Using wholefoods

If you have not used wholefoods before they can seem a bit daunting at first – all that soaking, and all those little packets of beans and grains with unfamiliar names in the health food shop. Start with one or two new items at a time and they will soon become as familiar as meat and vegetables. Wholefoods tend to be cheaper than processed and refined foods and they are definitely more healthy to eat.

Wholegrains – contain lots of vitamins and minerals as well as the complex carbohydrates needed for long term energy production. Like any natural unrefined food it is important to chew wholegrains very thoroughly in order to produce the digestive enzymes in saliva that are required for good digestion. People who say that they cannot eat wholefoods because it upsets their digestive system simply need to relearn how to eat food properly – bodies sometimes need a few days or weeks to adjust to digesting good food so introduce wholefoods slowly and gradually.

  • wheat
  • rye
  • barley
  • quinoa
  • millet
  • buckwheat
  • oats
  • rice

All these can be used as grains or as flour, all (except oats) need to be cooked before eating. In general when cooking wholegrains use one part grain to two parts water, soak for 8-12 hours, discard the soaking water, add new water and a little salt, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender – this can be anything from twenty to forty minutes. If you are in a hurry and you are used to eating whole grains then you can omit the soaking. One cup of grain will be enough for two people. When used as flour for breads, cakes and biscuits then it is probably best to follow a recipe, but grains can easily be made into salads, main dishes and side dishes just by using a little imagination. As they are a fairly bland food both visually and tastewise they need colour, spice and texture adding. It is a good idea to cook them with whole spices such as cardamon seeds or pods, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds; I often also add turmeric powder, and seaweeds such as wakame to grains.

Wholegrain salads

  • Run cold water through cooked whole grains if needed
  • Add herbs such as parsley, chives, coriander
  • Add vegetables such as peas, sweetcorn, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber
  • And/or add nuts such as cashews, pinenuts, hazelnuts
  • And/or seeds – pumpkin, sunflower or sesame
  • Olives could also be added

These salads will keep in the fridge for up to three days.

This is good just as it is or it could have a salad dressing on it-

Salad dressings

There are many recipes for salad dressings but basically they consist of:

  • One part lemon juice or cider vinegar
  • Four to five parts extra virgin olive oil
  • Seasonings such as mustard, fermented soya seasoning such as tamari; turmeric, cumin, coriander, garlic and herbs
  • These are shaken or stirred and may be kept in the fridge for a few days once made.

Whole grains can also be eaten hot as an accompaniment to other dishes, as a main dish, or in a soup. Quinoa is particularly good in soups and is one of the most nutritious grains. All of the spices, herbs and other bits and pieces can be added as before.

Sprouted grains are also very nutritious and good to eat; they are more digestible for some people – wheat and barley are the most commonly sprouted grains. See the section on pulses for sprouting instructions.

Pulses – beans, peas and lentils

These are high in protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and complex carbohydrates. Those who have never eaten pulses lack intestinal enzymes to break down their trisaccharide content – this results in intestinal gas, discomfort and irritability. However if properly prepared and if introduced gently to the diet this should not cause a problem and soon the intestines will be healthy enough to cope with any amount of pulses. Some points that will help with this are as follows:

  • Chew them thoroughly – as with grains
  • Most easily digested are aduki beans, lentils, mung beans and peas
  • Less easily digested are pinto, kidney and black eyed beans, and chickpeas
  • Soya beans are the least easily digested – however soya products – tempeh, tofu, miso, soy milk – are easily digested
  • Combined with vegetables they are easily digested – combined with grains and starchy vegetables they need a strong digestive system
  • Season with salt or soy sauce at the end of cooking not the beginning
  • Cook them with digestive spices such as fennel or cumin to prevent gas
  • Soak them overnight (except red lentils) and discard the soak water – this makes cooking faster and improves digestibility. Change the water during cooking also
  • Boil for 20 minutes without a lid at first – any toxins and indigestible enzymes will be removed – then cook until tender, this can be anything from 45 minutes to 4 hours. Pressure cooking will reduce this time.
  • Use cider vinegar in the cooking water or as an accompaniment to help digestion

Sprouted pulses are the most digestible form – soak them overnight then place in a sprouter or shallow dish. The sprouts need washing with clean water once or twice a day until they have sprouted – they can be used immediately they have sprouted or can be left to grow for a few days. Store in the fridge for up to 3-4 days and use in salads or sandwiches. Most pulses are suitable for this treatment but the best are lentils, alfalfa, mung and aduki beans

Pulses can be used in the same way as grains – as salads, main dishes, side dishes and soups. They also benefit from accompanying herbs and spices, and salads are best with salad dressings as described before. There are many recipes available – one of my favourite books is Rose Elliots Bean Cookery book – here are a few of my favourites:

Lentil soup

  • approx 200 g split red lentils
  • one large onion – chopped small
  • one large carrot – diced small
  • 25 g ghee or butter
  • 1-5 cloves garlic – depending on taste
  • 6 cloves
  • cardomon seeds or pods
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • approx. one litre water

Cook the onion and carrot in the butter or ghee until soft, then add all other ingredients and simmer for 30 – 60 minutes until all is tender. This is nice with garlic bread or croutons, and with a garnish of chopped parsley. Serves 4-8 depending on how hungry they are.

Red bean salad

  • 150g soaked and cooked kidney beans – see above
  • salad dressing – include cumin seeds – see above
  • any or all of the following: grated raw beetroot
  • carrot matchsticks
  • finely sliced red cabbage
  • finely sliced red onion
  • green leaves such as raw spinach, rocket, water
  • cress – chopped small
  • fresh herbs – such as parsley or chives
  • grated or finely sliced raw courgette

Mix these together an hour or so before you eat and serve at room temperature with bread and extra dressing. Serves 4


  • 150g chickpeas – soaked overnight and cooked (approx 1 hour)
  • 1-5 cloves garlic
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of tahini – sesame seed paste
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt or tamari
  • chilli powder (optional)

Put the cooked chickpeas and all other ingredients into a food processor and process to a rough or smooth paste according to taste. It is hard work but you can do it by hand if you have to. Add more lemon juice, chilli powder, a little water or more olive oil until you are happy with the result. Use it thick as a pate, or thinner as a dip or spread for crackers or breads.

Lentil curry – dahl

  • 250g split red lentils washed but not soaked
  • two large onions – chopped
  • 50g ghee or butter
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder or 1/2inch piece fresh, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder – or to taste
  • or one tablespoon curry powder instead of above spices
  • 1-6 cloves garlic to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons garam masala powder
  • salt
  • approx 600ml water
  • optional – chopped greens such as spinach, good king henry or similar

Cook the onions gently in ghee or butter until soft – add any fresh spices and then dried spices – except garam masala – and cook for a few minutes, stirring well. Add lentils and water and simmer gently for 30-45 minutes, adding more water if it gets too thick. If using greens add these ten minutes before the end of the cooking time. Add the garam masala just before serving and mix in well. Serve with any of the whole grains above and a salad. Serves 3-4.