Whole grains are easy to cook on the stovetop (as you would cook rice or pasta), or in a countertop steamer. I always cook one pound (2½ cups) of whole grains at a time (as much as my steamer will hold), since they keep well - refrigerated or frozen. Leftovers can be reheated in a microwave or used in salads. I make my own “instant grains" by packaging ½-1 cup portions in baggies and storing them in the freezer. They take a minute or less to thaw in the microwave.
The first time you cook a new grain, check them 5-10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to make sure they are not getting mushy. If they aren't tender enough to suit you at the end of the recommended time, cook a little longer. You do not need to rinse or pre-soak whole grains.
Cook grains in bouillon or other flavored liquid; 1 cup bouillon = 1 cup water + 1 bouillon cube or 1 teaspoon bouillon granules, or 1 cup of any other flavored liquid of your choice. If you don't use bouillon that contains salt, be sure to add a little salt to the cooking liquid. Whole grains cooked without salt taste hopelessly flat. Vegetable or chicken flavored bouillon yields neutral-flavored grains that can be used for anything – breakfast cereal, main dishes, salads or desserts.
Cooking whole grains in an electric countertop steamer: If you are serious about healthful eating, I recommend that you invest one of these inexpensive, handy appliances. This is by far the easiest, most convenient way to cook all of the whole grains. Mine is a Black and Decker brand, with an 8-cup capacity rice bucket and 75-minute timer. Countertop steamers come with instruction booklets with detailed information on cooking vegetables and seafood. Follow these instructions for cooking whole grains, using the times and amounts shown in the chart.
Fill the steamer base with water to the top line. (Do not use the drip tray. ) Place the steamer basket on the base. Place 1 pound of grains and 4 cups of bouillon in the rice bowl and set the rice bowl in the steamer basket. Cover, plug in, and set the timer for 75 minutes. When the timer rings, let the grains sit until cool OR remove the cover carefully to avoid steam burns. Drain the grains in a colander if there is excess liquid. Note: I let the grains sit for at least 20-30 minutes after the timer rings before removing the lid.
On the stovetop: Any of the whole grains can be cooked in a pot just as you would cook white rice, but they take longer and will use more liquid. This is my least favorite method because you have to stand around and watch the pot. After you've done this once or twice, you'll want to go out and get your countertop steamer.
Use a medium-size pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring six cups of bouillon to a boil in the pot, stir in a pound of the grains (2 1/2 cups) and return to boiling. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer until the grains are tender and most of the water is absorbed, usually 45-60 minutes.
You can add raw grains to soups or stews while they cook. My only concern is getting everything done at the same time without overcooking any of the ingredients. Some of my recipes use this method, but most recommend cooking the grains separately. Do whatever seems easiest for you.
Other appliances can be used to cook whole grains; try what you have on hand:
Rice cooker: if you have a rice cooker with a metal container and no timer, you may be able to use it to cook your whole grains, but you will need to experiment. These cookers use a sensor to determine when the liquid has been absorbed.
Crockpot: Put grains and liquid in the crockpot or slow cooker, turn it on and leave it for 6-8 hours.
Microwave: you can cook whole grains in one of the plastic rice steamers specifically designed for microwave use, but I haven't been too pleased with the results. You don't save much time, and you have to stick around to change the power setting and stir midway through the cooking process.
Pressure cooker: If you're comfortable using a pressure cooker, they work just fine for whole grains. Adjust the cooking times as you would for any other food (usually about half the regular time. )
Recipes: You'll find hundreds of recipes using whole grains, more details on specialty whole grains (with cooking charts), and nutritional information at my web site; see the link below.
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Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports - and the FREE Good Food Book - at http://www.DrMirkin.com