In my world, grains are having a serious moment. I am quite infatuated with the countless varieties of wholesome whole grains with their innumerable nutritional super powers. So today, while trying to think of what to make, I decided to whip up an extravaganza of grain-y goodness in the form of mixed ancient grains with lentils pilaf.
This recipe was more or less just an excuse for me to go a little mental with the grain usage, making this dish from buckwheat, millet and amaranth. But beyond mere excess, these whole grains all boast amazing anti-inflammatory properties, and all help to boost your serotonin levels.
Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter which is vital for a number of functions in our bodies, including helping with wound healing, playing a role in smooth muscle contraction and in healthy digestion. But of particular interest to me is the direct role that it plays in relation to mood and mental wellbeing. Basically, imbalanced levels of serotonin can lead to depression and anxiety, and serotonin boosting foods can help lead to happiness and feelings of well being. Our brain function, including our moods, is directly affected by the food we eat. Ensuring that we provided our bodies with the nutrients that they need to properly balance our brain chemistry is an empowering way of engaging with our own well being. In a nutshell (or seed husk I suppose), these grains help to make us happy!
In addition to this grain gluttony, I felt that Saturday evening is a perfect time to try out a new ingredient. Recently, on a “specialty food” aisle cruising whim, decided to get a little tub of sumac. This interesting ingredient is a powder ground from the dried fruit of a specific genus of the sumac plant (Genus Rhus…apparently there’s a beverage on the market made of this fruit called Rhus Juice, best juice name ever. It sounds like something out of Dr. Seuss)which is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine and is one of the main components in the increasingly popular spice mix za’atar. It has a unique tart, lemony flavour, and a gorgeous reddish-purple colour. It’s loaded with antioxidants, has anti fungal and antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and is loaded with vitamin C. I very much suspect that we’ll be seeing sumac popping up as the next big super food shortly. I had never used it before, so was quite excited.
For inspiration for flavouring this dish beyond the sumac I turned to the other flavours from za’atar; sesame and thyme primarily. I decided to add the sesame in the form of tahini to add a bit of creaminess, and to use fresh thyme because it’s one of my all time (no pun intended) favourite herbs. And then, carrying on with the Middle Eastern theme, I threw in some chopped figs, lentils and a dollop of yogurt to top it all off and for a bit of protein, texture and contrast.
So here it is: ancient grains with lentils. With all of the serotonin boosting power of this dish we’ll all be having a very happy weekend indeed!
- 250g cooked green lentils (equivalent to 100g dried)
- 100g amaranth
- 100g buckwheat groats
- 100g millet
- 2tsp oil
- 1 brown onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 700mL vegetable stock (home made if possible)
- 2tsp ground sumac, plus a bit for sprinkling
- 1Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped, plus a bit for sprinkling
- 1Tbsp hahini
- A small handful dried figs, chopped
- Yogurt to serve
- In a large pot heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until becoming translucent. Add the grains and garlic and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are a bit toasted, about 4 or 5 minutes.
- Add the stock, thyme and sumac, stir, cover and leave to simmer for about 30-35 minutes until the stock is absorbed and all of the grains are cooked through.
- Remove from heat and stir in the lentils and tahini with a splash of water if the dish is too dry.
- Top with a sprinkle of sumac, chopped thyme the figs and a dollop of yogurt and serve.
- If you don't have all three of the grains you could use 300g of one type instead, or 150g each of two of the three. Also, if you can't find sumac you could substitute it with a bit of lemon zest.