Whole Grains 101

Whole Grains 101

How to cook them and why they’re worth the wait

If “they’re good for you” doesn’t get you motivated, what about “they’re good”? Grains are tasty, protein-rich, and easy to cook. Here’s a primer on 10 of our favorites, along with an assortment of recipes that will have you pushing aside potatoes for barley or bulgur.

Note: While we’re covering a wide selection of grains here, we left out the two most common—oats and rice—as they’re worlds unto themselves.

Amaranth

Amaranth

The plant that the seeds come from is similar in flavor to spinach.

What to Buy: The seeds have great flavor and crunch, and amaranth flour (ground from the seeds) can be used in cookies or pastas for a healthier take.

Favorite Cooking Method: Toast the seeds in a dry, covered skillet over medium heat until browned and beginning to pop.

Favorite Recipe: Popped Amaranth Granola.

Other Prep Ideas: Simmer 1 cup of the seeds in 2 1/2 cups of water and eat for breakfast as you would oatmeal.

Barley

Barley

Barley is the fourth most widely cultivated grain after wheat, rice, and corn.

What to Buy: Barley is most commonly sold whole (hulled), meaning the whole grain has had only the husk removed; pearled (much quicker to cook); or as grits, flour, or couscous.

Favorite Cooking Method: Throw some barley into a large pot of heavily salted water and simmer until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes for pearl barley. Drain and serve.

Favorite Recipe: Barley with Mushrooms and Green Beans.

Other Prep Ideas: Add cooked barley to soups, use it in cold salads, or substitute it for rice in risotto.

Buckwheat

Buckwheat

Technically, buckwheat isn’t a grain but rather the seed of a plant that’s related to rhubarb. However, it has a lot of grainlike qualities so it’s long been lumped together with grains in the culinary world.

What to Buy: Buckwheat is usually found as groats or toasted groats (which are labeled kasha). We think kasha has a barnyardlike flavor, so we stick to regular groats.

Favorite Cooking Method: Add 1 cup of groats or kasha to 2 cups of salted boiling water and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Let stand covered briefly, then fluff and serve.

Favorite Recipe: Groats and Bell Pepper Scramble.

Other Prep Ideas: Use it in place of rice in pilafs or try making grain salads with it.

Bulgur

Bulgur

This Middle Eastern staple (it’s used in tabbouleh) is simply wheat berries that have been steamed, dried, and cracked.

What to Buy: Bulgur is sometimes found in different grinds, but fine grind is the most common.

Favorite Cooking Method: Add 1 cup of bulgur to 2 cups of salted boiling water and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Let stand covered briefly, then fluff and serve.

Favorite Recipe: Bulgur Pilaf with Roasted Carrots and Parsnips.

Other Prep Ideas: Use in salads or simmer for a simple side dish.

Farro

Farro

This ancient strain of wheat is also known as grano farro or emmer wheat. It has a chewy texture and nutty flavor.

What to Buy: Farro is sold whole, semipearled, and pearled (meaning all or part of the bran has been removed). We prefer the semipearled version because it retains the grain’s signature texture and taste while cutting down on cooking time.

Favorite Cooking Method: Soak farro for at least 20 minutes and up to 12 hours, then simmer in a large pot of heavily salted water until tender, about 20 to 40 minutes depending on the type of farro being used. Drain and serve.

Favorite Recipe: Seared Scallops with Lemony Farro and Arugula Salad.

Other Prep Ideas: Use farro in salads or in place of rice in risotto.