Grain is as American as apple pie. So it's only natural that farmers who want to protect this land -- and its amber waves -- are growing it sustainably. Here are some of the best starchy staples, chosen by experts in the field.
ANA SORTUN is the chef at Oleana, a Turkish restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. The James Beard Foundation named her the Northeast's best chef in 2005, and her cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, remains a best seller on Amazon.
"CAYUGA PURE ORGANICS grows and sells an amazing product called freekeh, which is roasted unripe spelt berries. The roasting of the grain brings a level of complexity to the slightly smoky pistachio flavor. It has an earthy color and is delicious in many salads and soups. Besides following organic standards, Cayuga employs no-till farming, crop rotation, and on-farm composting. All these efforts show in the flavor of their grains." $5.95 for 16 ounces
CYNTHIA HARRIMAN is the director of food and nutrition strategies at Boston's Whole Grains Council and Oldways, a nonprofit that promotes traditional diets. She helped create the Whole Grain Stamp, a label that identifies whole-grain products.
"I'm intrigued by GOOSE VALLEY's Rice and Bean Fusion, a blend of basmati brown rice, heirloom red rice, wild rice, and black and red beans. Blends like these, which are getting more common, rock people off their assumptions, showing them how delicious whole grains and beans can be, especially together. I like that Goose Valley has its own hydroelectric plant and natural methods of weed control and fertilization." $5 for 8 ounces
"My first choice for grain is WAR EAGLE MILL, a historic stone mill in War Eagle, Ark., that's been restored four times since 1832 and is still powered by a waterwheel. They're also committed to working with organic farms. My favorite is their steel-cut oats -- I've been getting rave reviews about the oatmeal I make from them." $2.05 for 16 ounces
JESSICA LUNDBERG chairs the board of directors of Northern California's Lundberg Family Farms, which produces more organic rice than any other U.S. company. She also manages the company's renewable-energy initiatives and helped it become 100 percent renewable-energy powered.
"The organic yellow popcorn from EDEN satisfies my craving for something crunchy. Pop the kernels plain or with a drizzle of organic butter and a sprinkle of salt. Organic popcorn is important to me because of the impact of chemicals used to grow conventional corn. Eden also certifies that their products are not genetically modified." $3.05 for a 20-ounce bag
"I love brown rice, but I love variety even more. So when I discovered Organic Forbidden Rice, a mesmerizing Chinese black rice from LOTUS FOODS, it became a keeper. It's a uniquely flavorful heirloom grain with a delicate, sweet roastiness and an appealing soft-textured chew. It's rich in iron and antioxidants and cooks in just 30 minutes. I like it as a savory pilaf, but it's also great for sweet rice pudding. The company supports sustainable rice-growing methods in Africa and Southeast Asia." $5.49 for 15 ounces
BARBARA KAFKA is a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award recipient who has also won the Julia Child Cookbook Award. Kafka's latest book is The Intolerant Gourmet: Glorious Food Without Gluten and Lactose. She lives in New York City.
"Searching for alternatives to wheat, oats, and barley, I found organic quinoa. It's a nutty-tasting, grainlike seed that maintains its structure during cooking. I love that it's rich in nutrients, loaded with calcium, and has the same protein profile as milk. People don't realize that it makes a hot cereal that's as good as any on the market. I prefer quinoa from BOB"S RED MILL because of the company's emphasis on organic whole grains and because it's very clear about which products are gluten-free." $10.29 for 26 ounces
via Sierra magazine / photos: Lori Eanes