Millet, Kasha, Quinoa: Against The Grain

Rice and pasta are nice, but if you want variety, add some millet, kasha, or quinoa to your trail menu.
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Rice and pasta are nice, but if you want variety, add some millet, kasha, or quinoa to your trail menu.

If you're like most campers, you've tried rice in all its many variations, and pasta is looking kind of pasty. If you're ready for something different and downright delicious, here's what to do: Go to the rice section at your local health food store, but before you grab a box of instant this or long-grain that, slide over three or four steps. Voila! You'll discover a whole new world of unique, flavorful grains. The names may look foreign (partly because they are), but after you jazz up your stir-fry with chewy-crunchy quinoa or try millet-bean burritos for a nutty twist, you'll be speaking in tongues, too.

While some of these rice alternatives aren't technically grains, they all are nutritious sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. They're also perfect for backpacking because they're quick and simple to cook. While food co-ops and health food stores have been the traditional purveyors of exotic grains, many grocery stores now carry these international staples. Arrowhead Mills and Fantastic Foods are good brands to try, as is Near East, which usually is found in the ethnic foods aisle.

Shopping at a market that carries bulk grains probably will save you money and let you choose between varying degrees of coarseness. Generally, the finer the granule, the shorter the cooking time. I prefer medium-coarse grinds, since they cook fairly quickly, but retain their tongue-enticing texture.

The shelf-life of these cereals varies significantly, says dietitian Joan E. Herzog of Yarmouth, Maine. When stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight, they'll stay fresh for several months. Or, stash them in the freezer, where they should last indefinitely. A

single rancid whiff will tell you when the bag

is spoiled.

Know Your Groats

Millet: This native of North Africa and Asia is most commonly known in the United States as an ingredient in birdseed. Millet's fluffy texture and nutty flavor make it great in curries or for adding bulk to chili. One cup of cooked millet contains about 207 calories, 6 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fat, and 2 grams dietary fiber.

Quinoa (keenwah): Each grain is small, whitish, and resembles a sesame seed. When cooked, it takes on a quirky spiral shape. Native to South America's Andes, quinoa was a staple of the Incas and is exceptionally high in protein and other nutrients. Its nutty flavor makes it a good substitute for meat or beans in burritos. A cup of cooked quinoa contains 635 calories, 22 grams protein, 117 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fat, and 10 grams dietary fiber.

Cornmeal: The best-tasting, most nutritious cornmeal is stone-ground from the whole grain, since it retains the bran, endosperm, and nutrient-rich germ. While its use in cornbread is most familiar, this versatile meal can be used to make a hearty breakfast dish similar to grits or formed into polenta and topped with cheese or sauce. A cup of cooked, whole-grain cornmeal contains 442 calories, 10 grams protein, 94 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fat, and 9 grams dietary fiber.

Buckwheat groats or kasha: It's produced from buckwheat, an herb native to Russia. Buckwheat kernels are hulled and crushed into "groats" in a coarse, medium, or fine grind. The reddish brown kasha is merely groats that have been roasted to give them a nuttier flavor. Cooked kasha's somewhat mushy consistency makes it a great binder for veggie patties and a good way to bulk up chili and soups. A cup of cooked kasha contains about 154 calories, 6 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fat, and 5 grams dietary fiber.

Bulgur: Originating in the Middle East, bulgur is made from wheat berries. The bran is removed and the berries are cooked, dried, and crushed. Bulgur's nutty flavor adds pizzazz to pancakes and cereal and serves as a filling substitute for meat in Mexican or Italian dishes. Most commonly, it's the base for tabbouleh, a Lebanese salad. A cup of cooked bulgur has about 151 calories, 6 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, .4 grams fat, and 8 grams dietary fiber.

Couscous (koos-koos): Common in North African dishes, couscous looks like a grain but in fact is a tiny pasta made from flour, water, and salt. Often used as a potato substitute, couscous is a versatile little nugget that's good in salads and soups and with fruit, nuts, and sauce. A cup of cooked couscous has approximately 176 calories, 6 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, .3 grams fat, and 2 grams dietary fiber.