Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oh, Boy, What do I do with this?

Yesterday, I had lunch with my dear grandparents at their house.

Lunch at the grandparents' is always a source of joy. Beyond the pleasure of hanging out with them, my grandma is a fabulous cook. Her cooking influences hail from Russia and from Egypt - two places where the family had been before being in Israel. Accordingly, we get some traditional stuff like gefilte fish (carp balls, which, as opposed to the Polish version, are spicy rather than sweet) side by side with spicy exotic vegetable stuff. However, decades of cooking with the same ingredients have made my grandparents completely ignore the world of whole grains.

Ahhhh, don't I like all those "traditional foods" advocates, who say that whatever your grandma cooks is good for you! Don't these people know that white rice and flour, and refined grains, have been available for a long, long time, and enjoyed a reputation of being more palatable? While the grandparents know the benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables, and cook wonderful, creative dishes with them, they are a little bit afraid of whole grains.

So yesterday, my grandma took the plunge, and cooked quinoa from a packet that included some raisins and almonds and nuts. It came out very good, but she was very hesitant about doing other things with quinoa.

"You can buy this in bulk, like rice", I said.
"Really?" she said increduously. "But then how do I know about the fruit?"
"You don't have to have fruit", I said. "You can cook this with vegetables".
I got strange looks.
"Yeah", I said with lots of conviction. "All those amazing dishes you make with white rice? You can make all of them with quinoa".
"Wow", my grandpa joined the conversation. "This is really good."
"Like your mejeddera", I said. "You can make your mejeddera just the same, with the lentils and onion, except use quinoa instead of the rice".
"You know", said my grandma corageously, "I went to the store and almost bought brown rice. Except, with those rough peels, how can it cook at all?"
"C'mon", I argued, "if it wasn't cookable, why would people sell it an eat it? Of course you can cook it. It takes a little more time".
"But it probably has a different flavor", said my grandpa.
"Yeah, it does", I replied. "It tends to be a bit of an acquired taste for folks who are used to refined grains. But it's really good once you get used to it".

A short discussion revealed that the grandparents do eat barley and buckwheat and quite a variety of beans. "There", I said, "you do eat beans and whole grains. So you can just add a couple more to your repertoire".

My grandma promised she'd do some experimenting, and we'll see the results next week when I come back for lunch. Hurrah!

In the meantime, for your sakes and for posterity, I'll try and collect her traditional wonderful Russian and Egyptian recipes, and come up with healthier versions for them whenever needed.

5 comments:

Eden Tree said...

Hi Hadar! I have to vegetable adventure to contribute here, but I have no other way of saying that yes! I will be in the bay area this summer and we should all hang out and share travel stories sometime!
Okay bye.

Hadar said...

Yay!
We've been following your Peru adventures, Eden, and we'll probably be talking about platanos one of these days.

chanie said...

interesting point about kasha and barley being traditional.

my in-laws have been similarly shocked by quinoa. i got the 'but plain, it doesnt taste like anything' comment - to which i pointed out that the same is true of white rice. (my kids like it plain, so i always do that for them, and then spice up the rest for other people who like things mixed in their food.)

Hadar said...

We had the "it doesn't taste like anything" talk, too, Chanie! :)

And yes, it's interesting how some of the grains made it to the Canon of Traditional Cooking, while others remained exotic and weird. I think buckwheat is pretty much an Eastern European staple, and the beans my grandma makes are very much an Egyptian staple. So anything that doesn't hail from those places is weird and requires some readjustment.

chanie said...

acually, now that you mention the regional issue it's gotten me thinking - i recently bought kasha/buckwheat at an ethiopian stand in the shuk - and the owner asked me what i do with it and how i cook it.
i guess one person's staple is the other person's exotic.