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Get to know these 8 great grains

Slow cooked farro with mushrooms and spinach.Sally Pasley Vargas

Look for whole grains in natural foods stores and supermarkets. Elmendorf Baking Supplies (594 Cambridge St., Cambridge, www.elmendorfbaking.com) carries a wide selection of whole grains, including whole farro, einkorn, spelt, dried corn, and wheat and rye berries, which it also mills into flour. Online sources include Bob’s Red Mill (www.bobsredmill.com) and Arrowhead Mills (www.arrowheadmills.com).

Here are eight you should get to know.

Brown rice, with its bran layers and germ intact, has more fiber, protein, and nutrients than white rice. Use brown rice as a side dish with meats and vegetables, with a stir-fry or curry, in fried rice, and paired with beans in burrito bowls. Toss brown rice with caramelized onions and mushrooms; add cooked lentils or beans for a complete protein. Simmer for 40 to 60 minutes (depending on the size and type) until firm-tender.


Bulgur is steamed, dried, and cracked wheat. It is known for its role in tabbouleh, a lemony salad with parsley, mint, tomatoes, onion and bulgur, and in kibbeh (ground meat and bulgur mixture). Bulgur can substitute for couscous (which is a pasta, not a whole grain) in Moroccan style dishes and be added to salads, soups, and stews.

Soak fine bulgur in about twice as much boiling water as grain and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes or until tender. Medium and coarse bulgur require simmering for 10 to 20 minutes. Another cracked wheat product, freekeh is made from young, green wheat, dried and roasted, and has a subtle smoky flavor. It cooks in about 15 minutes.

Farro is an ancient wheat grain with a nice chewy texture and nutty flavor similar to wheat berries. Farro is often sold pearled or semi-pearled, which means it has been milled (refined) to remove the bran layer. If pearled, it’s not a whole grain, but still offers plentiful nutrients and fiber. (This is similar to pearl barley, which has its bran layer removed.) Look for whole farro and whole barley, which will take slightly longer to cook. Pearled farro cooks in 25 to 35 minutes.


Farro is a great addition to salads and grain bowls as well as tossed with sauteed greens and other vegetables. Try farro mixed with chopped tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, feta, and fresh parsley and drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar. You can also make a farro (or barley) risotto.

Kamut is a modern variety (and trademarked brand) of ancient khorasan wheat. It is a good source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and many minerals. It has a firm-chewy, popping texture and slightly buttery taste. Simmer in a large pot of water until tender, which can take about 1 to 1½ hours (shorter if soaked ahead). Add to chili, stews, soups, and grain bowls, where the grains will add a welcome chewiness.

Millet is a small, yellow, bead-like seed that has a slight corn flavor. The grain benefits from toasting before simmering to maintain its delicate texture. Rinse the millet and drain well. In a dry skillet, heat 1 cup of millet over medium heat, stirring and shaking the pan often, until the grains are lightly toasted and start to crackle and jump in the pan. Remove from the heat. In a large saucepan, bring about 4 cups of water and ½ teaspoon kosher salt to a boil. Stir in the toasted millet, return to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the millet is tender but still grainy-textured.


Add millet to all kinds of salads or serve it as you would polenta: Spoon a chunky tomato sauce (with or without meat) or roasted vegetables over the grains. Or stir in cooked diced sausage and top with sauteed shrimp. Or top with sauteed greens and fried eggs.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), indigenous to the South American Andes region, is quick-cooking, gluten-free, and high in protein, B and E vitamins, iron and other minerals. The seeds can be white, red, or black and have a pleasant grassy-grainy flavor and delicate, slightly crunchy texture. The seeds have a natural bitter coating of saponins to resist pests, so rinse quinoa thoroughly in a sieve before cooking. Simmer in a saucepan of lightly salted water for 12 to 15 minutes or until tender and the seed germs look like tiny curly tails. Quinoa is a great addition to grain bowls and salads, and to accompany poultry and vegetable dishes.

Wheat berries are the whole wheat kernel and have a wheaty, nutty flavor and nice chewiness that almost pops in your mouth. The kernels may be labeled soft or hard wheat (the latter has more protein and gluten), spring or winter (based on when harvested), white or red (the color of the kernels), or not labeled at all. Cooking times range from 45 to 60 minutes or more (shorter if soaked ahead).


Use wheat berries in salads, add to soups and chili, combine with beans and veggies for hearty grain or burrito bowls, toss with roasted chopped vegetables, and combine with ground beef or ground turkey to make healthier burgers.

Wild rice is not technically a rice or cereal grain, but the seed of an aquatic grass native to North America. It’s gluten-free, fiber-rich, packed with B vitamins and some protein. It has a firm-chewy texture and tastes slightly vegetal and grassy. Simmer 1 to 2 cups of wild rice in about 8 cups of gently boiling, lightly salted water until firm-tender, about 40 to 60 minutes.

Blend wild rice with white or brown rice to make a pleasing mixture, add to chicken or vegetable soups, or toss with chopped carrots, celery, cucumber, and/or bell pepper for a chunky salad. The chewy rice pairs beautifully with fruit, such as dried fruits, blueberries, and diced apple, and all kinds of toasted nuts.


Lisa Zwirn can be reached at lisa@lisazwirn.com