Cooking with Whole Grains

The thought of cooking grains can seem overwhelming. The truth? With a few tips and tricks, it’s easier than you think.

I’m a fish-loving, egg-eating vegetarian. The problem? After upping the ante on my workouts, I became ravenously hungry throughout the day. I was finding it tough to stay satisfied without compromising my choice of diet or nutrition. After chatting with my friend Gwen, a healthy eating specialist opens in a new tab, about my never-ending hunger, she suggested I add more whole grains to my diet to help fill me up.There, in the middle of the bulk section, Gwen offered cooking tips and pointed me to recipes. With containers full of quinoa and oat groats (both of which I’d never heard of before then), she sent me home to explore.

That day, I added these amazing, easier-to-make-than-you-might-think whole grains to my repertoire. Here are some of the nuggets she shared.

Cooking Grains the Traditional Way

With Gwen’s guidance and through research of my own, I’ve discovered there’s more to this whole grains game than brown rice. From quinoa (my fave) to bulgur, amaranth and more, whole grains are delicious and simple to prepare. (See our Guide to Grains opens in a new tab for a full rundown of grain varieties and cooking suggestions.)

Not all whole grains require pre-soaking and some cook in a matter of minutes. Check out a few no-frills ways to prepare some of these tasty nutrient-packed foods that cook up in 30 minutes or less:

(Directions for 1 cup grains each)

  • Bulgur – Simmer in 2½ cups liquid for 20 minutes, fluff and let sit for 10 minutes.

  • Quinoa – Rinse well before cooking. Simmer in 2 cups liquid for 15-20 minutes.

  • Amaranth – Simmer in 3 cups liquid for 25-30 minutes. Tip: Don’t salt until thoroughly cooked.

  • Teff – Lightly toast grains for a richer flavor. Simmer in 3 cups liquid for 15-20 minutes.  

  • Kasha – Simmer in 3 cups liquid for 20 minutes.

Think Outside the (Brown Rice) Box

One of the biggest concerns with cooking whole grains is the perception that they take a long time to cook. And while I admit they do need to simmer for a while, I find I can prepare the rest of my meal while they cook. However, I’ve also found some helpful tricks to make cooking whole grains even easier.

  • Slow cookers are my favorite way of mixing whole grains into the menu. I pour in a cup of whole grains like brown barley or millet into the pot with my vegetables and broth. Viola! By the time I get home from work, I’ve got a yummy stew.

  • Soaking grains like oat groats overnight are a great way to ensure a tasty, filling breakfast the next morning. Top with fresh fruit, almond milk, maple syrup and cinnamon for a filling breakfast treat.

  • Giant soup pots are a perfect way for me to include whole grains. I like to mix in a cup of quinoa. It soaks up the seasonings of the soup and tastes so good.

  • Big batches save time later. I double recipes when I’m cooking grains, portion them out and stick it in the freezer for breakfast, lunch or dinner. When I’m ready to chow down, I add water, reheat and eat.

Another misconception is that grains are bland and boring. I say, “no way!” Just take a look at these recipes and see how you can incorporate flavorful whole grains into any meal:

Millet Breakfast Cereal with Mandarin Oranges and Dates

Apple-Scented Breakfast Oatmeal and Buckwheat

There you have it. Whole grains are less complicated than you thought, right? Which whole grains will you cook up?

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