When I started this blog, I had hoped to help people know that they are perfectly capable of cooking and entertaining,but to also help those faced with family and friends who need special diets. I was not aware of how many of my own recipes called for breadcrumbs, how many people need to go gluten-free,(including one of my sons), and how easy it is to add complex carbs and protein to recipes by using alternatives to breadcrumbs.
Grains and legumes also turn some vegetable sides into vegetarian or vegan entrees.
Grains can be very pricey at the grocery store. I suggest that you look for these in bulk, which can be less expensive in some stores, in bags at international markets or online. If buying online, read the lowest reviews, not just the ratings. There are great deals out there, but the quality can vary. A low price is not a bargain if the product is inferior.
When cooking the foods listed below to semi-soft, place the grains/chickpeas in a crockpot, place in a covered pot and bake, or cook simmering on the stovetop with more water, testing for the degree of doneness you need. Use less water than you would do to cook them completely soft. Normally most would call for 3 parts water to 1 part dried item. Err on the side of caution and start with equal parts water and legume or grain. If they are too hard when the water is gone, you can always add a a bit more and cook it longer.
(On the stovetop, you’ll need more water for evaporation, less if you keep a lid on the pot.)
To substitute grains for breadcrumbs is easy. I simply cook them as above. The grains will be semi-softened and ready to absorb the liquid or moisture in your meatloaf, veggie loaf, baked tomatoes,stuffed peppers, (or other vegetables), for in-meat or stovetop, vegan stuffing, you name it.You can add a bit of salt, olive oil, salt-free herb blend, any favorite herb, lemon, or perhaps a little garlic or onion while precooking any of the alternatives here.
Use the semi-soft grains while warm. The release of heat will aid in the absorption of the moisture of the rest of the ingredients, which is what the breadcrumbs would do.
The nature of the grains will not allow the foods to be made into very stiff loaves and balls, so treat them gently. Pre-browning balls will help,(in oven or on stovetop). Higher heat and little sauce over loaves is the best way to get them to hold shape.
I have previously mentioned using quinoa in some recipes and is my go-to when I am not using breadcrumbs. Commonly, quinoa comes in white, red or mixed versions.I prefer the mixed or white for breadcrumb substitutions.
I really like to use chickpeas for toppings, as you would with breadcrumbs containing butter and possibly herbs, as topping a casserole or vegetables. They add a nice texture, really dress up vegetables and again, add protein. These and the grains give potato dishes and all vegetables flavor and a truly polished look. Sprinkled over pasta,(GF or regular), they add so much.
These need to be treated differently than grains
You can cook dried chickpeas in a crockpot until soft, then lower the heat and let them dry out, or take them, baked, simmered, or canned chickpeas, and dry them on a baking sheet in the oven, or in a dehydrator.
(Drain canned chickpeas under running water before drying them out.)
As with the quinoa you can add spices or herbs while cooking, or sprinkle what you would like over the drained, canned ones before drying.
When the chickpeas are dried hard, whirl them in a blender, food processor or place them in plastic bag, between paper or a clean towel and crush them any way that you can,(rolling pin, mallet, a heavy pan. Add whatever you would like to them and sprinkle away.
Millet is very small, and many find it grainy, but I like it. I add it to vegetable dishes and some soups to add substance and protein. Use this where there is plenty of liquid, (soup or vegetables that produce a good deal of liquid, such as tomatoes and squash), and cook for a short time. If you opt to cook it to use as a topping, use 1 part water to 3 parts millet,(it cooks that quickly). Millet is usually available in red or white, which tends to be a little larger.
Buckwheat, despite the name, is not wheat and does not contain gluten, whereas Barley, Bulgar and Soft White Wheat do, so bear that in mind. All are good breadcrumb substitutes when cooked semi-soft to absorb and strengthen stuffings, meatloaf/ veggie loaf , or when cooked until soft and dried for toppings. Buckwheat has a stronger flavor than barley, bulgar and the soft white wheat, so adjust additions or amount to your own taste. I like to use pearl barley instead of whole groats, as it cooks more quickly, it is easier to use. It also has a milder flavor and absorbs more.
Course bulgar is best for breadcrumb-like uses.
BUCKWHEAT; BARLEY, BULGAR and SOFT WHITE WHEAT
Personally,I have found SORGHUM to be a little sweet and cooks up a bit pasty for my taste, but feel free to experiment.
I hope that you will try some of these suggestions, even if you do not need to go gluten-free.
Make your meals healthier.