Whole grains, defined by “a cereal grain that contains the germ, endosperm, and bran,” are becoming increasingly popular, not only for their flavor and versatility but their nutritional value. WebMD reports, “Whole grains are packed with nutrients, including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium). A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. Whole-grain diets also improve bowel health by helping to maintain regular bowel movements and promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.” There is a wide assortment of grains available in almost any supermarket, like wheat berries, black barley, wild rice, bulgur, farro, freekeh, millet, oats, quinoa, rice and corn (yes, corn is a whole grain…).
Cooking these grains can be a challenge. However, with a little practice they’re easy to prepare. When I’m in a rush, I use a pressure cooker with a volume ratio of one part grains to 5 parts liquid. I vary liquid depending on the finished application and use combinations of stock, water, wine, beer, juices, aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices. When I have the time, they benefit from soaking overnight at room temperature and then slowly simmering until al dente – wheat berries cook in about 30 minutes when soaked overnight.
I am partial to the al dente crunch of black barley, and wheat berries when added to other ingredients. I think they can be as hearty as meat and add great texture to salads, or vegetable side dishes. Hot or cold, they are a favorite of mine.
Here’s a recipe for whole grain salad from our archives:
Whole Grain Salad
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 hearty salads, or 6 side dishes
½ teaspoon anchovy paste
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
½ teaspoon minced tarragon
½ teaspoon minced marjoram
½ clove garlic, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Whisk together the anchovy paste, mustard, vinegar, tarragon, marjoram and garlic until thoroughly blended. Combine olive oil and canola oil in a small container.
Whisk in the oil mixture in a slow steady stream until fully incorporated and thick. Whisk in salt and pepper. Set aside.
Whole Grain Salad:
½ cup wheat berries, soaked overnight, drained
½ cup wild rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups baby kale, thinly sliced
¼ head radicchio, cored, thinly sliced
¼ bulb fennel, cored, thinly sliced
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Freshly ground pepper
Place soaked wheat berries and ½ teaspoon of the salt in a small sauce pot, and cover by 2-inches of water, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, and place on a shallow plate in a single layer and refrigerate until cooled, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the wild rice and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt in a small sauce pot, and cover by 2-inches of water, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, and place on a shallow plate in a single layer and refrigerate until cooled, about 15 minutes.
Toss the wheat berries, wild rice, kale, radicchio, fennel, tomatoes and vinaigrette in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined. Season with freshly ground pepper and serve at once.