3 Healthy Alternatives to My Least Favorite Grain

I have a confession to make. I don’t like quinoa. Yep, you got that right: A Manhattan-based food editor who can’t stand the city’s trendiest grain (Don’t worry, I’m a fan of kale). A little part of me cringes every time I see it as an overpriced side (or even worse, a main) gracing an otherwise un-offensive menu and when I peruse supermarket aisles, I silently lament when I see almost every last box of that fluffy fail has flown off the shelves but its heartier cousins remain neatly stacked, like valiant warriors praying they won’t be the last picked in a game of Red Rover. Indeed quinoa has sparked much ethical debate (the farmers in places like Peru and Bolivia who harvest it can no longer afford to eat it themselves), but even if that doesn’t upset your stomach enough to boycott the grain (it did for mine), there are plenty of great grainy cousins that make a delectable swap. As a (casual) vegan though, I know getting proper nutrition is important, so what protein-packed grains can a gal turn to? Easy.

1) Farro

This chewy, nutty superstar can be subbed for any salad recipe that calls for quinoa and I find that its heartier mouthfeel keeps me full for longer. My roommate and I offered up this simple creation for a potluck dinner this past weekend, and the lack of leftovers indicate it was a definite hit: Sautee onions, garlic, zucchini and eggplant until browned. Mix with cooked faro and add your favorite extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and red chile pepper flakes to taste; let sit for an hour to absorb the juices and serve cold.

2) Kamut 

This ancient grain makes me happy. Available as kamut berries, rice, flour, pasta spiral form and more, this heirloom delight (soak kamut berries over night to reduce cooking time) works well in pilafs and generally containing 30% more protein than wheat.

3) Barley

You call it barley; I call it Pearls of Goodness. Oft overlooked compared to its lamer and trendy pal quinoa, it’s a low-glycemic grain that works double-duty to keep your blood sugar levels steady while providing beneficial bacteria for your large intestine from its fiber content. Try swapping it for oatmeal (or quinoa, since people are into that these days….les sighs) in a breakfast dish with warm almond milk and sprinkling it with cinnamon and some berries for a nutritious treat.

My favorite brand for grains is Bob’s Red Mill because of its diverse offerings, commitment to nutrition and how company’s employees are treated (for his 81st birthday, Bob gave away his business through an Employee Share Ownership Program) but feel free to experiment with whatever works best for your taste buds and budget.