On Protein

by Dave on May 15, 2009

As seen in Coastal Sussex Weekly, April 23, 2009:

You may not realize, since G4U Market has an awesome meat department, but I’ve been vegetarian for 20 years. I learnt early on in business to partner with good people. I have an amazing staff member responsible for meat buying, and the staff taste. The most frequent question I get as a vegetarian, is, “Where do you get your protein?”

I’d like to chat about non-animal sources of protein. I promise not to mention the “T” word (Tofu). I don’t want to get too much into nutrition, but I do need to talk a little about protein basics because it’s relevant to my protein product selection from the G4U Market Bulk department: Ancient Grains.

Protein is required for the building and maintenance of our body tissues. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are made by the body, or ingested from food. There are 20 different amino acids in the food we eat, but our body can only make 11 of them. The 9 essential amino acids, which cannot be produced by the body, must be obtained from food. Meat is a good source of these amino acids, but eating too much of anything, whatever your preference, is unwise. It was thought that a combination of plant foods (grains, legumes, and vegetables) had to be eaten together to get a full non-animal protein, known as protein combining. Intentional combining is not necessary to obtain all of the essential amino acids. Enter Ancient Grains. They’re called Ancient because they were popular with ancient cultures and are now beginning to re-emerge in ours.

I eat a well-balanced diet of grains, legumes, lots of fruit and veggies, and yes, sometimes the maligned Tofu, (say what? Say it in another column, Andy, you’re on deadline!). The balance should get all of the essential amino acids. However, I forget combining, and take the easy way, focusing on 3 ancient grains, each having all 9 essential amino acids.

The 3 ancient grains I love, are simple to cook, colorful, have great texture, and taste delicious: Amaranth, Millet, and, Quinoa (pronounced, “Keenwah”). Here’s the neat part: no complicated formula for food combining. Personally, I do not like the texture combination of rice and beans.

These grains are very cheap compared to the price of meat. If you do eat meat, still buy the Yoder Farm steaks; they are local, grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free. I get feedback that they are delicious. Here’s a good tip. Cut the steak in half, complement it with a serving of Amaranth, Millet, or Quinoa. You’re getting a low-fat, nutritious, hi-fiber, economical way to spread higher priced ingredients across the family, or many meals.

How are these grains served? Boil for 20 to 30 minutes. They do not need to be pre-soaked. Once boiled, use in savory dishes such as soups, grain salads, as a sandwich mix, or veggie burger, or mixed into a sweet, or savory muffin. I add some to my bread machine mixture for lovely, dense bread.

My favorite way to use Amaranth is to toast it in a cast iron skillet with a little Olive Oil, then boil it for 20 minutes. I combine it with saut̩ed julienne veggies РI prefer to use a sweet vegetable such as carrot, parsnip, cipollini onions, or even a nutty burdock root. Combine the Amaranth and the veggies in a bowl with a teaspoon of curry powder, or cumin, or coriander, or an herb rub. You can add pre-cooked, minced beef per taste. Press into patties, brush with olive oil, and heat under the broiler.

I love to toast and boil Millet, same method as Amaranth. It is useful to thicken a sauce. Toasting the millet adds depth of flavor.

There are 3 types of Quinoa: White, Red, and Black. I prefer the red. The white is bland. The black has great flavor, but unless cooking a Halloween dinner, it can be scary to get past the kids! Start with the white, and work up to the stronger flavored red. Quinoa must be rinsed under the faucet to remove a slightly bitter coating off of the grain. I can’t detect the bitterness myself.

For those using these grains for the first time, I recommend a recipe book called, “The Splendid Grain” by Rebecca Wood. There is a separate chapter for many grains, giving basics of nutrition, and lots of tasty, easy to make recipes.

Until next time, whoop-de-doo, Andy!

Andy Meddick owns Good For You Market, Lewes, DE. A self-proclaimed, “Food Geek,” Andy is a man on a mission to bring good quality food to his community. Good For You Market tips a respectful hat to the old  ‘village store’ with a focus on good quality organic, natural, and artisinal foods, at prices we all can afford. Andy says, “We’re about good food, from Gourmet to Everyday, and that’s Good For You, so much more than health food!” Reach Andy on (302) 684-8330, www.good4uorganic.com

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