Nothing beats sitting down to a home-cooked meal. Yet at the end of a hectic day, the drive-through can be awfully appealing. When you're the cook, though, you're in control. You choose the dish that sounds most appetizing, and you pick the amount and type of ingredients used. The availability of seasonal produce and other ingredients, personal preference, and health and nutrition concerns are all considerations, and you're free to address any or all of them when you're wearing the apron.
Don't feel constrained by a recipe. Use it as an outline, then improvise to create a low-carb diet. Just be aware that baking is a bit trickier because the outcome is much more dependent on correct proportions of ingredients. But even in baking there's room for improvisation, particularly when it comes to boosting nutrition.
In this article, we'll show you just how quick and simple it is to plan meals and alter recipes using the best carb ingredients. Starting with a whole-grain tutorial, and moving on to the inside story on beans, fruits, and vegetables, we'll add some inspiration, throw in a few tricks for tempting picky eaters, and voila -- you'll be the star of your own carb-friendly, healthy kitchen. Sit back and get ready to collect the compliments.
Most of us tend to stick to the same old grains. But if you venture beyond the usual white rice and whole-wheat bread, you'll find a whole new world of delicious and nutritious grains. There are plenty of tasty discoveries to be made. The following list will get you started.
Amaranth. A lesser-known grain, amaranth is high in protein and a good source of calcium. Most often eaten as cooked cereal, it's also available as flour and as an ingredient in ready-to-eat cereals. Add extra nutrition to baked goods by substituting 10 to 20 percent of the all-purpose flour in recipes with amaranth flour.
Barley. This is a hardy, nutty-tasting grain that dates back to the Stone Age. Barley is available in a variety of forms, including hulled, pearled, flakes, grits, and even quick cooking. Toss a large handful of the quick-cooking variety into a pot of chili or bean soup to add protein, iron, and fiber.
Buckwheat. Often offered as a pancake selection on restaurant menus, buckwheat is technically an herb of the buckwheat family. Originating in Asia, where for thousands of years people have eaten noodles made from buckwheat flour, it can be found in a variety of baked goods including breads, muffins, cookies, crackers, and waffles. Toasted buckwheat groats (the hulled, crushed kernels) are known as kasha. Combine buckwheat with other grains and serve as a healthy side dish or pilaf, or add the flour to baked goods.
Bulgur. A form of wheat, this nutritious grain is a staple in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cooking. In fact, bulgur forms the basis of tabbouleh, a delicious Middle Eastern dish. Bulgur is made from steamed or boiled wheat kernels (also called wheat berries) that first have been dried, then crushed. Combine hot, cooked bulgur with oatmeal and dried fruit for a powerhouse breakfast; mix with brown rice, herbs, and olive oil to make a pilaf; or add cooked bulgur to ground beef or turkey for burgers or meat loaf.
Brown rice. The unmistakable brown color, distinct nutty flavor, and chewy texture of brown rice are the result of removing only the inedible outer husk. Brown rice takes a bit longer to cook than white, so cook up extra, and store it in the freezer. As a quick, convenient alternative, buy instant brown rice; it cooks up in only 10 minutes. It's just as nutritious as long-cooking brown rice; it's just precooked to decrease cooking time. A good source of fiber and vitamin E, brown rice can be substituted anywhere you would use white rice.
Corn. Yes, corn is a grain. From the most basic corn on the cob to grits, cornmeal, corn flour, or popcorn, this Native American staple is fiber rich and contributes small amounts of iron and vitamin C to the diet. Canned, frozen, or fresh, it's unbelievably versatile. Corn mixes well with any type of canned bean (black and pinto are especially tasty), enhances many foods as a quick side dish, and can be tossed into soups, salads, and muffins with equal ease.
Couscous. Not technically a whole grain, couscous is a type of pasta made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat). However, couscous is available in a whole-wheat version that provides protein, fiber, and small amounts of iron. Due to its exceptionally quick cooking time (5 minutes!) it's a wonderful way to add a good source of healthy carbohydrates to the diet. Use as a base for salads and casseroles or cook in vegetable or chicken broth and serve as a speedy, flavorful side dish.
Millet. Commonly sold as bird food in the United States, millet is a crunchy, nutty-flavored grain that is a staple in other parts of the world, especially Asia and Africa. Millet swells enormously when cooked, requiring about five parts water to one part millet. Incredibly nutritious, it provides protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin B1, and iron. Millet is often eaten as a hot cereal and is delicious in breads, muffins, pilaf, pancakes, soups, and stews.
Oats. Full of phytochemicals, not to mention good taste, oats are one of the most popular grains. They're extremely versatile and are used in cookies, muffins, cakes, breads, and breakfast cereals. Oats contain soluble fiber, a powerful cholesterol-reducing agent. They come in several varieties, all relatively easy to locate at your local grocery store. When serving oatmeal for breakfast, it's best to choose the least processed variety; flavored instant oatmeal contains added sugar and sodium.
Quinoa. A staple of the Incas, quinoa is one of the oldest cultivated grains. It's a nutritional powerhouse because it contains all the essential amino acids. That makes it equivalent in protein content to beef or eggs yet without cholesterol or saturated fat. Quinoa is lower in carbohydrate than most grains and can be used in the same manner as rice. Quinoa looks like a tiny bead but expands to nearly four times its size when cooked. Use it as a base for salads or as a side dish, or add quinoa flour to baked goods.
Rye. Rye can be purchased as a cereal grain (most often in combination with other grains), as berries (similar to wheat berries), and as flour. You'll find plenty of baked goods, including bread, bagels, and rolls, that contain rye. Often referred to as a "peasant grain," rye is a hardy plant that can grow practically anywhere. Lower in gluten (the protein that helps bread rise) than most grains, rye flour is normally combined with a high-protein flour when used in bread making. Use rye flour in your baking, and seek out rye breads and other baked goods that include rye.
Spelt. Another ancient cereal grain that is native to southern Europe, spelt is a cousin to wheat. Spelt can be used any place you would use regular wheat, yet due to its higher protein content, even people with wheat allergies can include spelt in their diet. Spelt is often combined with other grains in hot cereal and granola mixtures or used in salads, soups, and casseroles. In baking, spelt flour can be used in place of wheat flour.
Triticale. A hybrid mixture of wheat and rye, triticale has a nutty sweet flavor. Found in many forms, including whole berries, flakes, flour, and cereal, triticale is an extremely nutritious grain. Use it in a variety of dishes, from casseroles to pilaf. Lower in gluten, triticale flour is best used in combination with wheat flour when baking to produce a more lightly textured product.
Keep reading to learn about low-carb cooking with legumes.
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