Grain Pilaf – Another quick meal

Millet, steel cut oats, wheat berries, tricolor quinoa, farro

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

Brown rice and sauteed vegetables

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.

Grains and lentils

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!

Bulgur with roasted vegetables and feta cheese

Bulgur Pilaf

(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

Barley3 cups45 min – 1 hour
Brown rice2 cups1 hour
Buckwheat groats2 cups15-25 min.
Bulgur wheat2 cups15-20 min.
Cracked wheat2 cups25 min.
Millet 3 cups25-45 min.
Quinoa 2 cups15-20
Rolled oats 2 cups15 min.
Steel cut oats 4 cup30-45 min.
Wheat berries  3 cups1 hour, 30 min.


Instant meals

Chopped salad base with beets, green beans, walnuts and goat cheese

We all have to eat. And the higher the quality of food we put in our bodies, the better we will feel. In response to our very busy lives, meal subscription services have taken off in popularity. Despite the criticisms that they are expensive, have too much packaging, and don’t quite give you the choices you’d like, they are still a great way to get reasonably healthy meals without the planning. Grocery stores are beginning to carry instant, complete meals as well, both cooked and ready to cook.

Make your own instant meals

But, instead of paying high prices for ready-to-cook meals, how about making your own. They will be fresher and certainly taste better. It just takes planning, and even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, you can learn to prepare fresh wholesome meals without a lot of prep time or a lengthy list of ingredients. Cooking can become an interesting part of your life instead of a chore. 

Planning is key but keep it simple

Planning is always the hardest part, but if you get in the habit of going to the market once or even twice a week, whether farmers market or grocery, it’s not so hard. Simply purchase whatever vegetables look freshest for the week. Or grow your own. Maybe you take a day on the weekend and prep everything. And most of all, keep it simple. Save the elaborate meals for when you have time on the weekend to spend more time in the kitchen.

Pantry basics

First, make sure to stock your pantry with basics so you don’t have to purchase herbs, spices and seasonings every week. Here are some staples to start with: 

  • Good quality olive oil
  • Balsamic and cider vinegar, rice vinegar and mirin if you like to cook Asian
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper for grinding
  • Onions
  • Maple syrup – try to find grade B. Deeper flavor, less expensive
  • Fresh garlic
  • Grains: rice, quinoa, other grains you love
  • Pastas: couscous, orzo
  • Broth – chicken, vegetable, beef, bone
  • Canned beans of your choice – garbanzos, pintos, black, navy

Seasonings on hand

Seasonings: chili powder, cumin, dried basil, smoked paprika, garlic powder

Perishables

For perishables, keep basics on hand such as ricotta, plain yogurt, cheeses of your choice. 

Chopped Salad

Broccoli, plentiful this time of year is a good start

Let’s get started with this chopped salad. Shop and prepare it on the weekend, and use it through the week for a quick healthy lunch or dinner side.  

The key to this salad is to make the base of any vegetables that will hold up for a few days after being chopped. 

  • 1 c. finely chopped broccoli
  • 1 c. finely chopped cauliflower
  • ½ c. slivered brussels sprouts
  • ½ c. chopped sweet peppers
  • ½ c. grated carrot

Mix and put in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

When ready to eat

Take out a half cup of the chopped salad and add onion, cucumber, nuts, dried fruits, seeds, cheese or any other ingredient that you have in the fridge. You can add cooked chicken, rice or even leftover pasta. Different ingredients can make it a totally new salad every day.

Dress with your favorite vinaigrette or creamy dressing. Or, simply brighten with a splash of lemon, lime or orange juice.

Chopped “salad” in stir-fry

Or, make a stir-fry

Even though the recipe is for a fresh salad, you can also stir-fry the mixture. Add protein of choice to make a complete meal.