We all know that we should include more whole grains in our diets. Whole grains provide us with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. They are rich in carbohydrates, which give our bodies fuel and energy to keep going. Refined grains only contain a part of the grain, but whole grains are intact. They include the bran, germ and endosperm, and they provide us with a lot more nutrition. Whole grains also contain more fiber, which improves digestive health and helps you feel fuller for better weight maintenance.
The more confusing part might be how to cook all the different grains properly. It seems like each one requires a different amount of water per cup of grain and a different cooking time. It can be hard to keep it all straight. Well, fear not because this guide will tell you how to cook over a dozen different grains and give you recipe suggestions for how to add them to your meals. You will be cooking perfect whole grains in no time!
1. General Cooking Tips for Grains
While different grains may have different cooking times and require different amounts of water, there are a few general tips you can apply to most grains. Be sure to rinse the gains thoroughly before adding them to a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring the water to a boil first before adding the grains. After you add them, return the water to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for the appropriate time. When all the water is absorbed, fluff the grains with a fork, cover the pan, remove from the heat and let them sit for another 10 minutes before serving. If you are cooking the grains for a salad, you may want to reduce the cooking time a bit so they have a chewier texture. As an alternative to water, you can also cook grains in vegetable broth for added flavor.
Amaranth is a tiny poppy seed-sized grain that has a grassy flavor and is gluten-free. It becomes sticky when cooked. It is a good substitute for rice and tastes great mixed with veggies. Eat amaranth as a cereal or add it to soups and stews. You can even pop it! Just toast the seeds in a hot, dry skillet, shaking it until they pop. To cook: use 1 cup amaranth to 3 cups water; simmer 25-30 minutes.
3. Barley, Hulled and Pearl
Barley comes in hulled or pearl. Hulled barley retains more nutrients but cooks more slowly due to its tough hull. Pearled barley has the bran removed and so it cooks faster. Barley is a chewy but tender grain that is packed with fiber. It works wonderfully in soups and stews. To cook: use 1 cup of barley to 3 ½ cups water. Simmer 45-60 minutes. Try barley in this Barley-Lentil Soup with Potatoes, these Mushroom Barley Grillers and this Barley Risotto with Fava Beans, Corn and Mushrooms.
Even though it has “wheat” in the name, buckwheat does not contain any wheat and is gluten-free. Also called groats and kasha, buckwheat has a very toasty flavor. It can be eaten as a porridge or mix it with veggies like caramelized onions and mushrooms, To cook: use 1 cup buckwheat to 2 cups water; simmer 20 minutes. Try buckwheat in these amazing Cajun Burgers.
Bulgur is technically cracked wheat that has been parboiled, which means it is a quick-cooking grain. It is most commonly seen in tabbouleh. To cook: Cover 1 cup bulgur with 1 ½ cups boiling water. Let stand, covered, about 20-30 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the grain is light and fluffy. Try Colorful Bulgur with Papaya and Pomegranate or Bulgur with Curcuma, Veggies, Nuts and Cranberries.
Couscous is wheat berries that are quick-cooking. They are perfect to use in place of rice and popular in Middle Eastern cooking. To cook: use 1 cup couscous to 1 ½ cups water; simmer 5 minutes. Try couscous in this Curried Couscous and Vegetable Salad.
Farro is a chewy grain with a nutty flavor. It works well in soups, stews and other hearty dishes. To cook: use 1 cup of faro to 3 cups water; simmer 25-30 minutes. Farro makes a perfect bed for this Kale and Mushroom Gratin.
Millet is a tiny seed that has been hulled. It has a very mild, nutty flavor. It is gluten-free and tastes best when toasted in a dry skillet before cooking. To cook: use 1 cup millet to 2 ½ cups water; simmer 20-25 minutes. Try millet in this Mediterranean Spartan Strength Millet dish and this porridge with Millet, Dried Figs, Cinnamon and Orange.
9. Rolled Oats
Rolled oats can be eaten as a cereal or added to veggie burgers, stews, soups, quick breads and cookies. Oats are technically gluten-free, but since they may be contaminated with gluten, be sure to buy oats that are labeled as gluten-free. To cook: use 1 cup oats to 3 cups water; simmer 10-15 minutes. Enjoy oats in these Maple Oatmeal Cookies, this Breakfast Parfait with Oats and Blueberry Pudding and this Pumpkin-Coconut-Apple-Oatmeal Breakfast “Crumble.”
Quinoa is an ancient grain from South America. It is a complete protein and gluten-free. Quinoa needs to be rinsed before cooking to remove any residue of sapon in its protective coating; otherwise, the quinoa may taste bitter. Quinoa has a light, nutty flavor. To cook: use 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water; simmer 20 minutes. A few of the many ways to enjoy quinoa include Baked Quinoa Burger Patties with Lemon-Tahini Sauce, Quinoa and Beet Salad with Hazelnuts and Seasonal Quinoa Pilaf with Ramps, Artichokes and Peas.
Rice is probably the most popular grain due to its versatility. Brown rice has part of the hull still intact with only the inedible outer husk removed. It comes in short, medium, and long-grain as well as jasmine and basmati. For more exotic dishes, use red rice or forbidden black rice. To cook: use 1 cup rice to 2 cups water; simmer 18 minutes for white rice, 40-50 minutes for brown rice. Try these vegan Greek Stuffed Peppers, Forbidden Black Rice with Ginger and Coconut, and this Brown Rice Salad with Dill.
Spelt is a wheat-based cereal grain which is high in protein. It has a chewy texture and a mild, nutty flavor. People find it easier to digest than wheat so it is a good alternative for people who need to avoid wheat. It does, however, contain gluten so it is not appropriate for people who need to eat gluten-free. Most people think of spelt flour for baking but the grains are delicious. Try spelt as your morning cereal or in place of rice in stir-fries. Add it to your soups and stews to make them heartier and give them a nutty flavor. To cook: use 1 cup spelt and 2 cups water; simmer 60 minutes.
Teff is the world’s tiniest grain; it’s about one-hundredth the size of a wheat berry. Teff is nutrient-packed as it is high in calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and all the B-vitamins (except B12). Teff is also high in protein. It is great in stews, porridge, stuffing and pilafs. To cook: use 1 cup teff and 2 ½ cups water; simmer for 25 minutes.
14. Wild Rice
Did you know that wild rice is not really rice at all? It is an aquatic seed that is intact – it has the bran, endosperm and germ – and is native to North America. It is high in B vitamins and is hearty enough to use in most dishes. To cook: use 1 cup wild rice to 3 ½ cups water; simmer 45-60 minutes. Try this Cauliflower Wild Rice Pilaf or this Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Pecans.
15. Wheat Berries
Wheat berries are the whole grain version of whole wheat flour. They are sometimes labeled as “hard red winter wheat.” Wheat berries are hearty and work well in soups, stews and salads. To cook: use 1 cup wheat berries to 3 cups water; simmer 1 ½ -2 hours. Try wheat berries in this Stuffed Acorn Squash with Wheat Berries, Pine Nuts and Sage.
Keep this handy guide in your kitchen where you can refer to it often. The next time you are making dinner and are reaching for the rice, try a different whole grain instead. Not only will your dishes be more interesting, but you will get plenty of practice cooking a wide variety of whole grains. Your body and your taste buds will thank you for it.
Lead image source: Barley Risotto with Fava Beans, Corn and Mushrooms