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Cool, autumn air and rapidly dwindling daylight hours are often a gateway to hearty meals and holiday indulgences. Creamy soups are a comfort food favorite this time of year, so when we came across an article in Cooking Light about a healthy, whole grain substitute for heavy cream, we knew we had to get on board.
Using Cooking Light’s technique, brown rice is cooked in stock until it’s soft and starchy, then it’s pureed with milk to produce a creamy thickener for soups and stews (like this Broccoli Cheese Soup, pictured). With this easy substitution, even the most robust and hearty stews can leave you feeling nourished and satiated, rather than uncomfortably full and nutritionally empty.
This swap is also a great way to put the latest nutrition research into practice. A study published by Harvard researchers last month found that replacing 5% of daily calories from saturated fat (like butter or cream) with whole grains is associated with a 9% lower risk of heart disease. Health beneﬁts aside, we’re mostly in it for the nutty ﬂavor and rich texture!
While delicate, sticky grains like brown rice blend easily, they’re hardly the only whole grains that can be used to add substance to winter’s most popular dish. Recently, the test kitchen at Cook’s Illustrated reported in their September 2015 issue that rolled oats work well as a substitute for bread to thicken potato-leek soup, creamy tomato soup, and Italian garlic soup. Similarly, teaching in a class at Cambridge Culinary Center last winter, acclaimed Chef Ana Sortun, of Oleana, demonstrated using bulgur wheat as a way to thicken creamy sauces.
Even if your recipe doesn’t call for heavy cream or bread, whole grains are a delicious way to give body to an otherwise light meal. Creamy Cannellini Bean and Amaranth Soup, and Curried Sweet Potato and Millet Soup are a few that come to mind. This principle can be applied to other dishes as well. From farro to freekeh, these warm and chewy morsels can turn a light vegetable salad into a hearty, comforting entrée. It is also a great way to repurpose leftover grains, especially if you cook up a bulk batch at the beginning of the week.
From subtly sweet oats to peppery amaranth, each whole grain lends a diﬀerent ﬂavor proﬁle to your cooking. This season, try replacing the cream or reﬁned thickeners in your recipes with some of these whole grain alternatives. With these secretly healthy food swaps, comfort food has never been so comforting! (Kelly)
Photo: Jennifer Causey, Courtesy of Cooking Light