Along with many others, when I think of comfort food I often gravitate towards grains, breads, and pastas. As grains are naturally high in fiber, they tend to leave you feeling full and satisfied. However, not many of us would think of a salad as comfort food but adding grains to vegetables, and other typical salad ingredients, can make for a tasty and satisfying meal.
What are Grains?
Grains are the harvested seed from cereal crops and, often referred to as “kernels”, they start life as whole grains made up of three edible parts:
- Bran – the hard, multi-layered outer shell containing fiber, minerals, and antioxidants;
- Germ – the inner layer which has the potential to sprout into a new plant and contains vitamins, minerals, some protein, and healthy fats;
- Endosperm – the largest portion of the kernel, and the germs’s food supply containing starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
The most common grains I eat are oats, corn, brown rice, quinoa and wheat but other less used grains that I have started to incorporate into meals include millet, rye, and barley.
Whole Grain v Processed (Refined) Grain
Since the late 1800s, when new milling technology allowed the bran and germ to be easily and cheaply separated from the endosperm, Oldways whole grains council says most of the grains around the world are now eaten as reﬁned grains.
The main difference between whole grains and processed grains is that whole grain contains all three edible parts. Refined grains, such as white rice or white flour, have been milled in a way that removes the bran and germ resulting in a finer texture and extended shelf life. However, this processing can also remove about a quarter of the protein and half to two thirds of many of the nutrients.
Advantages of Whole Grain
Some of the advantages of adding whole grains to a diet are that they are good sources of dietary fiber which can help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and even type 2 diabetes.
In addition to fiber, grains provide nutrients like B vitamins, iron, magnesium and selenium which are important for a variety of body functions and, when trying to lose weight, fiber can help you feel full, so you’ll be satisfied with fewer calories.
This salad is based on a recipe from Deliciously Ella and contains millet which is a gluten-free grain with high protein, fiber and antioxidant content. Although any grain could be used in this salad, millet works well as it has a similar flavour and texture to couscous. It is also known to be a “great source of magnesium which is a mineral that plays a crucial role in over 300 functions of the body, including cardiovascular health and skeleton strength and has even been found to lower anxiety, improve sleep and boost mood”.
- 50g beluga lentils
- 80 g cooked millet
- 100g steamed beets
- 60g tenderstem broccoli
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 lemon (juice)
- 1 garlic clove
- handful of parsley
- Rinse the lentils and then place them in a small saucepan of cold water and simmer gently over medium heat until tender (about 10-12 minutes). Once cooked, drain under cold water and set aside.
- Rinse the millet and add to a saucepan with about 160ml cold water. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Cook until the millet is tender (about 15 minutes). Transfer to a large plate and spread out in an even layer to cool completely. Fluff with a fork as it cools to avoid clumping.
- Pre-steamed beets are available in the supermarket, however, to steam your own, place beets in a steamer with the skins on above 2 inches water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cover. Turn down heat to medium and steam small and medium beets for 30 minutes and large beets for 40 minutes, until you can pierce the beet to the middle with a knife or skewer. Drain the beets and rinse them under cool water to peel the skin.
- To prep broccolini, simply discard the bottom 1/4 inch of stalks and cut any stems thicker than 1/2 inch in half lengthwise. Broccolini, and its slender stalks in particular, will cook more quickly than broccoli and only need to be steamed for a few minutes.
- For the dressing, blend together the minced garlic, olive oil, mustard and lemon juice.
- Add the lentils, millet, chopped beets, and broccolini to a bowl and mix in the dressing adding chopped hazlenuts and parsley to garnish and add more lemon and salt as desired.
- If lentils are added to hot water they may overcook on the outside and be undercooked on the inside.
- Cooked millet can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Broccolini can be added raw if preferred.
In the past, I have tended to think of salads as mostly bowls of lettuce and greens so the idea has never been particularly appealing in terms of comfort food. However, a salad packed with satisfying grains is definitely on a different level and makes for a hearty meal for either lunch or a main. Also, there are endless possibilities to mix and match different grains or veggies depending on what you have on hand.
In this salad, the protein and fiber content of the millet and lentils added to the beets, broccolini, fresh parsley, crunchy hazelnuts and zingy lemon dressing helps to make this a colourful, satisfying and nutritious salad that would rival many a comfort food.
Other Hearty Salads: