Mexican style quinoa (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Mexican style quinoa (Photo/Betty Cortina)

A healthy idea: 3 flavorful alternatives to white rice

Let’s agree on this: Latin food—whether Caribbean, Mexican or South American—is packed with flavor. I firmly believe that’s because we Hispanics are not ones for subtle hints of anything. We like spice. We like seasoning. And whether savory or sweet, we prefer a full frontal attack on our taste buds.

So when you innocently say something like “you should try cooking with more whole grains” to a good Latin cook, well, you might want to duck. The impression, unfortunately, has long been that making healthy substitutions for staples like white rice will mean compromising on flavor. And for a good Latin cook, that’s a show-stopper.

Yet as the U.S. Hispanic community struggles with disturbingly high rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, it’s never been more important to make these substitutions and to do so in lasting, sustainable ways. Meaning in ways that our people will actually enjoy eating. In ways that incorporate as much flavor as is found in our traditionally-made dishes.

Today we focus on three ways to substitute white rice, which in many Hispanic homes accompanies…everything! While it’s delicious, white rice is off-limits if you’re a diabetic because it  will shoot up blood glucose levels; and if you’re trying to lose weight it will be your enemy because, as a simple carbohydrate, it’s absorbed quickly by your body and will likely wind up being stored as fat. Nutrient-dense whole grains are, on the other hand, complex carbohydrates that your body metabolizes slowly and can actually contribute to weight loss.

The below recipes for quinoa, brown rice and barley are packed with traditional Latin seasoning and flavor, and prepared almost like rice. Serve them as you would rice, to accompany anything else you’re making. No ducking necessary.

Mexican style quinoa (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Mexican style quinoa (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Mexican style quinoa

1 large ripe tomato, cored
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 sprigs fresh cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup quinoa
1 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Pinch of white pepper
Salt, to taste

1. Roast the tomatoes under your oven’s broiler until the skins blister, turning every few minutes to ensure cooking all around. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin. Give the tomato a rough chop, and place in a blender. Add the onion, one of the garlic cloves, and cilantro to the blender. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
2. Clean the quinoa. This is an important step because quinoa grains are naturally coated with a bitter substance, called sapopins, that protects them against birds and other predators. Place the quinoa in a strainer and run fresh water over it to wash away the coating. Do this a few times.
3. In a medium-sized sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic clove and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the quinoa and stir to coat grains with the oil for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, pureed tomato mixture, peas and bay leaf. Add pepper and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover tightly. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until liquid is fully absorbed. You’ll know it’s done when the grains display a curly white thread on their outside. Fluff with a fork and serve. Makes 4 cups.

Brown rice with cilantro pesto

Barley with vegetabes (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Brown rice with cilantro pesto (Photo/Betty Cortina)

2 T plus 1/8 cup olive oil, separated

1/2 medium onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, 2 of them finely diced, 1 left peeled and whole

1 jalapeño, cored, seeded and finely diced

1 cup parboiled brown rice

1 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)

Pinch of white pepper

3 cups cilantro leaves

2 T walnuts

1/8 cup olive oil

1. Start by preparing the rice. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions, the diced garlic and the jalapeño in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the vegetables are translucent (but not browned), about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the rice and sauté for an additional 2 minutes, stirring and making sure the grains are covered in the oil and the vegetables are well mixed.
2. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper, and bring to a rolling boil. Lower heat slightly so liquid is simmering and cook, uncovered, until most of the liquid is gone and small craters have formed on the surface of the rice, about 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover tightly and allow to cook for another 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the cilantro sauce. Place the cilantro leaves, the remaining whole garlic clove, walnuts and remaining 1/8 cup of olive oil. Blend until a smooth paste is formed. Set aside.

4. When the rice is fully cooked, fluff with a rice slightly to separate the grains. Toss in the cilantro sauce and toss to distribute well.  Makes 3 cups.

Barley with vegetables

IMG_4972_2

Barley with vegetables (Photo/Betty Cortina)

1 cup barley

2 T plus 1/8 cup olive oil, separated

1/2 medium onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, finely diced

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

1 cup peas (fresh or frozen, not canned)

1 cup barley

3 to 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse the barley well in a colander and set aside.

2.  In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions, garlic and red peppers in the olive oil until the vegetables are translucent (but not browned), about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the peas and the barley cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring and making sure the grains are covered in the oil and the vegetables are well mixed.

3. Add 3 cups of the chicken or vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover tightly. Cook for 40 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the grains are tender. (If the liquid has absorbed and the grains aren’t tender enough, add a little more stock and continue cooking.)

4. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and fluff with a fork. Allow to rest  for 10 minutes before serving. Makes about 3 cups.

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