These healthy and flavorful dinners feature lean proteins that use fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. Brown rice or other grains like the ones below can be substituted for white rice depending on your family’s preference and what is available in your pantry.
By now, you’ve likely heard of the importance of consuming whole grains. Dietary guidelines recommend about 3 ounce-equivalents daily. In moderation, foods like brown rice, popcorn, whole-wheat bread, and oatmeal raise good cholesterol levels while lowering bad cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood.
Within this family are ancient grains, including quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, and chia. They are called “ancient” because they’ve been grown the same way for several hundred years, according to the Whole Grains Council. Unlike some modern wheat products, they haven’t been genetically modified or “bred.”
Why eat them? They pack a nutritional punch, providing more protein, fiber, and vitamins than modern grains, says Helen Mullen, a clinical nutritionist with New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
Here, Mullen talks about the benefits of incorporating more exotic grains into your diet and offers suggestions for how to add them to everyday meals.
What should we know about ancient grains?
An ancient grain hasn’t been refined like white rice, white bread, or white flour. Thus, they tend to be higher in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and zinc because they haven’t been stripped. They’re also a good source of fiber. Other than the usual suspects — quinoa, chia, amaranth, sorghum — a few additional examples are farro, millet, black barley, and red rice.
Why are they good for you?
Like other whole grains, they’re absorbed into the body more slowly because of their fiber content, which helps regulate spikes in blood sugar. This is particularly important for those with diabetes or other chronic conditions. These types of grains also aid in digestion and the production of certain fatty-acid binding proteins. Millet in particular is rich in magnesium, which strengthens bones, and sorghum helps to lower cholesterol and promote heart health.
What are some ways to incorporate ancient grains?
Quinoa is a very hearty grain, so you can use it instead of meat in a vegetarian chili. Like many of the ancient grains, it’s also a great base for salads. Farro, with its chewy texture, can be used to make risotto. Chia is an interesting one because it absorbs water and becomes somewhat gelatinous. You can put it in smoothies, yogurt, or tea. It can also be used as a binder in certain baked goods. Lots of Mediterranean and Indian dishes incorporate ancient grains, too.
What should you be mindful of when consuming ancient grains?
It’s important to remember that, although good for you, whole grains, including ancient grains, are still carbohydrates, so they should only make up about a quarter of your meal. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re looking at your plate, half of it should be vegetables, a quarter should be lean protein, and a quarter should be starch, which include grains, beans and legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, zucchini, and squash.
Arroz con Pollo
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 chicken cut into pieces
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 sweet red peppers chopped
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 ½ cups chicken stock
- 1 can 14-oz diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 c brown rice
- ¼ c flat-leaf parsley chopped
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat
- Place the chicken in the pan, and cook it 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned on both sides
- Transfer the chicken to an oven-safe dish, and keep warm in the oven on the lowest setting
- Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Add the sweet peppers, onion, and garlic to the pan, and cook, stirring frequently until tender
- Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan until simmering
- Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, and paprika to the pan
- Stir in the rice and place the chicken pieces on top
- Simmer with the lid on for 20-30 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender
- Garnish with parsely
- Serve with a green salad or tomato and red onion salad
Roasted Peruvian Chicken with Green Sauce
- Food Processor or Blender
For the chicken:
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 2 limes
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 5 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 large sweet onions thickly sliced
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 4- lb whole chicken cut into 10 serving pieces*
- 2 red or yellow bell peppers cut into chunks
For the green sauce:
- 3 jalapeño peppers seeded to reduce heat if desired, and roughly chopped
- 1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
- 2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice from one lime
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the Chicken:
- Combine all of the ingredients except the chicken in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Remove the giblets from the inside of the chicken and pat the outside of the chicken dry with paper towels; place in a bowl, breast side up with the legs facing you. Loosen the skin from the flesh over the breasts and legs, being careful not to tear the skin. Spoon about ⅔ of the marinade evenly underneath the skin and spread the remaining ⅓ evenly over the skin. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a rack (preferably a v-shape) with non-stick cooking spray and place the chicken on top. Tie the legs together with kitchen string. Roast for 20 minutes, until the skin is golden. Turn the heat down to 375 degrees, and continue to roast for about an hour and ten minutes more, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh. (Keep an eye on it — if it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with foil.) Tent the chicken with foil and let rest for about 20 minutes. Tilt the chicken over the roasting pan to release the juices, then transfer to a cutting board. Carve the chicken and serve with green sauce.
For the Green Sauce:
- Combine all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a blender or food processor and blend into a smooth sauce. Slowly add the olive oil. It will seem very runny at this point but, don’t worry, it will thicken up as it sits. Transfer the sauce to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Oyakodon (Japanese Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl)
- 1-1½ lbs skinless boneless chicken thighs
- 2 small onions sliced
- 2 c chicken stock or dashi
- 1/4 c soy sauce or more to taste
- 1 tbsp sugar or more to taste
- 4 large eggs lightly beaten
- 4 c cooked rice to serve
Optional Toppings for Garnish
- green onion, sesame oil, nori, and / or togarashi
- Combine chicken, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a bowl and set aside for 5-10 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
- In a small pan, bring chicken stock to a boil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the chicken mixture and cook for about 1-2 minutes on each side.
- When the chicken is almost cooked through, pour the egg mixture evenly into the pan and cook for a few seconds until the edges are nearly set.
- Lightly scramble the eggs and cook for a few seconds more until the eggs are still a bit runny – the residual heat will continue to cook the eggs. Serve over a bowl of rice, garnish and enjoy!
Wok-Sautéed Spinach with Minced Chicken
- 1 large egg white
- ¼ c tamari or soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken
- 2 c chicken stock
- 2 tsp canola or peanut oil
- ⅓ c carrot minced
- ⅓ c onion minced
- ⅓ c water chestnuts sliced
- 3 c spinach
Marinate the chicken
- Mix egg, tamari, lime, and garlic well and coat the chicken evenly. Marinate, refrigerated, for 1 hour.
Cook the chicken
- When you are ready to cook, heat 1 teaspoon of the canola oil in a wok or sauté pan over high heat. Sauté the minced chicken for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring constantly until the chicken is cooked through and appears opaque. Remove the chicken from the pan. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the pan, and sauté the carrot, onion, and water chestnuts for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the chicken stock, tamari, chili paste, lime juice, and spinach leaves. Cook until the spinach has wilted slightly, stirring often.
- Return the cooked chicken to the pan, and mix well. Garnish with the scallions.
- 2 lbs beef sirloin 2-inch cubes
- ¼ c olive oil extra virgin
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 cloves garlic
- 5 bay leaves
- Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Combine all the ingredients except the meat in a plastic bag. Add the meat and shake to coat.
- Marinate for up to 24 hours and drain.
- Skewer the meat onto 8-inch skewers and grill on medium heat for 8-10 minutes, turning the skewers halfway through the cooking time.
Lebanese Chickpea Stew
- Large saucepan
- 30 ounces chickpeas canned drained and rinsed
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 2-3 teaspoon za’atar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 4 c chicken stock
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 roasted red pepper chopped
- 2 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp parsley chopped
- In a food processor, mix the cumin and the garlic together until you have a very coarse paste.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan.
- Add the cumin and garlic mixture and sauté a minute or so until it turns fragrant.
- Add the tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and paprika. Sauté, stirring frequently, for about two more minutes.
- Add the chickpeas and stir to mix. Add four cups of chicken stock, the za’atar, bay leaves and the roasted red pepper. Mix well.
- Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat until it boils gently, and cook for 15 minutes. I like to mash some of the chickpeas with the back of the ladle to thicken the stew slightly.
- Add salt to taste and stir in the parsley. Turn off the heat.
- Serve hot. This is perfect with rice, brown or white. You can also serve with some crusty bread, or some whole wheat pita bread.