Grains of All Kinds

There are so many types of grains in the world, beyond just the obvious ones like rice and, um, brown rice. In this mission, I’ll show you how to cook pretty much any of them. That’s right: even weird stuff like quinoa, farro, millet and barley! So if you’ve been curious what these things are, head on over to your local grocery store and pick up a bag.

Here’s some background on grains: First of all, what are they, besides tiny little blobs of starchy deliciousness? They are basically grass seeds. (Quinoa is an exception—its parent plant is a relative of spinach.)

You may have heard the term “whole grain.” A whole grain is basically a seed as nature intended it. complete with all the parts to make a new baby plant:

  1. A thin protective outer layer called the bran
  2. A starchy interior called the endosperm
  3. And a tiny plant embryo called the germ

Brown rice is an example of a whole grain—the bran is what makes it brown. What’s the opposite of brown rice? White rice. It’s like naked brown rice: the bran and germ have been removed, leaving just the starch. We may find it softer and tastier, but 2 out of 3 parts are gone, so it’s less nutritious.

I won’t judge you for which kind of rice you prefer (I personally love me some white rice), but this distinction is useful to know when cooking. Whole grains act differently from naked grains: they absorb less water and are less likely to become mushy because of their protective bran layer. The bran also prevents the grain’s starch from dissolving out into the water. One nice thing about that is you’ll never accidentally make porridge. On the other hand, they need to be cooked longer to get past the bran layer.

Naked grains, however, need to be protected from porridge-ification. You don’t cook them as long, but you do need to carefully measure the amount of water you use. Use too much, and the grains will keep absorbing them, turning mushy.

In this mission I’ll give you guidelines for how much water to use and roughly how long to cook each type of grain. All you need to worry about now is choosing one (or a few!) that you’re curious about. Here’s a list of suggestions:

  • white rice
  • brown rice
  • wild rice
  • quinoa
  • millet
  • barley (pearled means it’s not a whole grain)
  • farro
  • spelt
  • wheat berries
  • rye berries

While you’re at the store, you may also want to pick up some veggies and some eggs or chicken breast. You can combine this mission with Tender Blanched Veggies, Poached Chicken, and/or A Perfect Fried Egg for a easy and healthy meal. Because let’s face it, as delicious as grains can be, no one wants to eat a bowl of just that for dinner.

Ready? Let’s make some grains.

Tools Needed:

  • medium pot with lid
  • large fine mesh strainer optional

Ingredients Needed:

  • any of the grains listed 1 cup

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  • Whoa, where did you get red rice? Does it taste different from other rice? WHY IS IT RED? I must know. (I had fried rice recently with beets and this reminded me of that.) You get 3 points, +1 for being first, +1 for doing the mission, and +1 for being helpful (thanks for the tip about using too much water).

  • Yay, your first mission! Congrats! This looks so tasty and healthy. Wheat berries are amazingly nutritious, though it is not actually gluten-free (it’s basically the wheat grain, the same stuff that’s made into flour, just before all the milling/refining happens). Still I’m glad you discovered something new that you like. Unless you are deathly allergic or highly intolerant, wheat berries in moderation can be quite good for you. Certainly better than an ice cream sammich. You get 2 points: +1 for doing the mission, and +1 for helpfulness (thanks for the comment about cost!)

  • Barley is kind of like huge rice… so I would eat it with any dish you would eat white rice with. Which in my world is probably not a burger :) (Your burger looks delicious, BTW). You get 2 points: +1 for doing the mission and +1 for helpfulness!

  • After I made this mission, I was drowning in grains. HALP SUCH GRAIN. So I made lunch last week for a bunch of folks at my workspace using brown rice and quinoa. I quickly sautéed carrots, shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, and spinach. (I love single-ingredient cooking methods) and made a tahini dressing with some lemon juice and olive oil and garlic. It was delicious and healthy. Lastly, we had chive flowers, which are my new favorite thing ever. They make any food photo look good (and they are edible!). I have to say for the first time that I actually liked brown rice. The nutty taste and texture (tasture?) goes really well with the tahini sauce. YOM.

  • We made barley. It was an interesting experiment as we have never had barley before. The general consensus though was that barley is not great alone. It needs some kinda of sauce or flavor agent. Regardless, it was fun to try.

  • This was an indulgent adventure of a meal for me. I bought wheat berries at the local grocer’s (only $3.39 for a whole bag!), and cooked them for an hour. At the same time, I cooked black-eyed peas that I had soaked earlier by sauteeing an onion then adding in the beans and chicken broth. Finally I added in the broccoli, which I just microwaved because it was leftovers from eating out last night. It tasted so hearty, earthy and healthy. If I were to do it again I would flavor the beans more, as it kind of tasted similarly to the wheat berries, maybe more salt is needed. All in all, I was looking forward to this mission (trying to eat less gluten) and am very proud of the results.

  • I cooked red rice, which is an exciting color. I used 2.5 cups water, because the bag said so, and I mustn’t question the bag. So it came out a bit wet. WHY DIDN’T I LISTEN TO SCRATCH HOUSE?!

    Also pictured is a pan of collard greens and carrots, which provided a nice color contrast.