Today, we're celebrating grains! Whole grains are a staple in my plant-based diet, along with lots of starches, vegetables, beans and fruit. Whole grains are low in calories, satiating, and full of health benefits (Source).
One of the best things about grains is that there are so many wonderful kinds and many are interchangeable, which makes it easy to mix things up with different varieties, plus put a new spin on recipes you love. I only really started exploring the wide world of grains when I became plant-based.
If you're cooking on your stove top, most grains are cooked fairly similarly (like rice): You put the dry grain in a pan with water or broth, bring it to a boil, cover, then simmer until the liquid is absorbed. The amount of water and cooking time are different for various grains (detailed in the list below, but cook times can vary a bit). You can also follow any available package instructions or use your rice cooker or pressure cooker when appropriate. Don't be intimidated!
1. Amaranth — Amaranth is technically a pseudo-cereal and is gluten-free! Amaranth kernels are tiny; when cooked they resemble brown caviar. Amaranth has a slightly peppery taste, a high level of protein (it's roughly 13-14% protein), and is popular in cereals, breads, muffins, crackers and pancakes.
To Cook: Add 2 cups water or vegetable broth to 1 cup amaranth, bring to a boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes; Amount after cooking: 2 1/2 cups.
2. Barley — Hulled barley and pearled barley are the most common types of barley. Hulled is more nutritious, but also chewier. Add to soups or stews, or use as basis for salad or side dish. Try the Creamy Mushroom Barley or Roasted Barley Tea in HHA!
To Cook: Add 3 cups water or vegetable broth to 1 cup barley, bring to a boil, then simmer for 45-60 minutes; Amount after cooking: 3 1/2 cups.
3. Black Rice — This Chinese variety of medium-grain rice carries all the whole grain goodness of brown, but with gorgeous color and a sweeter flavor.
To Cook: Add 2 cups water or vegetable broth to 1 cup black rice, bring to a boil, then simmer for 35 minutes; Amount after cooking: 3 cups.
4. Brown Rice — I always have brown rice on hand! My secret? I cook it ahead and freeze it!
To Cook: Add 2 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth to 1 cup brown rice, bring to a boil, then simmer for 25-45 minutes; Amount after cooking: 3 cups. (Or follow instructions for your rice cooker!)
5. Buckwheat — Use in place of rice as side dish. Buckwheat flour is good for pancakes. Also try Japanese soba noodles, which are made from ground buckwheat, and great in recipes like Cheater Pad Thai.
To Cook: Add 2 cups water to 1 cup buckwheat, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes; Amount after cooking: 4 cups.
6. Bulgur — Bulgur is a form of wheat that has been boiled and cracked, and it's ready as quickly as dried pasta. Unlike some other grains, bulgur stays soft even when chilled. You can use bulgur in Middle Eastern dishes like Tabouli and pilafs.
To Cook: Add 2 cups water to 1 cup bulgur, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10-12 minutes; Amount after cooking: 3 cups.
7. Cornmeal (Polenta) — Corn is the only grain eaten as a vegetable. Polenta is cornmeal boiled into a porridge or mush and is super versatile.
To Cook: Add 4 cups water to 1 cup cornmeal, bring to a boil, then simmer for 25-30 minutes; Amount after cooking: 2 1/2 cups. Or try the Polenta recipe in HHA and my Polenta Pizza recipe!
8. Couscous, whole-wheat — Couscous is a form of wheat pasta, but only whole-wheat couscous is considered a whole grain. It's an easy sub for rice in many dishes, and great in salads!
To Cook: In a saucepan, bring 1 1/4 cup water (or vegetable broth) to a boil. Immediately turn off heat and add 1 cup whole-wheat couscous. The couscous will soak the liquid up in a 5 minutes or less. Fluff with a fork.
9. Farro — Also known as emmer, this is an ancient wheat variety, a staple in Italy. It seems to keep that al dente texture no matter how much you cook it, making it perfect for baked dishes.
To Cook: Add 2 1/2 cups water to 1 cup farro, bring to a boil, then simmer for 25-40 minutes; Amount after cooking: 3 cups.
10. Millet — Millet is so small and tender that you can turn it into a light side dish or salad. It has a subtle sweetness and a golden hue.
To Cook: Add 2 1/2 cups water to 1 cup millet, bring to a boil, then simmer for 25-35 minutes; Amount after cooking: 4 cups.
11. Oats — There are several different types of oats, each with different cooking variations and uses. But all healthy and delicious!
12. Pasta, whole wheat— Yes, you can enjoy pasta without guilt! As you know, there are many kinds of pasta (including gluten-free), and you can interchange almost any pasta in various recipes. Follow package instructions for whatever pasta you prefer. Mac n' cheese, anyone?
13. Quinoa — Quinoa is technically a seed that cooks up soft and fluffy and has red, white, and black varieties. All colors taste basically the same, with a mild and nutty flavor, making varieties interchangeable. Use quinoa in place of rice as a side dish, in pilafs, salads, or even with fruit for breakfast (meal plan users love their morning quinoa!). It's a complete protein and cooks super fast! Check out my Cooking With Quinoa post for more info.
To Cook: Add 2 cups water to 1 cup quinoa, bring to a boil, then simmer for 12-15 minutes; Amount after cooking: 3 cups.
14. Wheat Berries — Wheat berries are the quintessential whole grain (they're unprocessed kernels of wheat). These big juicy "berries" pop when you eat them, lending hearty, chewy texture. They freeze beautifully. Use in soups, stew, salads. They can be cooked for use in casseroles and soups or as a nutritious nutty-tasting side dish. They can also be sprouted for use in salads and breads.
To Cook: Soak 1 cup wheat berries in 4 cups water overnight (some people skip this step without much difference, but it'll help them cook a bit faster), then bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook 45-60 minutes
15. Wild Rice — Wild rice is technically a semi-aquatic grass. It requires a bit more cook time than white or brown rice, and it bursts open when it’s cooked, so you can tell at a glance when it’s done.
To Cook: Add 3 cups water or vegetable broth to 1 cup brown rice, bring to a boil, then simmer for 45-55 minutes; Amount after cooking: 3 1/2 cups. (Or follow instructions for your rice cooker!)
Waves of Grain (Better Homes and Gardens)
How to Prepare Black Rice (WikiHow)
5 Couscous Cooking Mistakes to Avoid (Eating Well)
Health Gains from Whole Grains (Harvard)
List of Whole Grains: Suggested Uses and Cooking Methods (Calorie King)
How to Cook Perfect Millet Every Time (The Kitchn)
Cooking Whole Grains (Whole Grains Council)
Cooking Grains with Your Rice Cooker (Whole Grains Council)
P.S.: The 15 grains listed above are only the beginning! If you're interested in experimenting with a wider variety of grains in your diet or mixing up how you use them in your kitchen, I can't recommend the meal plans enough (Most of the photos above are from past menus!).