Whole Grains

After-Pesach Muffins

I’m a big muffin fan.
Muffins are an easy way to pack fruit, nuts and fiber into a few easy-to-make delicious bites. They make a quick snack and are perfect with fresh fruit and tea on Shabbat morning.
How did I end up with muffins after Passover this year? Normally we eat home-made granola for breakfast. But immediately after Pesach, that’s a problem. I usually make granola in large quantities – enough to last a month or so, and who has time and energy to do that right after Passover?
So we bought a box of muesli to tide us over. Muesli is the unbaked version of granola, without sweetener and oil. Ours had rolled oats, wheat, bran and lots of raisins.  It was fine for a few days, until I was ready to make my own granola. Then I was left with almost a full box of muesli. Here’s what I made:
Muesli Muffins (Dairy)
1¼ cups muesli
1¼ cups low-fat buttermilk
¾ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup canola oil
1 egg
1/3 cup brown sugar
Combine the muesli and buttermilk in a bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C) and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
After the muesli has softened in the buttermilk for 30 minutes, add the oil, egg, brown sugar and flour mixture and gently mix everything together. Don’t over mix.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. These do not rise much.
Remove to a baking rack to cool.
Makes 12 muffins
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Diet and Acne

Between 80 and 90% of all adolescents get acne. So do many adults. Does diet have anything to do with it?

Immigration studies show that acne increases when a population shifts to a more Westernized diet. What’s the cause? A 2009 review of scientific literature showed that dairy products and high-glycemic-index foods (like simple carbohydrates) may be to blame. There’s also evidence that omega-6 fatty acids play a role in acne.

When I was a teenager, we thought that eating chocolate caused acne. But there’s no scientific evidence to back that up. Salt doesn’t seem to play a role either.

Dairy Foods

Researchers think that hormones in cow’s milk play a role in acne. Skim milk showed the strongest association with the frequency and severity of acne in teenage girls, leading scientists to believe that hormones and not milk fat are to blame.

High-Glycemic-Index Foods

The glycemic index measures how fast and how far blood glucose rises after eating foods containing carbohydrates. Foods that are absorbed more slowly after ingestion (like whole-grain, complex carbohydrates) cause a slower rise in blood glucose levels and have a low glycemic index. Other foods – like those containing lots of sugar and simple starch (like white bread, cookies and cake), are digested quicker, causing blood sugar to rise faster. As blood sugar levels rise, the body secretes insulin to help metabolize it. In a number of studies, people given a low-glycemic-index diet showed an improvement in their acne. Scientists believe that insulin and hormones are involved.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Acne, depending on the type, may or may not involve inflammation. Although no large studies have been done, it’s believed that high levels of dietary omega-6 fatty acids, which produce inflammation, may be associated with acne. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory, may decrease the incidence and severity of acne.

What Can You Do?

Severe acne should be treated by a dermatologist. If you’d like to try dietary measures to reduce the frequency or severity of acne, here’s what you can do:

1. Go “dairy-free” for at least several weeks to see if there’s an improvement. Be sure you get enough calcium from alternative sources, like fortified soy milk, almond milk or orange juice, canned salmon and sardines, leafy greens, tofu, or a vitamin supplement.

2. Choose foods with a low-glycemic index, like whole grains, legumes, nuts and vegetables.

3. Stick with fats that are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, like olive and canola oil. Eat plenty of fish, especially fatty fish like salmon and sardines. Ground flax seeds and walnuts are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Reduce your intake of corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower oil, which are all high in omega-6 fatty acids.

4. Limit your intake of processed foods, which tend to be high in simple carbohydrates as well as unhealthy fats.

If acne is a problem, these relatively easy-to-do dietary measures just may make a difference. It’s worth a try!

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Whole Grains from the Middle East – Freekah

Years ago I read about green wheat – freekah in one of Paula Wolfert’s cookbooks. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t go out of my way to find it in the US. Years later, after I moved to Israel, my friend Sophie called me. Her son bought freekah at an Arab market in Haifa and she wanted to know how to cook it. A few months ago she told me that freekah was now sold at the upscale natural food store near her house in Tel Aviv. Another ethnic food that’s become a “health food”!

Freekah is young, green durum wheat that’s processed by burning. The chaff is scorched, making the grain easier to remove. It’s got an almost wild, grassy smoked taste and a haunting aroma.

Nutritionally, freekah is a winner. Compared to other grains, it’s high in fiber, protein, calcium, iron and potassium. (This is according to the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories. A company there is marketing freekah.) It’s also got a low glycemic index, so it’s an especially good carbohydrate for diabetics.

I like to serve freekah as a side dish with roast chicken or turkey breast. For a lovely vegetarian grain salad, cool the pilaf and add fresh parsley, mint and/or coriander. To avoid rancidity, store raw freekah in your freezer.

Freekah Pilaf (Parve)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 cup freekah, picked over and rinsed

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baharat *

1 ½ cups vegetable broth

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion until it’s soft and lightly brown.

While the onions are cooking, soak the freekah in water for about 5 minutes. Drain it well and add it to the onions, along with the salt and baharat. Cook it for a minute or two, while stirring. Add the vegetable broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the grains are cooked. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes 3 cups

* Baharat is a blend of spices used throughout the Middle East. In Israel, Pereg Gourmet sells a fine blend. I’m partial to the baharat (with a “bite”) made by The Spice House in Milwaukee, a mix of black pepper, coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, paprika and chile peppers.

If you don’t have access to store-bought baharat, make your own using either of these recipes:

Baharat Blend 1

2 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom

Baharat Blend 2

1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ tablespoon ground allspice

½ tablespoon ground nutmeg

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Grain Gratins

What’s a gratin? It certainly wasn’t anything in my mother’s repertoire. Well – actually it was. But she called it a casserole.

If you want to get technical, a gratin is baked in a shallow pan and a casserole in a deeper one. Both are served in the dish they’re baked in. I envision a gratin having a rich creamy interior and a crispy crust. A casserole brings to mind a thriftier concoction of leftovers mixed with sauce to stretch into another meal.

Here’s the basic idea of a gratin based on grains:

Combine cooked rice (or other whole grain), a vegetable, sauce and a little cheese; mix them together and put it into a shallow baking dish; sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake. That’s it!

The sauce (called béchamel) doesn’t have to be a high fat, high calorie fancy French affair. You can make it with low-fat or non-fat milk or even vegetable stock. Use olive or canola oil instead of butter. Make the sauce in the microwave to cut the prep time in half. You can even mix it all together in the morning and bake it just before serving. What could be easier?

Since I nearly always serve a whole grain for Shabbat dinner, I prepare more than I need so I’ll have “planned” leftovers for another meal during the week. I’m careful to keep grains parve, so they can be served with meat on Erev Shabbat and later as part of a dairy meal.

Here’s what I made from last Shabbat’s leftover red rice:

Rice and Broccoli Gratin

Prepare a white sauce in the microwave:

Put 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 1/4 cup finely minced onion into a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Microwave the onions for a minute or two, until they’re soft. Whisk 2 tablespoons of flour into the oil and onions and microwave for another minute. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups of low-fat milk and microwave, whisking occasionally, for 2-4 minutes, until the sauce is thick and starts to boil.

Meanwhile, cut leftover steamed broccoli (a cup or two) into bite-sized pieces. Put it into a mixing bowl with 2 cups of cooked red rice. Shred a little kashkeval (or other variety) cheese into the bowl. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.

Pour the cooked sauce over the rice mixture and mix it all up. Pour it into a lightly greased shallow casserole or pie pan and sprinkle some bread crumbs over the whole thing. Bake at 400 F (200 C) for 20-35 minutes, until it’s heated through and bubbly.

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Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

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