Cooking With Ancient Grains

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ancient-grains1 Brown rice, whole wheat breads and whole grain pastas have been pretty steady partners in my pantry for several years.  I’m always stocked on a variety of whole grain products!  But just when I thought I’ve mastered cooking with anything from quinoa to barley, I’ve found that there are a whole slew of new grains taking the stage in my grocery store.  It seems like its time for me to venture out of my old standby’s of wheat, oats, corn and rice to try out some of these newly popular ancient grains.

Ancient grains are rapidly gaining in popularity here in the US.  These types of grains don’t have an official definition, but most come from plants that have been cultivated for 100’s of years – way before modern times.  Many of these grains are still quite common and frequently used in their countries of origin like Africa, Europe or the Middle East.  Here, these different grains have gained popularity for their unique flavor, but also their health benefits.  Most, if not all, ancient grains are 100% whole grains.

grains2 I’ve cooked with a few of these grains – like quinoa, millet and faro.  But I have a few I still have yet to work with, like sorghum or spelt or even bulgur (I’ll have to let you know how they turn out!).  But I thought I’d share some insight into the flavors, cooking recommendations and background information on some of these old newbies!  And share a recipe or two from a few fellow food bloggers.

  • Buckwheat – although this grain has “wheat” in it name, it’s actually completely unrelated to wheat.  It’s a gluten-free seed from a fruit related to rhubarb!  I find the best way to cook buckwheat is to simmer in boiling water for about 20 minutes and then drain just as you would pasta.  1 cup of raw buckwheat is about 4 cups cooked.  Buckwheat can also be roasted in the oven to make Kasha which is a great addition to granola.  Or even ground into a delicious gluten-free flour.  Try buckwheat in Crunchy Buckwheat Granola from Kath Eats!
  • Bulgur – is a dried, cracked wheat kernel that is great because it requires minimal cooking.  Just soak for 30-45 mins in boiling water and they’ll be ready to eat!  One cup of bulgur is about 3 cups cooked.  Try in this Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas & Red Peppers from Smitten Kitchen.
  • Farro – originally from Egypt, it’s been grown in Italy for 100’s of years and now even being grown in the US.  Farro is a type of wheat which you can find in whole grain form or semi-pearled or pearled (less nutrients).  If using whole, farro can take up to 45 mins-1 hour to cook.  Semi-pearled and pearled take less time, but you’re missing out on great nutrients.  It’s nutty flavor lends well to cold salads or a filling substitute for rice!  Try this Farro With Feta, Cucumbers & Sundried Tomatoes from Skinny Taste.
  • Spelt – is similar to Farro in that it’s a form of wheat.  These grains stay nice and fluffy and separate after their cooked which is nice.  You can soak spelt over night to shave off about 20 minutes from the cooking time.  But again, cook like pasta in large amounts of boiling water for 45 mins – 1 hour. One cup of uncooked grains will yield about 3 cups cooked.  Try this Cilantro Lime Spelt Berry Salad from Oh She Glows.
  • Millet – is produced mainly in India, Africa and China.  It’s super easy to prepare with no presoaking required.  A quick 30 minute boil is all it takes.  Toasting millet prior to cooking helps enhance its nutty corn like flavor.  Millet can be used in place of rice or can be prepared into a creamy porridge like consistency.  Try this Creamy Millet Porridge with Roasted Strawberries from Naturally Ella.  

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