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Recently, I got more bad news from a blood screening. My good cholesterol is too low, and all my other cholesterols are too high. Looking into the best foods for fighting this trend, I came across a bevy of hippy-sounding ingredients like barley and quinoa. Skeptical that these whole grains could taste good, I gave them a try, because the scientific literature on their cholesterol-fighting capabilities is pretty solid. Though it is easy to make them bland, boring, and cringe-inducing, if cooked properly and with a little care, even barley and quinoa can be incredibly delicious. Indeed, put them together with some brown rice, lentils, walnuts, and vegetables, and you have a dish that will make both your mouth and your cardiologist happy. There's all kinds of good things going on with this casserole: it's high in a variety of dietary fiber and protein, but low in fat and calories (only 250 calories a serving!); it has a surprisingly low glycemic index; it serves as a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids; it's vegetarian-friendly (as long as you use vegetable broth instead of chicken); it's relatively inexpensive and easy to assemble; it keeps well so it's great for pot lucks and even better as leftovers; and it's surprisingly flexible. Don't knock it until you give it a try!
Preheat oven to 450. Dice vegetables (peeling the celery beforehand will help it soften), and heat a large, oven-proof pot over medium-high heat. Add butter and olive oil. Once the butter is completely melted, add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
Stir in onion, celery, carrots, bell pepper, and a heavy pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add barley, brown rice, walnuts, and parsley. Cook for another 3 minutes, stirring often. Stir in broth and lentils--along with about a teaspoon more salt--and then bring the whole thing to a boil.
Bake for one hour. Carefully take the pot out of the oven and stir in the quinoa. Return to oven for another 20 minutes.
Remove from oven, cover, and let rest for at least ten minutes. Stir in additional salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
-e. magill 9/24/2014
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