Some people have told me that they are unfamiliar with all the different grains out there. We are becoming more aware of how important it is for us to eat whole grains, but it can get confusing to understand them all. And what to do with them? Consuming whole grains is green planet eating because they fill us up, and they provide nutrients that can allow us to reduce or eliminate meat in our diets. Growing plants to eat (which would include grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms) is better for the planet than growing livestock, in general. Organic grains, are of course, ideal. Eliminating those toxic pesticides from our environment would be a very good thing to do. And if you can buy locally grown grains, all the better!
As a general rule of thumb, you should rinse grains before cooking them. I usually measure the grain and then put it in a fine mesh strainer to rinse it. Sometimes I measure it into the pot, then use my hands to push the grains around in the pot under cold running water, and drain the water out through my fingers, using my hands to hold the grain in the pot. I learned to rinse rice this way when I lived in Japan.
It is better for the Earth if we buy our grains in bulk. Health food stores sometimes carry bulk grains. If I think it through enough ahead of time, I take an empty container with me to the store, weigh it at the cashier, fill it with the bulk grain, then subtract the weight of the empty container to figure out how much I owe the store. This is the greenest way to shop, as it eliminates the packaging that you would throw away.
More and more, I am finding unusual grains at my regular grocery store. Some unusual specialty grains, such as black barley, I buy at a grocery store that carries gourmet products. One of my favorite places for such products is Bishop's Orchard, in Guilford, CT. If you happen to live in Connecticut, check it out!
You can cook all these grains in water, but you can use other liquids, too. Substituting broth for water with any of these grains (except a bowl of breakfast oatmeal) makes them tastier and is super-easy. You can use canned vegetable or meat broth, make your own, or even use a bouillon cube with water (though check the ingredients to see what exactly is in those bouillon cubes, please).
Wheat berries – “hard red winter wheat berries” – whole kernels of wheat. Sometimes parboiled, which reduces cooking time. This is the least processed form of wheat. You can soak them the night before or not. If you do not soak them, they will have a chewier texture. If you soak them, drain them after soaking and use fresh water to cook them. Boil 3 ½ cups salted water with 1 cup wheatberries, covered, for about an hour and a half – to – two hours, or until wheat berries are tender. Drain if water is not all absorbed.
Cracked Wheat – wheat berries that have been milled or cracked into smaller pieces. Boil 2 cups salted water and 1 cup cracked wheat. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Then remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered.
Bulgur Wheat – wheat berries that have been cooked, dried and then cracked into smaller pieces; basically cooked cracked wheat. Boil 2 cups salted water and 1 cup bulgur wheat. Simmer covered for 12-15 minutes.
Spelt – a high-quality grain, related to wheat. Like wheat berries, can be soaked overnight before cooking in order to make them more tender. Boil 3 ½ cups water with 1 cup spelt. Simmer covered for about 60 minutes if soaked, 90 minutes if not soaked, until soft. Rich in fiber, protein, iron. Also a source of calcium.
Farro- a pure form of wheat with the husk intact. An “ancient grain.” Boil 1 cup of faro with 3 cups of water, covered, for about 50 minutes. Can be used like Arborio rice for risotto. Rich in fiber, magnesium, protein, and iron. Also a source of calcium.
Oats – microwave ½ cup raw oats with 1 cup water on high for 3 minutes for a single serving.
Barley - Boil 5-6 cups water with 1 cup barley. Simmer for about 1 ¼ hours, covered. Drain.
Pearled Barley is not a whole grain, as it has been refined to remove the bran and the germ or “embryo” of the barley
White Rice-gluten-free; not a whole grain. Use 2 cups water for 1 cup rice; simmer for about 20 minutes.
Brown Rice gluten-free. High in protein, fiber, zinc, folic acid, vitamin E, B vitamins, calcium. Use 3 cups of water for one cup of rice. Boil for 40-45 minutes, covered, until rice is absorbed.
Wild Rice – technically not a grain, but rather a grass. Higher than brown rice in protein, zinc, folic acid, and vitamin E. Use 2-3 cups water for 1 cup wild rice. Simmer covered for about 30 minutes. Drain if there is excess water after cooking.
Black Barley – high in protein and iron, also a source of calcium. 1 cup to 3 cups boiling water. Simmer covered for 35-40 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.
Israeli Couscous-actually a pasta, not a grain.
Couscous/Whole Wheat Couscous -actually a pasta, not a grain. For whole wheat couscous, boil 1 cup water, stir in 1 cup couscous, turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Fluff with fork.
Amaranth – technically a seed, but with the nutritional profile of a grain: high in folic acid, calcium and vitamin E. Also has some vitamin C. One of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. Cook it in a dry cast iron frying pan, stirring, until it pops like popcorn before cooking. So far, I have only used this in bread, but I will try to develop some other recipes in the future which I will post on this blog.
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) – technically a vegetable, but used as a grain and has the nutritional profile of a grain: very high in protein and iron, also has folic acid and B vitamins. Use 2 cups water for 1 cup quinoa. Cook covered for 10-15 minutes.
Millet – good source of B vitamins and metals. Gluten-free. Use 3 cups water for 1 cup millet. Cook for about 30 minutes in a covered pan.