Bored With Rice? Try These 3 Easy Methods For Cooking Other Grains

There's a world of interesting whole grains out there. Farro, barley and more are just as easy to cook as rice.

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A high angle close up of farro in a round wooden bowl.Farro is related to wheat and is interchangeable with barley. Shot against a wooden butcher block cutting board.

Photo by: DebbiSmirnoff/Getty


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Although white rice is versatile and available in many convenient forms, whole grains (like farro, wheat berries and barley) take dishes to the next level with their texture, nutty flavor and nutrients. And they’re just as easy to cook as rice. In fact, you can use the very same cooking methods. Below, we’ve outlined them for you.

But first, a few extra tips about buying and storing whole grains. Because whole grains still contain their germ (a nutrient-rich area filled with healthy fats) they spoil more quickly than regular grains. So before you purchase a bag, check the expiration date. If you are buying in bulk, you’ll want to shop at a store with a fast product turnover. Store uncooked grains in airtight containers in a cool, dry place at room temperature for up to six months or in the freezer for up to one year.

Before storing leftover cooked grains, you’ll want to cool them down quickly. To do so, spread them out on a baking sheet to maximize the surface area. Let them sit at room temperature for no more than two hours. Transfer them to an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to five days, or in the freezer for up to six months. To reheat, add the grain to a saucepan plus one teaspoon of water per each cup of grain. Stir over medium heat until hot.

The Pasta Method

Try it with farro or wheat berries

The pasta method takes the guesswork (and math) out of cooking whole grains; therefore, it’s a Food Network Kitchen staff favorite. Use this method to cook large, firm whole grains (like farro or wheat berries) evenly.

  1. Heavily salt a large pot of water, just like you would for pasta. If you’d like, flavor the liquid with aromatics like a bay leaf, rosemary sprigs, smashed garlic cloves or peppercorns.
  2. Bring the pot of water to a boil.
  3. Add the grain to the pot and cook it, stirring occasionally, until tender. Taste the grain a few minutes before the recommended cooking time on the package so you don’t overcook it.
  4. Once it’s done cooking, drain the grain through a strainer.

Try out the pasta method: Wheat Berries and Brussels Sprouts

Quick tip: soaking wheat berries overnight speeds up the cooking, but if you skip this step, no biggie. While you’re making the wheat berries, while not double the amount so you’ll have leftovers for the rest of the week?

The Rice Method

Try it with quinoa

When in doubt, you can cook any whole grain with the rice method, which is the most classic way to cook grains.

  1. Add the grain to a large pot and cover with water (or stock for more flavor) as called for on the back of the package. The ratio of liquid to grain will vary, as each grain has a different protein, carb and moisture content. Add a little butter or oil if you like, and some salt.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid and cook until the liquid is absorbed and grain is tender.
  3. Turn off the heat and let the grain rest for five to ten minutes with the lid covered. Resting allows the liquid to redistribute throughout the grain and steam it, so that all the grains from the bottom to the top are evenly cooked.

Try out the rice method: Quinoa With Shiitakes and Snow Peas

Quinoa (which is technically a seed, although it's classified as and cooks like a whole grain) is fantastic for this method because it cooks quickly — in just about twenty minutes. But make sure you thoroughly rinse it before cooking. Toss the cooked quinoa with mushrooms and snow peas sautéed in toasted sesame oil (yum!).

The Pilaf method:

Try it with barley

Food Network Kitchen's Barley Pilaf for Whole Grains as seen on Food Network

Photo by: Stephen Johnson ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Stephen Johnson, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

If you have a few extra minutes of time on your hands, this technique will impart any whole grain with extra flavor.

  1. Heat some butter or oil in a saucepan over medium heat. If you’d like, add a dried herb like thyme or a spice like cumin to the fat and cook it for several minutes to develop (or "bloom") their flavor.
  2. Add the grain to the saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, until it’s coated evenly in oil and smells toasted. This should take about three or four minutes.
  3. Now proceed with the rice method outlined above, adding water or stock, covering and simmering until tender.

Try out the pilaf method: Barley Pilaf

This pilaf is made with hulled barley, which has more of its nutrients than pearled barley, so it takes a bit longer to cook. Use vegetable stock for a vegetarian version, but don’t skip the broken spaghetti that’s mixed in — it’s a great way to use up some pantry detritus and adds another layer of texture and flavor.

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