Going with the Grain: A Complete Guide to Grains
Have you noticed all of the so-called “new” grains popping up around the blog world, on Pinterest and in various cookbooks? It’s time to familiarize yourself with all of your options. Next time you’re standing in front of a giant wall of bulk bins, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking at how and how to cook it. I’m sharing with you everything you could ever want to know about different varieties of whole grains.
A tiny grain with a mild peppery flavor that can be eaten as a sweet or savory dish and can even be popped like popcorn. Like quinoa, it contains amino acid lysine, making it a complete protein. To cook: Bring 2 cups liquid to a boil, add 1 cup dried amaranth, cover, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. The yield will be about 2.5 cups. Serving ideas: Cooked cereal, like oatmeal or as a side dish tossed with herbs and olive oil. You can even use it to make pancakes. I want to try these Amaranth Lentil Patties.
Barley comes in both hulled and pearl(ed) varieties. Hulled barley, also called barley groats, has had only the outermost hull removed and is higher in fiber than pearl barley. It takes longer to cook than pearl barley, but that time can be shortened by soaking for a few hours before cooking. Barley is chewy, with a bit of a snap, and quite starchy. Pearl barley is what you will more commonly find at the grocery store. It takes less time to prepare (about 35 to 45 minutes) but is slightly less nutritious due to both its outer layer and its bran removed. To cook: Cook either type of barley in lots of water, the way you would pasta. One cup will yield about 3 cups cooked. Serving ideas: Can be served in soups and salads or as a side dish with veggies and seasoning. Doesn’t this Southwest Chicken Barley Soup look to die for?!?!?!
In brown rice the hull is removed but the bran and germ remain, making it more nutritious than white rice. It comes in short-, medium, and long-grain varieties, with the long needing a little more liquid for cooking. To cook: Bring 2.5 cups liquid to boil, and 1 cup rice, cover, and simmer about 45 minutes until tender. Alternatively, cook as you would pasta in lots of water, and drain in a sieve (cooking time will be about 25 minutes). The yield will be about 3 cups. Serving ideas: Toss with veggies and sesame oil for a stir fry, use in soup or in salad. Brown Rice Sushi Bowl…. what a cool idea!
Buckwheat is actually not wheat at all and is actually a gluten-free fruit seed related to rhubarb. It contains rutin, which strengthens capillary walls and is being studied for its ability to lower blood pressure. To cook: Bring 2 cups liquid to a boil, add 1 cup buckwheat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes until tender. Alternatively, cook as you would pasta and drain in a sieve. The yield will be about 4 cups. Buckwheat has a deep nutty flavor and works well with hearty vegetables like mushrooms or sweet ones like caramelized onions and carrots. Serving ideas: Try it in a salad of roasted chicken and green beans or stir fried with eggs and bacon. Want, want, want… this Blueberry Buckwheat Granola!!!!
Bulgur is one of the most convenient grains, since it requires practically no cooking. To cook: A simple soak for 30 to 45 minutes in enough boiling water to cover will leave these boiled, dried, and cracked wheat kernels ready to eat. Once they’ve soaked, drain them well. One cup will yield about 3 cups cooked. Serving ideas: Make a tabbouleh (Middle Eastern salad with mint and parsley), the texture is similar to ground beef and can be used to make sloppy joes, meatloaf, meatballs and chili. I’m a huge fan of stuffed peppers, but I’ve never tried them with bulger. Need to make these Spicy Italian Sausage Stuffed Peppers very soon!
Farro is a wheat and can be found whole (bran and germ attached), semi-pearled (bran scored but not completely removed), and pearled (bran totally removed). To cook: Cook Farro in lots of water, as you would pasta. Semi-pearled and pearled cook in about 25 minutes; whole farro can take 45 minutes. Like other grains, farro can be soaked to reduce cooking time. One cup will yield about 3 cups cooked. Serving ideas: Farro is wonderfully nutty with a nice snap (not crunch) and can be dressed with pasta sauces, used in place of rice and as a base for salads. As far as I’m concerned, Kate can do no wrong and this Roasted Cauliflower and Farro Salad with Feta and Avocado is no exception.
Freekeh is a wheat that’s been toasted to bring out some nuttiness and give it a little crunch. To cook: Bring 2.5 cups liquid to a boil, add 1 cup freekeh, cover, and simmer 40 minutes for whole, 20 to 25 minutes for cracked. The yield will be about 3 cups. Serving ideas: Try tossing it while still hot with a citrusy dressing, then adding toasted pine nuts and olives. It also makes a tasty salad with roasted beets and apples or pears. For a side dish, toss with olive oil, a favorite herb, grated lemon zest, and lemon juice. Roasted grapes and chickpeas…. yum! This Freekeh Salad with Roasted Grapes and Chickpeas sounds fab!
Millet is a tiny gluten-free grain that is high in magnesium, a mineral that aids in nerve and muscle function. Millet has a flavor reminiscent of corn with a slight grassy taste (like quinoa). It’s easy to prepare, requires no presoaking, and cooks in about 30 minutes total. You can toast it in a dry skillet, tossing frequently for about 4 minutes, which will deepen its nutty flavor, or just cook it as is. To cook: Bring 2.5 cups liquid to a boil, add 1 cup millet, cover, simmer for 18 minutes, and let stand for 10 minutes. The yield will be about 4 cups. If you prepare it this way without stirring, you’ll get separate fluffy grains. Cook it in more liquid, stirring frequently, and you’ll get a creamy, porridge-like dish. Serving ideas: Millet can be used in stuffing, folded into cornbread mixture or muffin mix, or served in place of mashed potatoes. These Sweet Millet Rice Bites look like such a great treat! Why have I never used millet before?
Quinoa is valued for its high protein content. Quinoa comes in white, red and black varieties. The red and black are fuller in flavor, but all have an earthy, somewhat herbal taste. Many recipe will tell you to rinse the saponin covering that quinoa naturally has, but it isn’t necessary because packaged quinoa already has this coating removed. To cook: Bring 2 cups liquid to a boil, add 1 cup quinoa, cover, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. The yield will be about 3 cups. Serving ideas: For an easy salad, toss sauteed cherry tomatoes, olive oil, basil leaves, and Parmesan cheese. Also, try these super yummy quinoa muffins that I posted yesterday. I baked with quinoa for the first time this past weekend and made the most scrumptious Chocolate Chip Quinoa Oatmeal Muffins.
Rye berries have a slightly tangy taste and can be used in a variety of ways. Keep in mind that although they aren’t wheat, they’re not gluten-free. Although, they’ve had their outer hull removed, they require a longer cooking time than some other berries. To cook: Soak overnight, drain, then cook in lots of boiling water for about one hour until tender but still chewy. One cup of dried rye berries will yield about 3 cups cooked. Serving ideas: Try serving them as a hot breakfast cereal tossed with toasted almonds and dried fruit, or folded into a yeast or quick-bread batter. Roast butternut squash and toss with cooked rye berries, toasted walnuts, and thinly sliced red onion. Two of my favorites in this Seared Scallops and Rye Berry Chickpea Salad.
Like rye berries, rye flakes are tangy in flavor. But in texture they’re more like oats. To cook: Bring 3 cups liquid to a boil, add 1 cup rye flakes, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until tender. Let stand covered for 2 minutes. Serving ideas: To serve rye flakes on their own, like oatmeal, or combine them with rolled oats for an interesting take on oatmeal. Rye flakes can also be used to make granola, folded into cookie dough, or added to your favorite bread or muffin recipe. I really want to give rye flakes a try and these Quinoa Cookies with Rye Flakes and Flaxseed might just be the place to start!
Spelt is mildly sweet and slightly buttery. Its texture is similar to barley, but not as starchy. When cooked, the grains stay fluffy and separate. An overnight soak will save you about 20 minutes off cooking time, but its not essential. To cook: Cook as you would pasta, in lots of water, for 45 minutes to an hour, drain. One cup of uncooked grains will yield about 3 cups cooked. Serving ideas: Spelt can be eaten hot as cereal or tossed with pesto like pasta, or cold in a salad dressed with oil and vinegar and dried or fresh fruit. This Caprese Grain Salad with Spelt sounds right up my alley!
Teff grains are tiny (think poppy seed size) and range in color from ivory to reddish brown. Teff is gluten-free and high in both calcium and vitamin C. The cooked texture is moist, almost melt-in-your-mouth, while the flavor is both sweet and bitter, like chocolate. The ivory variety is milder in flavor than the brown. To cook: Bring 3 cups liquid to a boil, add 1 cup teff, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. The yield will be about 2.5 cups. Serving ideas: Have it for breakfast (sweetened with maple syrup), stir it into stew, or make it into pilaf. If you’ve got some leftover, fold it into pancake batter. I’m really anxious to try a teff porridge, like this one with apples, pecans and dates.
Wheat berries have a nutty and sweet flavor and their texture is crisp and chewy. They aren’t quite as hard as some other berries and don’t necessarily need a soak to shorten their cooking time (an overnight soak, though will cut the time by about 15 minutes). To cook: Bring 3 cups liquid to a boil, add 1 cup wheat berries, cover, and simmer about 45 minutes to an hour. The yield will be about 2.5 cups. Serving ideas: Stir cooked wheat berries into soups and stews, or toss them while still hot in a lemony dressing along with grilled vegetables for a salad. I love caramelized onions so much and this meal of Wheat Berries with Caramelized Onions and Pecans looks just gorgeous!
Wild rice is actually a grass. It contains the bran, endosperm, and germ and takes longer to cook than white rice. It remains chewy after cooking, with a distinct nutty flavor. To cook: Cook it as you would pasta, in lots of boiling water, for 45 minutes to an hour, then drain. One cup will yield about 3.5 cups. Serving ideas: Pair wild rice with cooked brown rice and use as a stuffing or side with sauteed mushrooms, stir it into a rich chicken broth for a soup, or use it in salad with toasted pecans and dried apricots. Ever since coming across Kristen’s Kale and Wild Rice Bowls with Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette; I can’t stop thinking about recreating them!
A Few General Tips:
- For many of these grains, you’ll have to look in health-food stores or grocery stores like Central Market, Sprouts and Whole Foods. If your grocery store has bulk bins, be sure to check those out, as they’ll cost less. For longer shelf life, store whatever you don’t use in the fridge or freezer. I buy many hard to find grains from Swanson Health Products. They have great prices and often offer free shipping.
- Choose a large, heavy-bottomed pot to avoid scorching and starchy runover.
- The cooking time for grains starts when the liquid they’re cooked in returns to a boil. Keep in mind that you don’t know how old the grains are, so don’t panic if they need more liquid and take longer to cook than the recipe states.
- Don’t forget the salt when cooking grains- it brings out their flavor! Grains can also be cooked in broth or other liquids to heighten their flavor.
- If you’re making a salad, dress the grains while they’re still warm; they’ll absorb the dressing better.
- Properly cooked grains will be chewy, not crunchy or pasty.
- Once grains are cooked, unless you’re looking for a creamy texture, resist the urge to stir and simply fluff with a fork.
Something to think about…..
What grain above have you never cooked with, but plan on trying soon?
What’s your favorite grain to cook with?
What grain did I miss, that you love?