We can all use a little extra fiber and nutrition in our diets, and grains are a delicious way to do this.
Cooked grains on hand make a quick meal
I start my week by cooking a grain, any grain. I then have it in the fridge to use in soups, salads and my favorite, pilaf, for a side dish with just about any meal. There are as many recipes for “pilaf” as there are cooks. Pilaf (pilou is the British term) is technically an Indian or Asian dish of steamed rice with vegetables and meat. But you can make it whatever you want. It’s simply a grain with vegetables added, usually eaten warm but just as delicious at room temperature or cold. Cooked lentils or other beans make a great addition to pump up the protein levels.
Many, many types of grains are out there
The choice of grains is endless these days. You can get millet, quinoa, a plethora of types of rice, farro, Kamut, wheat berries, barley, triticale and umpteen other types. Many are available in bulk at market stores, so you can experiment with only a little bit at first to discover the ones you like. Kashi sells a box of mixed grains they call Seven Grain Pilaf. It has oats, brown rice, rye, hard red wheat, triticale, barley, buckwheat, and sesame seeds.
Some grains take an hour or more to cook although an instant-pot certainly shortens this time. When I’m in a time pinch and don’t have any cooked up in the fridge, I turn to bulgur, millet or quinoa which cook in twenty minutes.
Toast your grain
Before you cook any grain, toast it first. You will be amazed at the difference in flavor that a toasty browning gives your grain dish. Simply heat a non-stick or cast iron pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and stir in the dry grain. Stir over medium heat until the grain begins to brown, usually about 5-10 minutes. Then proceed with regular cooking. Use a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid so you can cover if the directions call for it. After cooking, be sure to put on the lid to let it finish steaming.
For the simplest pilaf, start with your choice of cooked grain. Chop and saute any vegetables you want to add and mix with the cooked grain. Add feta or parmesan cheese if you wish and nuts, seeds and even dried fruit. Make it your own creation. You can have a different dish every night!
(feel free to substitute your choice of cooked grain)
1 c. cooked bulgur
½ t. salt
1 T. olive oil
¼ c. diced onions
1 small clove garlic, minced
¼ c. diced sweet red pepper
¼ c. grated carrot
¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute vegetables until tender. Mix with bulgur and parmesan; season to taste. Warm gently or serve at room temperature.
This chart is simply a guideline and until you are familiar with cooking a particular grain, keep a close eye on it. If it is too chewy for your taste add more water and cook a little longer. You can also use broth in place of water.
Grain (1 cup) water cooking time
|Barley||3 cups||45 min – 1 hour|
|Brown rice||2 cups||1 hour|
|Buckwheat groats||2 cups||15-25 min.|
|Bulgur wheat||2 cups||15-20 min.|
|Cracked wheat||2 cups||25 min.|
|Millet||3 cups||25-45 min.|
|Rolled oats||2 cups||15 min.|
|Steel cut oats||4 cup||30-45 min.|
|Wheat berries||3 cups||1 hour, 30 min.|