Ancient grains, modern marvel

Sharon Johnson wanted to give audiences just a taste of "ancient grains" in a duo of 2009 lectures in Jackson and Josephine counties.

But so many people hungered for the topic that Oregon State University Extension had to turn away crowds from its centers in Central Point and Grants Pass. The overwhelming demand, staff decided, warranted an entire symposium on the breadth of whole grains consumed for millennia — and more recently returning to favor in industrialized societies like the United States.

QUINOA RECIPES

LEMON-QUINOA PANCAKES

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons oil, plus more for griddle

1 cup spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cane sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup cooked quinoa

2 teaspoons lemon zest

Blueberry sauce (recipe follows)

Whisk the egg, buttermilk and oil together. Sift the flour with the baking soda, baking powder, sugar and salt; add to buttermilk mixture. Stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated, being careful not to overmix. Fold in the quinoa and zest.

Heat and lightly grease a griddle or skillet. Drop batter by 1/4 cups onto hot griddle or skillet. Cook until bubbles form, flip and cook another minute on other side. Keep pancakes warm as you continue to make more. Serve topped with the blueberry sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

BLUEBERRY SAUCE: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 3 cups frozen blueberries, 1/3 cup cane sugar, 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup water and a pinch of cinnamon. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve 2 teaspoons tapioca or other starch in 1 tablespoon water; stir mixture into berries and cook over medium-high heat until thickened, about 3 minutes.

— Recipe from Ashland Food Co-op Meal Solutions Program

ENERGY BARS

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan

1 cup raisins

1/4 cup apple juice, milk or water

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups oat, rye or quinoa flakes

1 cup chopped nuts

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 eggs, lightly whisked

1/3 cup honey

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter or line an 8-by-8-inch pan with parchment paper.

Place the raisins in a small bowl and stir in the apple juice or other liquid and the vanilla. Set aside for 20 minutes so raisins can plump.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the flakes and nuts and saute, stirring continuously, for 3 to 4 minutes or until aromatic and a shade darker. Stir in the cinnamon and salt and saute for an additional minute. Pour into a large bowl.

Stir the eggs and honey into raisin mixture. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until uniformly blended. Spread mixture into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and pulling away from pan's edge. Invert onto a rack to cool. Cut into bars, which will keep for 1 week.

Makes 8 (3 1/2-by-1 1/2-inch) bars.

— Recipe courtesy of Rebecca Wood.

DUNBAR FARMS WHEAT-BERRY SALAD

2 cups dry wheat berries

3 cups small broccoli florets

1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 small salad onions or 1 bunch green onions, finely diced

2 cups cooked red beans

1/4 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/4 cup red-wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

4 cups salad greens, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

Rinse the wheat berries in a strainer under running water. Bring 5 cups water to a boil and add wheat berries. Return to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and continue to cook for about an hour or until wheat has a chewy but tender texture. Drain any excess liquid and set cooked grain aside.

Heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet and saute the broccoli florets until just barely tender. Place in a large salad bowl. Add wheat berries, the onions, beans and parsley.

In a small bowl combine the 1/4 cup olive oil, the sea salt, vinegar and mustard. Whisk well and pour over salad. Toss well. Add the salad greens and toss again or serve wheat berries over salad greens.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Recipe courtesy of Mary Shaw, Ashland Food Co-op culinary educator.

MARSALA CHICKEN-QUINOA CASSEROLE

1 medium sweet potato

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed

1 cup Marsala wine

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 cups cooked quinoa

2 eggs

Pinch nutmeg

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

With a fork, pierce the sweet potato all over. Microwave on high until cooked and soft, about 6 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 375 F.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the mushrooms, garlic, thyme, onion, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper, then saute until mushrooms have released most of their liquid and are beginning to brown and onion is soft and translucent, about 8 to 9 minutes.

Add the chicken and cook until chicken is browned and almost cooked through, about another 7 to 8 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together the wine, cornstarch and cream. Add to chicken, then bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 minutes.

Arrange chicken and vegetables in an even layer over bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish. Set aside.

Peel sweet potato into a medium bowl, discarding peel. Smash sweet potato and mix in the quinoa, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, the eggs and nutmeg. Spread mixture over top of chicken mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbling and crusty.

Makes 6 servings.

— Recipe from The Associated Press.

"I was just blown away in each county," recalls Johnson, an OSU associate professor of health and human sciences.


After more than a year of organizing, Johnson and the Extension have assembled a panel of experts, dishes for tasting and a mini recipe book for its first "Ancient Grains Symposium," a "multidimensional" look at producing, procuring and preparing whole grains of yesteryear in modern times. Planned for March 24, the event is presided over by cookbook author and grains guru Rebecca Wood.

"We just want people who are curious about expanding their culinary repertoire," says Wood.

Participants will take home 20 recipes written by Ashland Food Co-op's culinary educators and taste whole-grain dishes tested by OSU's Family Food Educators. For many, the event could provide first-time exposure to little-known amaranth, farro, kamut, millet, spelt and teff.


"The interest in teff, for example, was really strong," says Johnson of the grain known primarily as the key ingredient of Ethiopian flatbread — "injera" — and dietary staple of the country's renowned distance runners.

More prominent still is quinoa, the South American super grain that boasts 10 amino acids and myriad minerals. Quinoa contains no gluten and is more easily digested than almost any other grain. Like amaranth, quinoa is actually seeds of a flowering plant related to leafy vegetables.

Quinoa is native to the Andean highlands between Chile and Colombia, growing mostly in Peru and Bolivia, where it has been cultivated since 3,000 B.C. Requiring very cool days and even cooler evenings, the plant will grow in the Rogue Valley, the San Luis Valley of Colorado at about 8,000 feet, as well as in countries such as China and Mongolia. Global demand for quinoa has risen so sharply over the past decade that the wholesale price increased sevenfold.


A Colorado resident, Wood was among the first Americans to research and write about quinoa for her 1989 book "Quinoa the Supergrain: Ancient Food for Today." A decade later Wood, now 66, expanded on the concept with "The Splendid Grain," which won two of the food industry's top honors, the Julia Child cookbook award and the James Beard KitchenAid cookbook award. Her foresight since has been rewarded with the general public's appreciation of whole grains.

"I think everyone is giving more lip service to whole grains," she says. "Health is why. Another reason is for the fun of it and the diversity."

Wood's symposium lecture will touch on the history and origins of grains and delve into modern-day farming methods that drive pricing structures, as well as the differences between genetically modified grains and unmodified counterparts. She'll also discuss the body's gastrointestinal system to shed some light on intolerance and sensitivity to gluten, the protein naturally found in wheat and related grains like spelt, rye and barley.


"So many people worry about the effect of gluten in their diet," says Johnson.

Another popular topic is feasibility of small-scale grain production in communities like the Rogue Valley to promote regional food security. Farmers and members of the symposium panel, Chi Scherer of Williams and David Mostue of Medford, will explain their operations.

"In this time, we need really sustainable mechanisms of sustenance," says Scherer, who has been farming organically in Williams for more than 30 years. "Plant protein is so much more sustainable than animal protein."


Citing environmental and societal responsibility, Scherer recently turned his efforts to beans and grains after decades of growing vegetables and fruits to sell at food co-ops and farmers markets. He harvested several hundred pounds of quinoa and amaranth last year and sold them at Ashland Food Co-op and through the online farmers market Rogue Valley Local Foods. Those joined his 2009 commercial debut of beans and lentils.

Beans also are growing at Mostue's Dunbar Farms. But his primary focus is wheat, sold whole as berries last summer and more recently as flour. The next step in claiming a larger piece of the food-industry pie is producing whole-wheat bread and pasta to sell at the farm's own store.

"Once you've got the grain, there's so many directions you can go," says Mostue.


Phasing out the family's century-old pear operations, Mostue says he intends to diversify the farm until he meets the "full gamut" of dietary needs. The reward is tangible, he says, in slices of bread baked with flour he milled from wheat he grew.

"You suddenly start to go 'OK, this is food.' "






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