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Volume 30 Issue 1
May/June 2024

Blessing the Trees with Love: Introducing the Saskatoon Forest Chaplaincy

Welcome Spring … Rise and Shine!

Join the Campaign to Protect Canada’s Natural Health Products

The Endocannabinoid System and Women’s Health

Pseudo Grains: Exotic and Ancient

Honouring Our Circle

Have Fun BEing YOU :-)


Pseudo Grains: Exotic and Ancient
by Hélène Tremblay-Boyko
Hélène Tremblay-Boyko

In this part of the world, when we say grain, most of us think of the main commodity cereal crops grown on Saskatchewan farms: wheat, oats, barley. In recent years, however, these cereals have known a bit of a downturn in popularity, with the exception of oats, perhaps. The high carbohydrate/gluten content, the excessive use of pesticides, and commodification of these cereals have moved many to avoid them. I make a small exception for oats, a gluten-free alternative with high fibre content, which has known a recent boost in consumption.

There are alternatives to these cereal grains grown right here in Saskatchewan, though not on such a large scale. These pseudocereals are actually NOT cereals! Wheat, oats, barley, and corn, as well as all pasture and lawn grasses that we recognize, are part of one of the largest plant families commonly known as the Grass family, or Gramineae. Pseudocereals belong to totally different botanical families and boast exceptional nutritional content. “Because of their resemblance to grains, pseudo grains are considered honourary whole grains by the Whole Grains Council.”1 All pseudocereals are gluten-free, high in fibre and protein, and provide other essential minerals. “These underutilized pseudocereals are a good source of essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, phenolic compounds, vitamins, flavonoids, and minerals.”2 Although there are others, such as wild rice, I would like to focus on three that are grown on Saskatchewan farms: amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.

I use the term exotic for the reasons stated above and because amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa are still grown in greater quantities in other countries, and so, not as ubiquitous in our North American diet as are wheat, oats, and barley. Here in Canada, the agricultural community calls them “specialty crops.” Additionally, because of their relatively recent appearance on our grocery shelves, many still do not know how to prepare them, and might resist trying. I hope to change this in some small way.

Because these pseudo grains have been grown for millennia by indigenous peoples around the world, we might consider them “ancient grains.” In some cases, their cultivation waned following colonization, to the detriment of the communities who depended on them, both for their health and livelihoods. The return of amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa to the crop lands of South America and Asia is a great boon for all of us the world over. These ancient grains are also more environmentally sustainable. During the 20th century, and into the 21st, the major commodified cereal grains have been selectively bred to produce more seed and less root and plant density. This also reduces the return of organic matter to the soil, an essential component of fertility. Ancient grains have, so far, not been modified and their deep root systems and taller plant structures “reintroduce more organic matter into the soil, leading to improved soil health and ability to sequester carbon.”3 These deep root systems also make them drought tolerant.

Amaranth is the pseudo grain that I am least acquainted with. It is part of the Amaranthaceae family, a family of flowering plants, herbs, shrubs, and small trees that contain edible seeds. It grows to be a beautiful, two-foot-tall plant with vibrant burgundy flowers, attractive to both humans and pollinators. Indeed, there are several species of amaranth available as flowers for landscaping. Love Lies Bleeding, or Amaranthus Caudatus, is a prime example. Amaranthus Cruentus has been grown as an edible seed in North and Central America since about 4,000 B.C. The leaves are a delicious, nutty-flavoured alternative to kale or spinach, and the seeds make a great side dish, cereal, or popped as a snack, then sprinkled on soup or salad, or added to baking. Amaranth contains “phytochemicals and is high in magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. One quarter cup of uncooked amaranth contains 200 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fibre, and 7 grams of protein.”4 A complete protein, amaranth is a good source of the amino acid lysine, rare in plant protein, but essential to human health.

Quinoa is my favourite! It is a super fast food, just 15 minutes to cook! Technically a member of the Goosefoot plant family, it grows tall spears of beautiful magenta plumes yielding seeds that range in colour from black to purple, to brilliant red or yellow. According to the Whole Grains Council, quinoa is a complete protein, offering all nine essential amino acids, and boasts an unusually high protein to carbohydrate ratio. In addition, it is high in potassium and antioxidants and a good source of protein, fibre, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, vitamins B1 and B6, phosphorus, and folic acid. A few years ago, we tried to grow quinoa with mixed results. Due to its close connection to lamb’s quarters, a locally indigenous plant, we had difficulty harvesting the seed we were growing. The good news, however, is that lamb’s quarters as well as pigweed, which grow in great profusion in my garden, make great early spring greens for our table.

Buckwheat, or Kasha (roasted buckwheat groats), is my husband Al’s favourite go to supper side dish. When we need a change from wild rice or quinoa, he cooks up the delicious, nutty-flavoured buckwheat. My first experience with buckwheat, however, was in holubtsi, or sour cabbage rolls. It is featured in the 12 dishes for Ukrainian Christmas Eve. Although buckwheat is not as high in protein as either quinoa or amaranth, it still packs a punch, and like them, is gluten free. It is rich in the amino acid lysine and a good source of carbohydrates. Rich in polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, buckwheat is higher than other cereal grains in zinc, copper, and manganese. Whatever your choice of pseudocereals, you won’t go far wrong in deciding to try them.


Cooked amaranth

To prepare amaranth as a side dish, cook one cup of amaranth with 1½ cups of water for about 20 minutes. Top it with grilled veggies and your favourite dressing as a great alternative to a grain bowl. (Sharon Palmer, The Plant Powered Dietitian) For porridge, cook 1 cup of amaranth in 2½ cups milk, almond milk or coconut milk and 1 tbsp honey, or maple syrup. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes. Stir frequently. Add your choice of spices, fruit, and/or nuts.

Popped Amaranth


Ingredients: 1/2 cup amaranth seeds

Instructions: Preheat a deep pot over medium-high heat.

Spread about 1 tbsp of seeds as evenly as possible on the bottom of the hot pot.

Wait for the seeds to pop. This should be quite immediate. If they don’t pop right away, the pot wasn’t hot enough and the seeds won’t pop and just burn. Discard that batch and start over.

Once the popping starts, shake the pot to ensure all seeds pop and the popped seeds don’t burn. Once the puffing ceases, remove the popped amaranth and put into a sieve to shake out the un-puffed seeds.

Then add the popped amaranth to a bowl and repeat the same process until all amaranth is popped. For every tbsp of raw amaranth, you’ll get about 2 tbsps popped amaranth.

Cooked quinoa

Bring 1½ cups water to boil, add 1 cup of quinoa and salt to taste. Return to boil, then simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes. I like to add 1/4 cup of slivered almonds and 1/4 cup currants, and season with one or another of these spices (cinnamon, curry, or berbere* spice). After 15 minutes, turn off heat, and cover for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve.

*I like to mix my own berbere spice: 8 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp salt, 5 tsp paprika, 1 tsp ground coriander, 3/8 tsp ground cardamom, 3/8 tsp ground fenugreek, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, 1/8 tsp ground cloves. It is a lovely, fragrant spice mix that I use on vegetables, fish, and poultry as well.

Quinoa salad5

Cook quinoa as above (without added seasoning, almonds, and currants). Cool, then add one of the following mixes:

Mediterranean: 1 cup chopped cucumber, 1/2 cup sliced black or Kalamata olives, 1/2 cup sliced red onion, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp chopped parsley, 2 tsp oregano.

Curried: 1/2 cup shredded carrot, 1 chopped red pepper, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 2 green onions, 1 tbsp curry powder, 1 tbsp lemon juice.

Southwest: 1 cup cooked black beans, 1 cup kernel corn, 1 chopped red pepper, 2 tbsp lime juice, 2 tbsp chopped cilantro, 2 tsp chili powder.

Savoury Kasha

– Margaret H. Dickenson6

1 ½ tbsp crushed beef bouillon cubes
2 cups boiling water
2 tbsp butter
½ tsp finely chopped garlic
pinch of black pepper
salt to taste

Dissolve bouillon cubes in boiling water. Add butter, garlic, and pepper, stir and set aside.
Heat a large nonstick or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add kasha and stir constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until kernels are hot and slightly further roasted. Reduce heat to low immediately. Carefully add bouillon mixture. Cover and simmer over low heat until kernels are tender, and liquid is basically absorbed (about 8-9 minutes). Remove lid and set heat at medium; turn kasha in skillet gently with a fork, “cooking off” excess liquid, drying kasha slightly (about 3 minutes).

Immediately transfer cooked kasha to 2 large plates. Turn hot kasha gently with a fork to stop cooking and allow excess moisture to escape. Serve or keep until later for other recipes.

Smoked Salmon Kasha Martinis

– Margaret H. Dickenson

5 oz smoked salmon, sliced
1 cup Savoury Kasha (above)
1 ½ tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp small capers, optional

Lemon Mustard Sour Cream Sauce:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 1/3 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp grated lemon zest

Stir together ingredients for Lemon Mustard Sauce and set sauce aside.

Cut slices of smoked salmon into bite size pieces; divide into 4 portions.

Place 1 tbsp of Savory Kasha (room temperature or chilled) in bottom of each of 4 martini glasses. Carefully spread 1 tsp of Lemon Mustard Sour Cream Sauce over surface of kasha and cover with about 1/3 of each portion of smoked salmon to each glass.

To each glass, add 2 more tbsp of Savory Kasha, pressing down gently; add another 2 tsp Lemon Mustard Sour Cream Sauce, spreading evenly over kasha and crowning each “kasha stack” with remaining smoked salmon. Garnish with lemon zest. Chill before serving.


  1. Sharon Palmer MSFS, RDN, The Plant Powered Dietitian, WHAT ARE PSEUDOGRAINS? sharonpalmer.com/what-are-pseudograins
  2. Vasundhara Rao & Amrita Poonia, Protein characteristics, amino acid profile, health benefits and methods of extraction and isolation of proteins from some pseudocereals—a review, Food Production, Processing and Nutrition volume 5, Article number: 37 (2023) https://fppn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s43014-023-00154-z
  3. Christina Manian, RDN, What Exactly Are “Ancient Grains” and Why Are They So Good for You? www.realsimple.com/what-are-ancient-grains-7377600
  4. Betty Gold, We Know Whole Grains Are Good for You, but These 11 Are the Healthiest www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/healthy-meals/healthiest-grains
  5. Taylor Stinson, The Girl on Bloor https://thegirlonbloor.com/easy-quinoa-salad-recipes
  6. Dickenson, Margaret H, From the Ambassador’s Table: Blueprints for Creative Entertaining, Times Editions, 1996
  7. A special thank you to the following seed growers for photos:
    Anna and Ken Byrka at Revival Seeds: www.revivalseeds.ca
    Angus Kyle at Springfield Mills Inc: www.springfieldmillsinc.com
    and Rachelle Ternier at Prairie Garden Seeds: https://prairiegardenseeds.ca

Hélène Tremblay-Boyko is a local farmer and gardener, passionate about food issues. She and her husband, Al Boyko, operated a certified organic mixed farm for 40 years. They raised grass-fed, certified organic beef cattle, as well as a variety of certified organic cereals and oil seed crops near Canora, SK. They are now retired. Their land and cattle herd have been leased by Stacey Wiebe and Dale Maier of White Owl Farm. For more information, see The Farmers’ Table display ad on page 9 of the May/June WHOLifE Journal.


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