Soak your Grains, Soak Yourself

Dec 14, 2023 | Mindful Kitchen Practices, Watch

How do you prepare your grains? What the preparation process of grains can teach you?

We understand nowadays the negative effects on our health of refined cereals like bread made with refined (bleached flour) wheat, white rice or polished pearl barley. These effects come mainly from the fact that the nutrient-rich bran and germ of the cereals have been removed, stripping the grain of many of its valuable vitamins and minerals and leaving only the endosperm. Due to this understanding, we know now that is best to consume wholegrain foods (which contain the three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm) just as traditional societies did. Rye, millet, oat, and corn are also cereals. 

However, wholegrain foods are not limited to cereals, they also stand for pulses and nuts, which provide the body with a myriad of macronutrients and micronutrients: proteins, minerals, vitamins, fats, carbohydrates, and phytonutrients. Pulses are edible seeds from a legume plant like peas (green peas, yellow peas), beans (kidney, black, navy, butter, pinto, garbanzo, mung, peanuts) and lentils (yellow, black, green, brown). Nuts are one-seeded dry fruit with a hard shell like brazil nuts, cashew nuts, coconut, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, pine, walnut, almonds, pistachio, etc. 

Apart from the beneficial components, the grains also have anti-nutrients, which are components that can block the absorption of nutrients in the body. Some of the common anti-nutrients in the grains are lectins, oxalates, phytates, saponins, tannins. 

The presence of anti-nutrients might be the reason why traditional societies never used these foods in large quantities as we eat today. Traditional cuisines spend a lot of time soaking or fermenting the grains before consuming them. And that explains the European traditions of eating porridge, fermented bread (sourdough) with natural starters (not yeast), mexican tortillas with fermented cornmeal, indian rice fermented pancakes or fermented preparations like tempeh or miso from soy beans. 

Science now is demonstrating why traditional societies cooked grains in this way. The soaking process neutralizes part of the phytic acid (which prevents the absorption of some minerals) and the enzyme inhibitors, increasing the availability of the nutrients present in the grains.

In practical terms

So what does this information mean in practice? If you eat porridge for breakfast, soak the oats overnight at room temperature and the next day add more water and cook slowly until getting a porridge consistency. 

For the pulses and cereals, also prepare in advance the night before and soak them in water (two or three times the amount of pulses or cereals). Soak for at least twelve hours changing the water at least once. Then rinse, discard the water completely, add fresh water (again between two or three times the amount of pulses), and cook for many hours until they are completely soft. 

What do I mean for many hours? Well, there is no exact recipe because the time depends on where you live, due to the atmospheric pressure, humidity, and many other parameters. However…

While doing a pilgrimage in India, I met a man from Israel, and we ended up talking about cooking and food (this happens often to me!). I don’t remember now what exactly we were talking but at some point, he said: “to make the hummus you have to cook the chickpeas until you pick one in between your index finger and your thumb, you slightly press it and it becomes like cream without any strong effort in between your fingers”. So, that is my recipe for cooking any kind of pulses!

Psychologic effects of “soaking and fermentation” during menopause

Soaking and fermentation allow us to digest the grains and absorb their nutrients because it remove the anti-nutrients from them. It does “purify them” in a way. As simple as that. During menopause, some of us experience a flow of emotions, feelings, and thoughts that arise. Some of them are familiar, maybe traumas we have since childhood, losses, and unhealed grief during the previous decades of our lives. Maybe some come from the fact that we question if we want to continue living the years ahead in the same way as a consequence of reflecting on “what do I really need?”, “what do I want to do with my precious life?”. It can also be the case that we feel that something is missing or we realise that we need to pay more attention or connect deeper with ourselves and with life.

These psychological states can be overwhelming and we might tend to overreact to what we are experiencing. Well, this is part of the gifts of Menopause: taking us into this deep inquiry to prepare ourselves to live a more authentic life in the years ahead. But during this time of preparation, there is darkness. And the understanding of the purpose of this phase does not come overnight. We need to soak everything that is arising (thoughts, emotions, feelings, traumas), soak to heal and to transcend, soak until we can completely digest and absorb what is coming up, soak to purify ourselves and soak ourselves until we understand. Do not rush the process, trust the soaking and fermentation processes. And while all this unclarity is under the water, the best thing you can do is to take moments of self-love and self-care, soak yourself in the bath with music, candles, and essences. This might sound poetic or unrealistic. It is not!

Teachings for the spirit: Impermanence

One of the essential teachings in Buddhist psychology is the concept of “Impermanence”. 

Impermanence means that everything changes and nothing remains the same in any consecutive moment. And although things change every moment, they still cannot be accurately described as the same or as different from what they were a moment ago. It is a tool that helps us in our transformation, healing, and emancipation. The insight of impermanence helps us to go beyond all concepts. Lion’s Roar

One traditional way to practice and understand impermanence is by meditating on death: Contemplation of the ever-present potential for death at any moment and the eventual breakdown of the body during the death process. These practices lead us to live in our present moment fully. 

While this is a traditional practice with profound teachings, I found inspiration in the monastic zen life for a practice in the kitchen. In the Japanese monasteries, the nuns in charge of the kitchen, every night leave the rice in water for the following day. The practice calls to put your attention on the task of soaking the rice the night before without the expectations in mind of what one is going to eat the following day. We may wake up the next day, then we cook the rice and eat. But we may not wake up in which case we still enjoy the moment of soaking the rice. This is my practice of impermanence in the kitchen!

In the video, I share some insights and a moment when I’m soaking my grains.

Remember, before soaking your grains or yourself, take two or three deep breaths, and ground yourself. Then trust the soaking process and the wisdom that menopause will bring to you.