best for cooking. The leaves are also edible and make a nice addition to stir-fries and salads. Golden Giant is a high seed producer and Green or Red Calaloo are nice options if you prefer the greens.
Why eat it: While some gluten-free grains are best known for their protein content, millet stands out because if offers a variety of beneficial minerals known to reduce risk for chronic disease, including copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium.
How to use it: Millet can be prepared several ways. Depending on how much liquid is added and how much the millet is stirred, you can create fluffy millet that resembles a pilaf, a stickier millet that can be formed into fritters or stuffing for meat and pasta, or a creamy millet that can be eaten as a porridge.
Begin with 1 cup of millet. For a pilaf, toast the millet in the dry pot for about 5 minutes, add 2½ cups of water, bring to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. For sticky millet, combine millet with 2¾ cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before using.For a creamy porridge, bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Whisk in the millet, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Grow your own: Pearl millet grows well in moist soils but is tolerant of dry conditions. Research shows that it may also be more tolerant in sandy and acidic soils than other grain crops. It grows best at average summer temperatures of 75 to 90 degrees F.
Why eat it: Sorghum can be eaten as a whole grain or ground into flour. Research shows that the antioxidants and plant chemicals in sorghum may protect against disease and help reduce cholesterol levels.
How to use it: Cooked as a whole grain, sorghum becomes a small pearl with a pasta-like texture, similar to Israeli couscous. First, rinse the sorghum well with water. Combine 1 cup sorghum and 3 cups water or stock in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the grains are tender. You can drain any excess liquid. Cooked sorghum is delicious as the base for cold grain salads with chopped vegetables and fresh herbs.
Sorghum can also be popped in a dry skillet or with a little oil. Heat about 2 teaspoons of cooking oil (if using) in a medium pot, add 1/4 cup of sorghum, cover and shake as it pops. It will be ready when there are about 10 seconds between the sound of pops.
Sorghum flour makes an ideal gluten-free substitute for wheat flour. It can often be substituted at a 1:1 ratio in baked good recipes that use a small amount of flour, such as brownies or fruit crumbles, without the need for additional ingredients like xanthan gum. It may take some trial and error, but start with these basic recipes and then move on to test results in recipes that require more flour like cookies.
Grow your own: The growth and development of sorghum is similar to corn, but the key to success is in the temperature. According to University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, sorghum needs average summer temperatures of 80 to 90 degrees F. Night temperatures that drop below 55 degrees F may prevent grain production. Sorghum can withstand dry conditions, but it is most productive in moist soil. Try Tarahumara popping sorghum for plump grains that can be cooked or popped.
Get more help stocking your farm kitchen from HobbyFarms.com:
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- Farm Pantry Checklist
- 10 Must-Have Items for the Canner’s Pantry
- How to Store Soups and Stews
- 7 Ways to Keep Alliums for Long-Term Use
About the Author: Lori Rice is a nutritionist, writer, recipe developer and author of The Everything Guide to Food Remedies (Adams Media, 2011). She shares her recipes, food photography and travel adventures on her blog, www.fakefoodfree.com.