Exploring New Food Frontiers

Are you in a food rut? Then it may be time to explore new food frontiers. You'll impress your friends, cut down on mealtime monotony and discover new foods, all while getting a broader range of nutrients in your diet.

Join us on a culinary safari, and get a glimpse of some new foods to try. All of these highly nutritious foods have been used in other cultures for hundreds of years. They are now more widely available in this country. Look for them in larger supermarkets, natural food stores, cooperative grocery stores, or Asian markets.

Talkin' about tofu

Soy foods offer many health benefits, including a possible reduction in heart disease. The use of soy products to treat symptoms of menopause is controversial. While it may improve symptoms for some women, the phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) that may help relieve hot flashes may also increase the risk of breast cancer.

Tofu, also called bean curd, has long been used in many Asian countries. It is a soft, white, custard-like food with a mild flavor. Tofu comes in many varieties, from soft to extra-firm. It is a great source of protein and calcium and also a good source of iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins.

Tofu is versatile because it absorbs the flavor of the foods, herbs, and spices that it's cooked with. Its chewy texture and high protein content make it a good meat substitute. Mix cubes of firm tofu into vegetable stir fry, casseroles, or spaghetti sauce. Soft tofu can be pureed in a blender and used as a mayonnaise or sour cream substitute to make dressings, spreads, or dips. Tofu can also be blended to make creamy pies and other desserts.

Ancient grains

Amaranth and quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) are plants that have been eaten for thousands of years. Amaranth seeds were a staple of the Aztecs, and quinoa seeds were used by the Incas.

Amaranth is a tall, bushy plant that produces seeds about the size of a poppy seed. The seeds have a sweet, nutty flavor. Amaranth is high in protein, fiber, and vitamin C. For a tasty hot cereal, simmer one cup of amaranth seeds in 1 to 1/2 cups of water for 35 minutes. Cook it in casseroles or with other grains like rice, oats, or millet. Amaranth seeds can add flavor and nutrition to breads, cookies, and other baked goods.

Quinoa is also a small seed with a mild flavor and a light, fluffy texture. It's an excellent source of complete protein and a good source of calcium and iron. Simmer one cup of quinoa in two cups of water for 10 to 15 minutes. Once quinoa is cooked, you'll notice tiny sprout-like arcs attached to the seeds. Quinoa is excellent served with vegetables or seafood. It also makes a nice addition to soups and casseroles, and adds variety when mixed with other grains.

Vegetables from the sea

Most people think of seaweed, or sea vegetables, as a Japanese food. But many cultures use these nutritious foods collected from their shores. Most of us already eat sea vegetables and don't even know it. Carrageenan, which is found in one type of seaweed, is used to thicken foods, such as cottage cheese, ice cream, and salad dressings.

People in Russia, Wales, and Iceland have eaten kombu (also known as sea cabbage) for hundreds of years. Kombu usually comes packaged in dried flat strips. It is great for making soup stocks. You can add kombu to dried beans to reduce cooking time and help lessen the "gassy" effect. It can also be cut up and sauteed with vegetables. Some people use shredded or powdered kombu as a seasoning.

Wakame is found in the coastal waters of Japan, Alaska, and the British Isles. This versatile seaweed grows in thin, long strands and can be added to soups or cooked with other vegetables. To rehydrate dried wakame, soak it in water for 15 to 30 minutes.