Cooking Grains

There is no doubt that grains are consumed in excess in today's society, and for some people, grains are wreaking havoc on their health. Just because grains don't work for all bodies doesn't mean they should be (or need to be) omitted completely from your diet. Every body processes foods differently, but grains can be a source for good nutrition if they are prepared properly. Grains have been in the spotlight in the media recently, in popular books such as Grain Brain, and on TV shows like Dr. Oz. The Paleo diet is also popular right now, which omits grains completely. I do limit the amount of grains we eat at home, but they pop up somewhat regularly in our meals and make for a nutritious side dish or addition to the main course. Each grain has different cooking requirements, and if you're like me and don't own a pressure cooker, getting the right consistency and texture is almost a science - but it's not impossible! 

Here's a guide to cooking the most common grains that appear in my kitchen, and they all happen to be gluten-free. 

Brown Rice 

HOW TO COOK IT1 cup rice to 2 cups water. Bring water to a boil, add rice and 1/2 teaspoon olive or grapeseed oil. LEAVE THE LID ON for a full 45 minutes. If you have clear saucepan lids, check to see if the water is absorbed. If not, leave it going until you don't see it boiling at all. Remove from heat and let it sit for 5 or so minutes before transferring to a bowl to fluff with a fork.

Quick tip: Part of the reason grains are classified as not "good" for you is because some are high in phytic acid - an antinutrient that soaks up a lot of essential minerals in the body like calcium and magnesium before they are absorbed into your bloodstream. If you prepare in advance, soaking your grains overnight and throughout your work day can drastically reduce the amount of phytic acid and activate various enzymes that are beneficial to our digestive organs! More on how to soak your brown rice here.


HOW TO COOK IT: For fluffy millet, bring 2 cups of water or stock and a 1/4 teaspoon of Himalayan salt to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add 1 cup rinsed millet, bring to boil again, cover and lower to simmer. Unlike rice, you can (and should) take the lid off, stirring to make sure water is absorbed evenly. 

Quick tip: Millet is another grain that benefits from soaking first. If you soak your millet, do so for at least 6 hours in a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio. Rinse your soaked millet and transfer millet to a saucepan. Add 1/2 cup water or stock to the pot. Bring to boil, cover and cook 7-10 minutes or until millet is tender. 

Quinoa (Actually a seed, not a grain!)

HOW TO COOK IT: Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a seed, not a grain - but it is soft with a slight crunch and resembles a grain when eaten. It makes a GREAT side. For every 1 cup of quinoa, use 2 cups liquid. Bring liquid to boil in a medium saucepan. Add quinoa, stir, and bring back to a boil. Cover, lower to simmer, and leave the lid on for 15-17 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with fork. 

Quick tip: I'm seeing a trend here and re-thinking the topic of this post, but I am way too far in to go back now. Soaking your quinoa will enhance it's nutritional benefits - and there are many. Quinoa is a complete protein and is generally easy to digest. If you don't want to eat grains (like rice) in a dish, go ahead and sub quinoa. Similar + great results!


HOW TO COOK IT: Per one cup of teff, use three cups of your preferred liquid. Bring liquid to boil in a saucepan, add teff and 1/2 teaspoon of Himalayan salt. Stir well, bring back to boil. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes. Check to see if all water is absorbed: if not, remove from heat, stir, and place the cover back on for 10 more minutes. 

Quick tip: Teff is a tiny little grain that can be used as a side or as part of the main entree. It has a mild & nutty flavor and provides a great deal of protein, iron, and calcium. It is also the smallest grain in the world!

Buckwheat (Also not a grain, but a seed!)

HOW TO COOK IT: A good ratio for buckwheat is per 1 cup of buckwheat, use 1.5 cups of water or stock. Bring liquid to boil, add 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan Salt and buckwheat. Bring back to a boil, and don't put the lid on it. Stir gently a couple of times and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until all the buckwheat has risen to the top and begins to absorb the liquid. At this point, remove from heat and place a lid on the pot. Let it sit anywhere from 5-10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. 

Quick tip: Buckwheat does get mushy if you soak it - at least in my experience. If you can find buckwheat that has been "roasted" (called kasha), the cooking time significantly decreases, so keep an eye on it. 

Flavor it up!

One of the best parts about these grains is that you can add a huge variety of spices and flavorings to match your dish. On taco night, I add (homemade) taco seasoning to the liquid as I pour in my quinoa. Adding oregano + parsley goes great with millet and brings a lot more flavor as a side for crockpot chicken and carrots. If you have a favorite blend of spices (mine is 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joes - it is the best), feel free to add in 1-2 teaspoons to whatever grain you're cooking to add more flavor and flare. LOTS of possibilities. Enjoy!