How to Cook Common Types of Grain
When it comes to cooking, each type of grain requires its own treatment. The amount of water used in cooking grains varies by variety, as does the method used. The instructions that come with the grain packages are a useful guide. Most grains can be used interchangeably. The biggest difference among the grains is texture. Some grains, such as barley, wheat berry, farro and bulgur, are very chewy; even when they're completely cooked, they maintain a pleasant meaty texture.
Buckwheat is not a true grain, it is really a fruit, but it is treated as a grain. Buckwheat groats are also referred to as kasha. It is sold both roasted and unroasted, and in a variety of textures; whole, medium, and fine grinds are the most common. Unroasted buckwheat groats are pale and bland but they become dark with an earthy flavor when roasted. Buckwheat is a quick-cooking grain with 12 to 15 minutes being the average cooking time.
Bulgur is wheat that has been steamed whole, then dried and cracked into grits. The steaming precooks the grain, making bulgur very quick to prepare. It is generally available in coarse, medium and fine grinds; and has a nutty taste. Bulgur needs only to be soaked to become tender, but it can also be cooked.
Farro is not wheat, but a grain also known as emmer. It has been grown and used in Italy since Roman times and is now mostly grown in Lazio, Umbria and Abruzzo. A grain of farro looks and tastes somewhat like a lighter brown rice. It has a complex, nutty taste with similar to oats and barley. Farro is not gluten-free, but it is considerably lower in gluten than wheat.
There are a number of varieties of rice. White rice is the most commonly consumed grain in the US. White rice is the name given to milled rice that has had its husk, bran, and germ removed. The shape of the grain, which is related to its starch content, affects how the rice cooks. Long grain rice has the lowest amount of starch so the grains are separate and fluffy when cooked. This is the best variety to use for rice salads.
A wheat berry is the entire kernel of wheat. They look like short thick grains of brown rice. They are tan to reddish brown in color and are available as a soft or hard processed grain. When cooked wheat berries have a chewy bite and subtle nutty, earthy flavor. Wheat berries take about an hour to cook. If you have time to soak wheat berries overnight, they will cook more quickly.
Read the package carefully when you purchase farro to check the amount of cooking time required. To cook farro, use a ratio of 1:2-1/2 (example: 1 cup farro to 2-1/2 cups water).
Brown rice takes the longest to cook, 30 to 40 minutes, but it is also good in salads. Arborio and other short grain rice varieties release a lot of starch when cooked and are best used for risotto or paella.
Frozen cooked wheat berries are a convenient item to have on hand; so cook a large amount and freeze some for later use.
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Barley, is a member of the grass family and a wonderfully versatile cereal grain with a rich nutlike flavor and a chewy, pasta-like consistency. The most important thing to know about barley is that it comes in two basic forms: hulled and pearl. Hulled barley has had the tough, inedible outermost hull removed but still retains its bran and endosperm layer.
Pearl barley has been polished to remove the bran resulting in a pale, creamy-colored grain. It is less chewy and cooks faster than the hulled variety, but has less fiber, One cup of barley will yield three cups cooked. Hulled barley can take 20 to 25 minutes longer to cook than pearl and will absorb less liquid. It will retain its shape and swell with cooking, resulting in individual, separate grains. Pearl barley is softer and releases starch into its cooking liquid, making it a good thickener for soups.
Different types of bulgur wheat require different cooking times, so its best to check the package instructions for cooking instructions. Nearly all health food stores stock bulgur wheat and you can sometimes find it the cereal aisle
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a gluten-free, high-protein, high-fiber, quick-cooking whole grain with a nutty flavor. Technically quinoa is not a grain, it is basically a “seed” which is prepared and eaten similarly to a grain. Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. You’ll find beige, red, black, or tricolor quinoa in stores; they all taste the same, so use whichever color you prefer.
For information on how to cook and toast quinoa, click here
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