Mother Earth Living

The Whole Grains Guide

Forget white bread! A few simple techniques will have you preparing nutritious, tasty whole grains like a pro in no time.
By Tabitha Alterman
November/December 2011
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Whole grains are a part of every culinary culture on the planet, but most of us could stand to incorporate more of these delicious, nutritious morsels into our daily repertoire. Unlike the refined white flour in so many processed foods, whole grains contain fiber-rich bran, and vitamin- and mineral-rich germ. Along with being ridiculously good for you, these qualities lend a rich, nutty flavor and hearty texture that make whole grain dishes highly filling and satisfying, yet low in calories.

5 Whole Grain Recipes:

• African Millet Salad with Corn & Peppers
Pecan and Wild Rice-Stuffed Squash
• Filet Mignon and Barley Stew with Spinach
• Buttermilk Wheat Germ Pancakes with Yogurt and Berry Sauce
• Chocolate Chunk Buckwheat Cookies 

Available in a wide range of sizes, tastes and textures, versatile and inexpensive whole grains can be turned into fluffy pilaf or creamy porridge as easily as they can be hidden in baked dishes, unbeknownst to finicky eaters. If you’re new to whole-grain cooking, try several recipes to see what you like best. You might find a family favorite in chewy barley brownies or a delicious salad made with brilliantly golden millet and fresh vegetables.

Cooking Methods for Whole Grains

Did someone say versatile? Not only do grains offer a wide range of textures, but you can achieve even more taste varieties using different cooking methods.

Simmer. Most of the time, you’ll be cooking grains via the absorption method—the way you cook rice. Put liquid and grains in a pot (follow proportions from "10 Tasty Grains to Try" section below) over high heat until liquid boils, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until soft but chewy. Large whole grains such as rye berries and oat groats will cook up fluffy and somewhat firm (think rice pilaf). For a creamy consistency (such as porridge and  polenta), add more liquid or allow grains to set before serving.

Boil. Many whole grains can be cooked just like pasta. Drop them into boiling water until soft, drain and serve. This is useful if you’re not familiar with cooking a particular grain, because you can test for doneness and not worry that you didn’t include enough liquid. (But it also means tossing some potentially nutritious stock down the drain.) Some whole grains, most popularly barley, can also be boiled in soups and stews.

Bake. Whole-grain flours, available at most natural foods stores, are wonderful for making cookies, cakes, pies, muffins and more sneakily nutritious treats. If you’re a novice whole grain baker, be sure to follow recipes. The amount of rise you’ll get depends on several factors, including the amount of gluten in the grain. (See “Whole-Grain Hints” below.)

Steam. Soaked grains that require a short cooking time are good candidates for steaming, whether in a bamboo steamer, steamer pan or rice cooker. And even when cooked via the absorption method, most grains benefit from a final steam of 5 to 10 minutes—just remove the pan from heat and cover.

Pressurize. Pressure cookers save you a bundle of time and are perfect for cooking whole grains, but the equipment demands some familiarity. For more on pressure cooking, see naturalhomeandgarden.com/pressure-cooking.

Pop. Some grains—amaranth, quinoa and teff, for example—can be popped in a hot, dry pan for a quick, healthy snack. Top popped grains with salt, pepper or your favorite herbs, or stir them into honey or syrup for a more decadent treat.

Soak. Soaked grains are softer and cook up in less time. If you want large, chewy grains to lighten up a bit, you can soak them from 30 minutes to overnight before cooking. For smaller grains, soaking will encourage a porridge-like consistency. If you presoak your grains, reduce cooking time by about 10 minutes and cooking liquid by about 1/4 cup per cup of grain.

Toast. To help smaller grains like buckwheat, millet and quinoa retain their individual nature, you can toast them to harden up the outer layer (see instructions on TKTK), then use a little less liquid during cooking by any of the other methods listed here. Be sure to add toasted grains to already-hot liquids to prevent them from becoming mushy.

10 Tasty Whole Grains to Try

The cooking times listed below are indicated for the absorption method, which will work with all of these grains. Experiment to see how you like them best—whether as hearty energy-boosting breakfast cereals, popped snacks, polenta-like side dishes, cold salads, or in baked goods and casseroles.

Amaranth
Liquid to Grain ratio: 2 1/2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 25 minutes; no precooking required
Serving Suggestions: Its nutty flavor is ideal for sweet preparations. Try cooking it with apple juice and serving with honey and nuts as a cereal, or use amaranth flour in sweet treats.

Barley
Liquid to Grain ratio: 2 1/2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 1 hour; presoak 30 minutes to overnight for better texture
Serving Suggestions: Its springy texture is great for polenta, and its absorbent quality makes it flavorful in soups and stews.

Buckwheat
Liquid to Grain ratio: 1 1/2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 15 minutes; pretoast
Serving Suggestions: Whole, it makes a nutty-tasting cereal. Its flour makes wonderfully sticky noodles.

Bulgur
Liquid to Grain ratio: 1 1/2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 10 minutes steamed; no precooking required; steam or sauté
Serving Suggestions: Use bulgur in place of rice for rich, nutty flavor. Middle Eastern tabbouleh salad is its most popular preparation.

Farro
Liquid to Grain ratio: 2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 1 hour; presoak 30 minutes to overnight
Serving Suggestions: Its chewy grains are a perfect complement to beans, and it makes a great replacement for risotto.

Millet
Liquid to Grain ratio: 2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 20 minutes; pretoast; can sauté
Serving Suggestions: Millet is tasty popped as a snack, and the tiny grains make a nutritious addition to bread dough.

Oat Groats
Liquid to Grain ratio: 2 1/2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 1 hour; presoak 30 minutes to overnight
Serving Suggestions: Oats and oat flour tenderize baked goods. Oat groats (oats with only hulls removed) with steel cut and rolled oats make a hot cereal with a nice variety of textures.

Quinoa
Liquid to Grain ratio: 1 1/2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 15 minutes; can pretoast; can sauté
Serving Suggestions: Its rich, nutty flavor makes quinoa great on its own or mixed with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and veggies as a salad.

Rye
Liquid to Grain ratio: 2 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 1 hour; presoak 30 minutes to overnight
Serving Suggestions: Rye grains retain a soft, moist texture after cooking. Rye flour is highly absorbent, lending a chewy texture to baked goods.

Teff
Liquid to Grain ratio: 3 to 1
Cooking Time and Tips: 20 minutes; no precooking required
Serving Suggestions: Teff makes soft, chewy breads; it’s fermented for the Ethiopian flatbread injera. Darker varieties have more flavor.

Whole Grains Hints

Use these tips for perfectly prepared whole-grain goodness.

• Because whole grains contain oil, it’s best to store them in the freezer to prevent them from going rancid. If you purchase grains from bulk bins, buy small amounts to retain freshness.

• Clean grains before using them: Pour into a pan, cover with cool water, twirl kernels around with your fingers, then toss any floating bits and strain remaining grains. If you intend to toast grains, rinse them after toasting.

• The following grains (and their resulting flours) are gluten-free: amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa and teff.

• Add egg and breadcrumbs to whole-grain salad leftovers to create yummy little cakes suitable for pan frying.

Add Flavor 

Use these three easy strategies to amp up the flavor of whole grains.

• As with nuts, shredded coconut and seeds, toasting grains develops a deep, nutty flavor. Toss grains in a hot, dry pan until they are browning but not burnt, or spread them in a thin layer in a 325-degree oven, and roast them for a few minutes.

• Add pieces of fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, garlic, herbs, nuts and other seasonings right into the pan when cooking grains via the absorption method. Include a little extra liquid to compensate for the additions.

• Use flavorful cooking liquids instead of water for a tremendous flavor boost. Use meat, seafood, mushroom or vegetable stock in savory dishes, or try fruit juices for a sweet effect.

Cold Call 

Many grains’ starches harden when they are chilled. If you plan to use whole grains in salads served cold, cook them as you normally would, then either cool to room temperature (rather than refrigerating) or chill with a bit of olive oil or dressing to help retain moisture.

Resources

Arrowhead Mills 

Bob’s Red Mill 

Great River Organic Milling 

King Arthur Flour 

Lundberg Family Farms 

Texas Best Organics 


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