Back to Basics—Simple Cooking with Real Ingredients (Part 2) by Jill Nussinow

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Save Money, Your Health and the Planet by Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, The Veggie Queen™ or

I have a premise that if you can boil water, you can probably eat well, especially if you go back to basics. Starting with whole, unadulterated, foods such as beans, grains, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, vegetables and fruit which come from the earth’s abundance provides a good jumping off point for good eating.

Cooking Grains – Going for the Whole Grains

In Part 1, I told you about the benefits of cooking beans. Now it’s time to meet their nutrional and plate counterpoint, whole grains. These grains are in their natural and unprocessed state. They come in various forms such as whole, cracked, rolled or flaked and more. You may be familiar with some of them in some of their guises, and others will likely be new to you. I will stick with some of the more basic whole grains and give you resources for the rest.

Grains are used throughout the world, often as the basis for many healthy diets.  In most of Asia, rice is the grain of choice. Unfortunately most of it is white although there are many varieties of colored rice grown there. In Africa and some parts of Japan, millet is a staple grain. In South and Central America quinoa is the star. And in America, the most commonly consumed grain is wheat, mostly as white or sourdough bread, rolls and processed cereal.

Time for a Change

I am not even going to mention bread. You will likely recall the Atkins Diet craze where eating bread was forbidden. I don’t go quite that far, but stepping up to eating whole grains will likely have a positive effect on your health and your wallet. Most whole grains are inexpensive, especially if you can buy them in bulk, from bins where you can get what you want,  or in 5, 10 or 25 pound bags (depending upon usage and the size of your family).

Since whole grains have not had their bran and germ removed, they can get rancid. They need to be store d in a cool, dark place or in a refrigerator or freezer. I buy in bulk but in amounts that I will use within a month. Be sure that the grains smell fresh when you buy them if they are in bulk bins which means that it’s a good idea to buy from a store with good turnover. This won’t likely be your local grocery store and if it is, you are lucky.

The nutritional benefit of eating whole grains is that they are higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals than grains that have been processed. I believe that you can’t beat nature for getting the best nutrition profile.

Grains from A to W (not Z), including G/F which is gluten-free

This is a list of grains that you might want to try with my personal asides:

Amaranth — a tiny grain that is packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. I have not been able to acquire a taste for it, as the texture is a bit slimy. It’s not bad as a breakfast cereal. G/F


Barley – one of the most ancient grains. It is high in soluble fiber which may help lower cholesterol. Unfortunately most people only use it in soup but it makes wonderful side dishes and cold salads.

Buckwheat – not a true grain. It tastes best when coated with egg or oil when cooking as it can get mushy easily. It tastes best to me when paired with the assertive flavor of greens. Very nutritious and easy to digest. Cooks quickly. G/F

Millet – most commonly used as birdseed in this country but it is highly digestible, cooks in about 30 minutes on the stove-top and takes on flavors well. The texture is easy to deal with and reminds some people of couscous (which is actually a processed wheat product like pasta). G/F

Oats-  commonly eaten here in the US for breakfast as rolled oats. Probably eaten most right behind wheat. Many people have never seen oats in their natural (groat) state but they are delicious. You can also buy them cracked which is steel-cut oats which are almost as nutritious as the whole oats. They are a good source of soluble fiber which may help lower cholesterol. They are naturally gluten-free but often processed with wheat or barley so if you need to go gluten-free look for specially marked packages of oats that state that. ?G/F

Quinoa – called “the mother grain” in South America, and one of my favorite grains because it is highly nutritious, easily digestible, contains lots of protein and cooks in less than 20 minutes on the heat. It makes great side dishes, salads and even breakfast cereal. G/F

Rice – comes in many forms of brown from short to long grain, sticky, sweet, green with bamboo, and in other colors such as red, black and purple. They all cook up a little differently but taste great. You could eat a different rice each night of the week if you wanted to. They generally take longer to cook than white rice although some of the red varieties such as Bhutanese only take 20 minutes on the heat. G/F

Rye – mostly seen as rye berries or flour. Not commonly cooked in this country but the berries are delicious as a side dish or in salads. Easily sprouted, as are many of the other grains, and added to other foods. Does contain gluten.

Teff – I can honestly say that I don’t have any experience with teff, yet but I hope to as it’s gluten-free and packed with nutrition. It’s the grain that they traditionally use in Ethiopia to make injera, their national sour flatbread that I really like.

Wheat – comes as wheat berries which are then either cracked, or cracked and parboiled to make bulgur, or ground to make flour. Sprouted wheat berries develop a natural sweetness which accounts for the sweet flavor of “essene” breads. Contains gluten which makes wheat so good for baking. Also in the wheat family are kamut, farro and spelt.

Wild Rice – not a true grain but the seed head of a grass. Usually only served during the winter holiday season but a wonderful grain to cook just about any time of year. Especially delicious mixed with brown rice. Tends to be expensive but 1 cup cooks up to at least 3 cups so you get more out of it. Makes a great stuffing for vegetables. G/F
  Let’s Get Cooking – Grain cooking on the stove top and in your pressure cooker by Jill Nussinow, MS, RD The Veggie Queen™

These are the brief cooking instructions for whole grains.

Many grains can be cooked like pasta according to Lorna Sass in her wonderful book Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way. I am more of a purist and either cook my grains in water or broth on the stove top or in the pressure cooker. It’s often best to add salt after cooking.

I have a rule of thumb for cooking grains which is to reduce the amount of water you use for the 2nd cup by about ¼ cup so that your grains are not swimming in water. If you do need to drain your grains, save the water for soups since it contains vital nutrients. (This is why I prefer not to cook my grains like pasta as it preserves the nutrients.)

For basic stovetop cooking – bring water and grain to a boil, lower the heat, cover and let sit for suggested number of minutes.

Amaranth : 1 cup grain, 1 ¾ cup water for 7 to 9 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes. For porridge, 1 cup to 3 cups liquid and cook for 22 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Barley: 1 cup barley to 3 cups water. Cook 40 to 45 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes. Drain excess water. In the pressure cooker, use 1 cup barley to 2 ½ cups liquid for 22 minutes at pressure; natural pressure release.

Buckwheat : coat with butter, oil or egg and then add  1 ¾ cups water to 1 cup grain. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand for 1 minute. Only takes about 2 minutes at pressure but often gets overcooked. I am still perfecting this.

Millet: I like to toast for a few minutes in the dry saucepan before cooking it. Use 2 ¼ cups water to 1 cup grain. Cook for 20 minutes and then let sit off the heat for 10 minutes. If it doesn’t seem cooked enough, add a few tablespoons water and turn the heat on for 1 minute. Cover and let sit another 5 minutes.

Oats: whole groats. Lorna Sass suggests cooking like pasta, draining and steaming. I am not an expert with these and eat mine mostly as steel cut oats. I cook those with 1 cup to 3 cups in the pressure cooker for 5 minutes. Then let sit until the pressure comes down. Alternatively you can cook them on the stovetop for 30 minutes.

Quinoa:  rinse in a fine mesh strainer and then toast in a dry saucepan. Use 1 ¾ cups water to 1 cup grain. Cover and let simmer for 12 minutes on the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes off the heat. In the pressure cooker, use 1 ¼ cups liquid and 5 minutes at pressure. Let the pressure come down naturally.

Rice: I’ll only cover brown rice here. Usually for stovetop the ratio is 2 cups water for 1 cup rice. Cook for 40 to 45 minutes on the heat, 5 minutes off the heat. In the pressure cooker, it’s 1 ½ cups water for 1 cup rice for 22 minutes at pressure, with a natural pressure release. Colored rice takes shorter but read the box or follow producer directions.

Rye: Sass suggests soaking the rye berries overnight and then cooking them on the stovetop with 2 ½ cups of liquid for 1 cup for 25 to 40 minutes, or in the pressure cooker for 25 minutes. My personal experience with this grain is neglible.

Teff : according to Sass, you toast the grain for 3 to 6 minutes and then add 1 cup boiling water and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer, stirring every few minutes, until the water is absorbed, 6 to 7 minutes. let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

Wheat: Sass recommends soaking overnight or quick-soaking although I have cooked them without this step which shortens the cooking time. 1 cup grain to 2 ½ cups water. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes and then let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until liquid is absorbed. If not presoaked, use more liquid and time. In the pressure cooker, takes 35 minutes.

Wild Rice : 1 cup grain to 3 cups water, simmer, covered for up to 1 hour until the grains split open. In the pressure cooker, use 1 cup to 2 ½ cups liquid at pressure for 25 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally. 

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