-- By Leanne Beattie, Health & Fitness Writer
Can you boil water? Then you can make whole grains a part of your diet. Whole grains are delicious and nutritious, supplying vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. And there are many varieties to choose from besides the all-too-common wheat, oats and rice. No matter which you choose, from amaranth to quinoa, this article will show you how to select, store and prepare whole grains as a healthy part of your meals.
Whole grains are simple to prepare on the stove—just cook them the as you would rice or pasta—or in a countertop steamer, which is even easier. Once they’re cooked, whole grains will keep well and can be refrigerated or frozen. So cook as much as you can at one time.
For the most flavor, you can cook grains in bouillon or another flavored liquid (such as vegetable broth or chicken stock) to enhance taste. Don’t be afraid to use these flavor enhancers for a variety of purposes. Both vegetable- and chicken-flavored broths and bouillons will produce mildly flavored grains that can still be used for hot cereals, main dishes, salads or desserts. Here are some of the most common ways to prepare whole grains:
- On the stovetop: Any whole grain can be cooked in a pot just as you would cook rice but this method will take longer and will use more liquid than some other methods. If you’re cooking your grains this way, use a medium-size pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring six cups of bouillon or broth to a boil in the pot, stir in 2.5 cups of grains (1 pound) and return to boiling. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer until the grains are tender and most of the water is absorbed, about 45-60 minutes. Keep in mind that cooking times will vary for different types of grains.
- In an electric steamer: This inexpensive countertop unit is the easiest, most convenient way to cook all types of whole grains. Your steamer will come with a detailed instruction booklet and will include many recipes for preparing vegetables and seafood as well. Simply follow the instructions for the different types of grains, using the measurements and cooking times shown in the chart.
- In a pressure cooker: Pressure cookers also work well for whole grains. Adjust the cooking times as you would for any other food—whole grains typically take about half the regular time.
- In a rice cooker: A rice cooker may be used to cook many whole grains—not just white rice. These cookers use a sensor to determine when the liquid has been absorbed by the grains. But you will need to experiment a few times before you find the ideal amount of liquid to use to cook grains other than white rice.
- With the Crockpot: Put grains and liquid in the Crockpot and cook for 6-8 hours.
- In the microwave: A plastic rice steamer designed for microwave use can be used to prepare whole grains, but you will need to follow the steamer’s instructions carefully. You will need to change the power setting and stir the grains in the middle of the cooking process.
Here is an overview of some of the most popular types of whole grains. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry them, most natural foods stores will.
Amaranth gives a delicious nut-like flavor to foods and contains more protein, lysine, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium than any other grain. It is also a good source of vitamin C and beta carotene. Amaranth is commonly made into flour for use in breads, noodles, pancakes, cereals and cookies. To prepare, add 1 cup of amaranth to 2 cups of boiling water for a rice-like texture or 2.5 to 3 times more water for cereal. Cook until tender, about 18-20 minutes.
Barley is used in main dishes and soups and can be ground into flour for baked goods. The flavor is sweet and nutty. High in protein, niacin, folic acid, thiamin, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, it is a good substitute for rice and millet in recipes and rolled barley may be used in place of rolled oats.To prepare, boil 4 cups of water and add 1 cup of barley; reduce heat, cover, and cook 1 hour. Serve with dried fruit, raisins, honey, or grated orange rind.
Brown rice is a good source of B vitamins and Vitamin E and may be ground into flour for baking cakes, cookies, pancakes, waffles and breads. To prepare, boil twice as much water as you have rice. Stir in rice, return to boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer about 35-40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the rice to steam for another 15 minutes or more. Fluff with a fork to separate grains. To make you own cream of rice cereal, grind enough toasted rice to equal 1 cup. Bring 3 cups water to boil and add ground rice. Return to boil, reduce heat, cover and cook 1 hour. Top with honey, fruit or nuts. You can also bake your brown rice in the oven in a glass baking dish. Gather your ingredients as usual (1.5 cups rice and 2.5 cups water), butter and salt. Boil the water, salt and butter together and then pour the mixture over the rice, cover with foil and bake at 375° for one hour.
Buckwheat is sometimes referred to as "groats" (hulled, crushed kernels) or "kasha" (roasted buckwheat groats). Whole grain buckwheat may be used as a main or dish, added to casseroles or soups or ground into flour for pancakes, waffles, muffins, and breads. The flour is dark, robust, and slightly sweet and is best used in combination with blander flours when baking. It contributes bioflavanoids, protein, folic acid, vitamin B6, calcium, and iron to your diet. To prepare, use about 2 cups water per cup of buckwheat. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes or until tender, not crunchy (add extra water, if needed). For a main dish or side dish, cook onions with the buckwheat and add some herbs and sea salt during the last 10 minutes of cooking time. For kasha, use slightly less water and reduce cooking time to 15-20 minutes.
Kamut is a type of wheat. It is a good source of protein, pantothenic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. To prepare, use kamut flour in place of wheat flour in most recipes, especially pasta. Rolled kamut is available in some natural foods stores and can be used in place of rolled oats.
Millet may be prepared like rice and used for hot cereal and pilaf or cooked with spices and served as a side dish, in soups and in casseroles. Ground millet “meal” and millet flour are used to make puddings, breads, cakes, and cookies. Millet is bland tasting, so it is best used in combination with stronger flavors. In addition to protein, millet provides calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous. To prepare hot cereal, roast uncooked millet in a dry pan for a few minutes, then bring 2 cups water to a boil, add 1/2 cup millet, and return to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 20-30 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons raisins or chopped dates during last 10 minutes of cooking time for extra flavor. Thin to desired consistency with soy, rice, oat, or nut milk, and sweeten with honey or pure maple syrup, cinnamon, raisins, bananas, or chopped apples. If you are using it as a main dish or adding it to breads, reduce the amount of water to 1.5 cups.
Oat groats can be cooked and served as hot cereal or prepared like rice and used as a side dish or added to stuffing. When steamed and flattened, oat groats become rolled oats (old-fashioned oats or oatmeal), which may be prepared as hot oatmeal or added to breads and cookies. Oats are rich in antioxidants, so breads, cookies, and other items made with oats don’t spoil as quickly. Oats are a good source of protein, calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin A, thiamin and pantothenic acid. To prepare, pour 1/2 cup oats into 1 cup of boiling water or milk. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Serve with soy, rice, oat, or nut milk, and sweeten with honey or pure maple syrup or add cinnamon, raisins or chopped apples.
Quinoa, pronounced "keen-wa," is higher in unsaturated fat and lower in carbohydrates than most grains (technically, it’s a seed), and it’s also a complete protein, since it contains every essential amino acid. It is an excellent replacement for rice or millet in cereals, main dishes, soups, side dishes, salads, and desserts and it cooks in half the time as rice. Quinoa may be ground into flour for use in breads, cakes, cookies and used in making pasta, and it also provides protein, calcium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin E, and lysine. To prepare, rinse thoroughly by rubbing grains together in water in order to remove the bitter outer coating (saponin), which may irritate digestion or allergies. Bring 2-3 cups water to boil and add 1 cup quinoa, reduce heat and simmer 25-30 minutes or until tender.
Spelt is an excellent high-gluten substitute for those allergic to wheat and it can be substituted for wheat in almost every recipe, including pasta. Spelt is easier to digest than most grains and is full of B vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin, as well as iron and potassium. To prepare, pre-soak 1 cup spelt in 2.5 cups water several hours or overnight. Change the water, bring to boil and then simmer for 45-60 minutes until tender but chewy.
Triticale may be found in whole berries, rolled like oats or ground into flour. Triticale flour must be combined with wheat, barley or spelt flour in order to produce a light, fluffy end product. Berries or rolled triticale can be used as cereal, in casseroles, or in side dishes such as pilaf. To prepare a delicious, hot cereal, add 1 cup triticale to 3 cups boiling water; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour or until tender.
Wheat berries provide protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium, as well as B vitamins and vitamin E. To prepare, soak 2 cups of berries in water overnight and drain. Add the wheat berries to 6 cups boiling water or broth in a pot, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1-2 hours. Serve with butter, honey or soy sauce. Add leftovers to soups, salads or knead into bread dough. For acrispy snack, place 4 cups wheat berries and 12 cups boiling water in a container, cover and allow them to soak overnight. Drain off the water and spread berries evenly onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 300° F until brown and crispy (about 10-15 minutes). To make your own cream of wheat from scratch, toast wheat berries and then grind enough to produce1 cup. Bring 3 cups water to a boil and add the ground wheat berries. Return to boil, reduce heat, cover and cook about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Top with honey, fruit or nuts.
Who says that whole grains have to be boring or tasteless? Share your tips for cooking your favorite whole grains in the comments section!