I have a secret love of porridge, and, in the winter months, it is one of our favorite breakfasts. We eat soaked oatmeal porridge, mostly, and congee from time to time, but occasionally I like to focus on other grains and pseudocereals like buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa whose grassy undertones blossom when paired with fresh blueberries, heavy cream, and a generous dose of fresh ginger. These breakfasts are invariably served with fried eggs and wilted greens – Swiss chard or spinach, mostly. It’s a lovely way to start the morning.
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Not quite grains, buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa are the seeds of broad-leafed plants. Grains, in case you’re wondering, are the seeds of grasses. Buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa are pseudocereals; that is, they’re false cereal grains that we use like cereal grains. They’re gluten-free (only true cereal grains contain gluten, but not all cereal grains do) and pseudocereals typically pack a lot of nutrition into a very small package.
Buckwheat is rich in niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc as well as a potent flavonoid called rutin. Rutin, like other antioxidants, extends the power of vitamin C, and, as such is strongly anti-inflammatory. Rutin can also help protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation. Buckwheat is also extraordinarily rich in the enzyme phytase which helps to break down phytic acid, a naturally occurring antinutrient that can block your body’s ability to absorb minerals.
I love amaranth, another pseudocereal, for its tiny, pale beige seeds. Amaranth leaves are also used in cooking, though most people are better familiar with amaranth’s use as a decorative plant. Amaranth is rich in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.
Quinoa is an enormously popular pseudocereal with an overt grassy flavor. When cooked, its germ is released and it curls up against the grain in a sort of spiral. Quinoa is a good source of folate, and, like most other seeds, it is also a good source of manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. Like buckwheat, it is also a good source of the amino acid tryptophan which is known for its calming properties.
Much in the way that hoppy beer and oatmeal are recommended for nursing mothers in western cultures, quinoa was also traditionally used as a galactagogue; that is, it was used to stimulate the flow of milk in breastfeeding mothers. In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, a landmark book penned by a Cleveland dentist and intrepid researcher who traveled the world analyzing the native diets of healthy populations, quinoa porridge is used by both African and Peruvian mothers to stimulate the flow of milk.
Getting the most from what you eat: proper preparation
All grains, nuts, seeds, pulses, and pseudocereals benefit from proper preparation, and our recent love of these whole foods has come somewhat to our detriment. You see, while many people embrace a return to whole foods like quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, lentils, and whole grains, they fail to understand that these foods require special preparation without which their stunning array of minerals is not well-absorbed. Further, without proper preparation, these foods can be difficult to digest.
To receive the greatest nutritional benefit from these foods, they must be soaked, soured or sprouted, and cooked. These traditional processes help to activate food enzymes like phytase which then, in turn, deactivate antinutrients. The end result is that your foods offer your body a greater array of absorbable minerals while also increasing overall digestibility. Indeed, when traditional peoples prepared porridges and bread, they used freshly ground meals and flours that were summarily prepared through soaking or souring.
Three-seed Porridge Recipe
- The night before you plan to serve the porridge, coarsely grind buckwheat and quinoa in a hand-crank grain grind or a spice grinder. Transfer the freshly ground buckwheat and quinoa to a mixing bowl and stir in amaranth. Cover with three to four cups hot water and stir in one tablespoon lemon juice. Allow the pseudocereals to soak for at least twelve hours. Drain and rinse.
- Melt ghee in a medium-sized heavy-bottom saucepan over moderate heat, stir in ginger and fry until fragrant – about three minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in soaked buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth as well as unrefined sea salt and whole milk or heavy cream. Add a cinnamon stick to the pot and simmer, stirring continuously for eight to ten minutes or until the porridge is cooked through and thickened to your liking. Remove cinnamon stick from porridge, fold in blueberries. Sweeten to taste with maple syrup or honey, and serve with additional whole milk or heavy cream as it suits you.