December 11, 2015
Vol. VII No. 25
Mediterranean Whole Grains for the Holidays
For many people, the holiday season is the best time of year because it's a chance to indulge in edible treats, from Christmas cookies to potato latkes, in the name of tradition. There are plenty of ways to keep your meals on the healthy side, however. One great solution: whole grains!

Whole grains are often blank canvases for bold flavors in the Mediterranean. Pilafs, made with bulgur in the Eastern Mediterranean, are a great example, as are whole wheat flatbreads and pasta. In Greece, hard breads called rusks made from barley are used in bread salads with tomatoes, herbs, cheese, and olive oil. Italian polenta made from whole grain cornmeal forms a creamy, porridge-like base for seasonal stews. Other popular Mediterranean whole grains include farro, millet, bulgur, rye, and buckwheat. 

From a culinary standpoint, these Mediterranean whole grains offer a variety of unique flavors and textures, perfect for impressing guests at your holiday table. They also have many health benefits; adding whole grains to your diet can significantly lower your risk of chronic diseases and illnesses such as stroke, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and high blood pressure. Whole grains are more filling than their refined counterparts, and can help with weight control as well.

All too often we are surrounded with refined grains during the holidays, from plain dinner rolls to decadent pastries. While the health benefits of whole grains are most pronounced for those consuming at least three servings daily, some studies show reduced health risks from as little as one serving daily. Every whole grain helps! 

Fortunately, most foods that contain refined grains can be made with whole grains too, without sacrificing flavor. Here are a few easy swaps to make for the holidays (and any day), with some Mediterranean twists:

  • Buy whole grain sliced bread, bagels, cereal and English muffins instead of their refined counterparts. Look for the Whole Grain Stamp on packaged products.
  • Use whole wheat or buckwheat flour in your pancakes and waffles.
  • Make a pot of oatmeal for the whole family and set up a buffet of toppings to let people pick their favorites.
  • Mediterranean twist: Mix yogurt with a little bit of lemon juice and honey, and add it to leftover farro, bulgur, or barley. Top with dried or fresh fruit.
  • Enjoy popcorn at movie night or pack a small bag to go to get you through holiday shopping. That's right, popcorn is a whole grain!
  • Crackers, granola bars, chips, and pretzels all come in whole grain forms. Here are a few tips for identifying whole grain products without the Whole Grain Stamp. 
  • Mediterranean twist: Slice whole wheat pita into triangles and serve with hummus or muhammara
  • Try serving a grain salad at your holiday table. Farro and wheat berries are delicious with a simple vinaigrette, roasted vegetables, and goat cheese. 
  • Top green salads with whole grain croutons or cooked grains.
  • Add some whole grain dinner rolls and sliced bread to the bread basket.
  • Use whole wheat flour in gravy as a thickening agent.
  • Mediterranean twist: Add whole grains to soups. Use small whole wheat pasta shapes in pasta e fagioli or chicken noodle soup. 
Main Dishes
  • Experiment with whole grain pasta. Try using half whole grain and half refined pasta in your favorite pasta dishes to add variety.
  • Use whole wheat breadcrumbs or bulgur in your meatloaf, meatballs, and burgers to stretch your ground meat.
  • Mediterranean twist: Make a grain frittata for a hearty meal at any time of day. Add about 1/2 cup of cooked whole grains, such as wheat berries, per serving. 
  • Use whole grain flours in baked goods, from pie crusts to cookies. Use them in your gingerbread too!
  • Make an oat and whole grain topping for fruit crisps and crumbles.
  • Mediterranean twist: Try millet, one of the oldest grains enjoyed in the Mediterranean, instead of white rice in your pudding. Add ricotta, honey, lemon and fruit for even more Mediterranean flavor. 
For more Mediterranean whole grain holiday recipe ideas, look to the recipes below. Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe. 

Sautéed cauliflower adds a delicious sweet flavor and creamy texture to this whole grain pasta dish. Seasoned with fresh mint, red chili pepper flakes, and Pecorino Toscano cheese, it's sure to be a crowd-pleaser during the holidays.  

Recipe and photo courtesy of Barilla

This Mediterranean-inspired salad combines several iconic Mediterranean ingredients with a few Latin American ones: quinoa and avocado. Any Mediterranean whole grain can be substituted for quinoa if you want to make the salad more authentic, but the result will be the same: a delicious meal made simply from dressed vegetables and whole grains.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Egg Nutrition Center.

Hearty whole grain penne pasta stands up to strong flavors from Tuscan sausage and sun dried tomatoes in this dish. By using a few quality ingredients, it is tasty yet simple to prepare. Serve it with a big green salad or roasted vegetables on your holiday table.
Recipe and photo courtesy of Bella Sun Luci.

by Maria Speck
In her Mediterranean-inspired collection of recipes, Maria Speck makes cooking with ancient grains faster, more intuitive, and easier than ever before. Try the Red Rice Shakshuka with Feta Cheese or Farro Salad with Roasted Eggplant - you won't be disappointed.
by Robin Asbell
In The Whole Grain Promise, Robin Asbell shares quick and easy whole grain recipes that will entice the pickiest eater and appeal to the whole family. Whether you want to improve your health or try something new for dinner, whole grains are the perfect place to start.
by Alice Medrich
In her James Beard Award-winning cookbook, beloved dessert queen Alice Medrich applies her baking precision and impeccable palate to flavor flours, including whole grain flours like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, teff, and more. It's a must-have for whole-grain holiday baking.

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.   

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit: