The good grain guide: Why stick to rice and pasta when there are so many other versatile varieties?

Alice-Azania Jarvis finds out why quinoa and millet are not just for health nuts

"For a long time, I didn't give a second thought to grains," says Anthony Demetre, the Michelin-star-winning chef and the proprietor of Wild Honey, Arbutus and Les Deux Salons. "They've always been seen as a kind of sandal-wearing, health-freak food."

All that changed when he was diagnosed with Coeliac disease, an inherited inability to digest gluten, six years ago. Heavily present in wheat, rye and barley, gluten – a type of protein – has become a standard presence in our diet. Try looking for a snack that doesn't contain it in some form; it's difficult.

"I was dumbstruck," he says. "I love Italian foods – pizza and pasta – and relish the luxury of French pastry. My wife is Parisian so we go there all the time. The thought of not being able to enjoy that any more made me hugely depressed." Still, he endeavoured, as he puts it, to "change his lifestyle," and began experimenting with ways of cooking that didn't rely on wheat products. In doing so, he discovered a passion for grains and has created dishes as diverse as quinoa ice cream – on the menu at Les Deux Salons – and buckwheat ravioli.

"As a chef, I feel it's my duty to introduce new ingredients to the public," he says. "It's not just about not being able to eat wheat. You don't have to be a coeliac to enjoy quinoa or polenta. They're great in their own right."

Of course, not all grains are wheat-free and not every grain is suitable for the gluten intolerant. Semolina, used to make couscous, is a wheat product, though that's no reason for most of us to ignore it. Grains, in all shapes and sizes, have something to offer.

Quinoa

"It is massively versatile," says Demetre. "It doesn't need to just be a wheat substitute. At my restaurants I've used it in all kinds of innovative ways. We do a quinoa ice cream, which involves toasting the grains in a dry pan and then immersing them in a warm custard. They soak up the liquid and acquire this wonderful amber colour and flavour. You can serve quinoa as a salad, as a garnish on soup – even sautéed. All you need to do parboil, then sauté and it's lovely and crunchy."

Quinoa is also incredibly good for you. Its high levels of protein and unusually balanced set of amino acids make it a favourite of vegetarians, who can struggle to find complete proteins. It's high in fibre, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. Given this, it's not surprising sales have soared lately.

"Over the past couple of years, it's become much more popular," agrees Aylie Cooke, associate grocery coordinator at Whole Foods Market. "People are aware of the benefits, but they're also interested in the taste."

For quinoa novices, the most straightforward way to start using it might be with a salad – simply prepared, it will keep in the fridge for a quick, last-minute meal. "It cooks very much like pasta," says Demetre. "Twelve minutes and then refresh with some cold water and add some oil."

Polenta

Made with ground cornmeal, the Italian peasant food has become a staple on fashionable menus in the UK. Most often seen in its slow-cooked, porridge-y form, it can also, once cooked, be shaped into patties and fried to create crostini di polenta, topped with anything from mushrooms to chopped liver, or polenta fritta, little nuggets – polenta "chips" – to be dipped in sauce and salsas. But it doesn't end there. "Polenta batter on fish is great," says Demetre. "It's just a matter of mixing polenta and water and dipping the fish in. It's also terrific in baking – plenty of Italian cakes use polenta in the same way they do ground almonds."

Buckwheat

Not, despite its name, anything to do with wheat – and therefore perfect for coeliacs such as Demetre. "I make buckwheat porridge, cooked on the stove with milk or water and flavoured with whatever you like: honey, salt and so on." Buckwheat is also the basis for the famous savoury galettes of Brittany as well as Japanese soba noodles, found in everything from salads to stirfries to soups. At Feng Sushi, the soba noodle salad has been a menu staple for 12 years. "In Japan, soba noodles are commonly served cold on a bed of ice," explains the restaurants' founder Silla Bjerrum. "The noodle salad is a great substitute for pasta salad." Making your own noodles, she says, is possible – if a little tricky. "It's very similar to making pasta." Indeed, Demetre uses buckwheat for just that – as a basis for ravioli, stuffed with goat's cheese, spring greens and lemon.

Rice

"Basmati rice is wonderful, but there's so much more out there too," says Whole Foods Market's Cooke. "The big thing for us at the moment is sprouted rice – it's sprouted for a set period and then dried. The process releases more nutrients, which means it is similar to normal rice in texture and flavour – though slightly nuttier – but much healthier. It's really popular across the Far East and has become more so in the US and the UK."

If you can't find sprouted rice, brown rice is stocked in virtually every grocery store and has a lot to recommend it – both in terms of health benefits and flavour. "In fact, if you want to make sushi at home and you don't have much time, brown rice is better than regular sushi rice as it's much more durable and requires less preparation," explains Bjerrum. "When I first started using it, I just used normal, short-grain rice but now you get the special unpolished version for sushi. I'll just cook it in the way I might do basmati, then put a tiny bit of sushi vinegar in with some olive oil and let it cool in the pot. You can use it to make maki rolls – the nutty, slightly sweet flavour is really delicious. I like to add a few poppy seeds, too."

Millet and amaranth

"Millet is an absolutely lovely grain," says Cooke. Small and yellow, it's not as soft as quinoa, and has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the primary preserve of the uber-health-conscious, thanks to its high concentration of vitamin B, calcium, iron and zinc. "It's got a lot else going for it besides being healthy! I make a delicious millet risotto, which is a great simple supper. It's so straightforward, you just cook it as you would rice. Likewise, it's terrific in salads." Indeed in India it is ground and used to make flatbread, while variations on millet porridge, both sweet and savoury, can be found across Russia, Germany and China.

Similar to millet, amaranth – rich in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese – remains relatively unknown among even the most experienced of cooks. It's popular in Mexico, where it is served popped like popcorn and mixed with chocolate – though, like quinoa and millet, can also be the basis of salad, porridges and risottos.

Semolina and couscous

Semolina – long the stuff of school-dining notoriety – is, these days, more likely to used for coating fish and introducing texture to biscuits than for being boiled into lumpy submission. Still, semolina pudding remains something of a classic across northern Europe, served as it is with jam and fruit. And, of course, semolina is responsible for that summertime staple: couscous, made by sprinkling semolina with water and rolling it into pellets.

Spotted on every barbecue table across Britain circa 1997, couscous doesn't have to be quinoa's boring cousin. Bjerrum brings an eastern edge to her couscous salad by introducing edamame beans as well as "toasted seeds, nuts, and maybe even some organic tofu". Made with wheat, semolina is firmly off-limits for coeliacs, although it remains a healthy choice for others, sitting low on the glycemic index, and boasting high levels of vitamin B.

Buckwheat Ravioli filled with Goat's Cheese, Spring Green and Lemon. Sweet tomato vinaigrette

Buckwheat pasta

kilo buckwheat flour
250ml egg yolk
50ml milk
2 pinches of salt

Make the pasta by bringing all the ingredients together, cling film and chill for 1 hour

Ravioli mix

750g spring greens – nettles, borage, garlic leaves
200g goat's curd cheese
50ml olive oil
1 tbsp chopped mint
2 lemons – zest and juice
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Wilt the spring greens down with the olive oil and lemon juice. Strain the greens, hand chop to a coarse pulp. When cool, incorporate the goat's curd, chopped mint, nutmeg and salt andpepper. Chill until completely cold and this is the filling for your ravioli

Sweet tomato

1kg San Marzano tomatoes – chopped finely
4 cloves garlic – grated
1 tbsp dried oregano
100ml olive oil
1 tbsp sugar
Salt and pepper

Cook this out for about an hour until you have a thick tomato relish. Add more olive oil if need be – this will be your vinaigrette

Finish with grated Parmesan and green salad leaves of your choice

Salad of quinoa, beetroot, sunflower, pumpkin seeds and pomegranate

150g cooked beetroot (you could add different varieties if you like)
50g cooked quinoa
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
4 tbsp pomegranate seeds
1 Lemon
Splash of good-quality red-wine vinegar
Olive oil
50ml Grilled rapeseed oil, or good-quality normal rapeseed oil
Salad leaves (ideally sweet and bitter)
Salt and pepper
Castor sugar

Warm the beetroot slightly and drizzle with olive oil, red-wine vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. You are aiming for a sweet and sour effect. Lightly colour (golden brown) the pumpkin and sunflower seeds in the grilled rapeseed oil, add the cooked quinoa and pomegranate into the seeds and oil. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Place the beetroot on the plate, and spoon over the quinoa etc, scatter over the sweet and bitter salad leaves, and serve.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam