Get more whole grains in your diet, right from the start

Frittata muffins incorporate cooked grains. Try quinoa or brown rice.
Frittata muffins incorporate cooked grains. Try quinoa or brown rice. Raleigh News & Observer

A common refrain among those who urge us to adopt a healthy diet is to eat more whole grains.

But the reality is that many whole grains take longer to cook. So if you’re a busy adult trying to quickly pull together meals, whole grains can seem out of reach. Switching from white bread to whole wheat bread is easy. Opting for brown rice, steel-cut oats or wheat berries can seem daunting.

Boston-based food writer and cookbook author Maria Speck challenges the notion that it’s hard to get more whole grains on the table. Speck grew up with a muesli-loving German father and a polenta-loving Greek mother. Her family’s meals regularly included whole grains, a practice she has continued as an adult.

“Grains were on our table – simply as good food,” Speck said.

In the United States, whole grains are lumped in with the diet food.

“We have to stop calling grains healthy,” Speck said. Instead, we should celebrate everything that whole grains bring to the table, such as interesting colors, textures and flavors. She can talk eloquently about chewy whole wheat, delicate quinoa, plump barley, tangy rye, earthy buckwheat and sweet oats.

Speck’s latest book, “Simply Ancient Grains,” attempts to share the tricks she has used for years to incorporate whole grains into meals on a nightly basis. Here is her advice:

Turn to quick grains: Many grains can be made in about 15 minutes. The most familiar are couscous and bulgur, which only have to be added to boiling water and left to sit for 10 minutes. Other grains, such as millet, quinoa, teff and cracked freekeh, also can be cooked in 10 to 20 minutes. These are great go-to ingredients for weeknight meals.

Make-ahead grains: One way to eat more of those whole grains that take longer to cook is to make a batch of them on the weekends. Those cooked grains, like barley, rye, wheat berries and sorghum, can become the basis for salads, soups and even muffins on hectic weeknights. “If you have these in the fridge, you will be surprised how you will use them,” Speck said. (Cooked grains will keep for seven days in the refrigerator.)

Freeze cooked grains: Make a batch of whole grains and freeze them in portion sizes. They will keep for several months.

Soak ahead: Many whole grains can be soaked ahead to cut down on the cooking time. Muesli with its raw oats can be added to yogurt the night before and enjoyed in the morning. Boiling water can be poured over amaranth and left to soak at night to make breakfast porridge. Polenta can even be soaked overnight and cooked in 10 minutes instead of the usual hour of stirring; that neat trick was labeled a “genius recipe” on the Food 52 website.

Speck hopes that distilling her knowledge will inspire others to pick up her book or try one of her recipes. She hopes you think: “Wow. I can do this. It’s easy.”

Frittata muffins

Makes 12 muffins

From “Simply Ancient Grains,” by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, $27.50, 272 pages). Other cooked grains can be substituted for the quinoa.

1  1/2 cups cooked quinoa, preferably red or black

2 cups fresh or frozen peas (do not thaw)

3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Grana Padano cheese, Parmesan or sharp cheddar, plus 1/4 cup finely grated, for sprinkling

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (about 3)

1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped herbs, such as a mixture of mint and parsley or dill and mint

1 to 2 teaspoons minced serrano chili, veins and seeds removed for less heat (optional)

7 large eggs

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grounded black pepper

12 pitted salt-cured black Moroccan or green olives (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan, preferably nonstick, with olive oil or coat with cooking spray.

Place the quinoa, peas, shredded cheese, green onions, herbs and chili in a medium bowl and combine well with a fork. (If your grains are precooked, make sure to separate any clumps.) Divide equally among the muffin cups, about 1/3 cup for each, filling until almost full.

Place eggs in a large bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. (If using previously cooked salted grains and greens, only use 1/4 teaspoon salt.) Whisk well until foamy, about 30 seconds. Divide egg mixture into the cups, using about 1/4 cup for each. Sprinkle each muffin with about 1 teaspoon of the finely grated cheese and gently press in 1 olive (if using).

Bake until the frittata muffins puff up and turn light golden on top and golden brown around the edges, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool about 5 minutes. Using a knife or thin rubber spatula, carefully go around edges of each muffin to gently release from pan. Eat warm or at room temperature.