How to Cook Almost Any Grain

Guess what? If you can boil water you can successfully cook up a pot of grains. Try this with any of the eight quick cooking grains mentioned in Eight Grains to Start Cooking Today. Here’s how:

Add 1 cup of grains to a small a saucepan with a pinch of salt. Cover with water by one inch. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a constant simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the grain is tender. The grain is done when it tastes done, and ideally, this will be at the same point when the water is completely absorbed. If not, add water, if necessary, to prevent pan from drying out. Or, drain excess water if done. Serve with a little olive oil or butter.

This is the basic method. Once you’ve got that down, try out some of these tips to bring your grains to the next level:

  1. Replace cooking water with stock, juice, wine, or dairy.
  2. Toast the grain before cooking to enhance the flavor.
  3. Grains keep well in the fridge or freezer – so make extra
  4. Add cooked grains to savory baked goods to create texture.
  5. Think beyond the recipe – most grains are interchangeable, try subbing out one for another of similar taste and texture.
  6. Buy grains in the bulk section! You’ll save money and can buy just the amount you need.
  7. Stick to quick cooking grains on busy weekday nights and try longer cooking varieties like wild rice, wheat berries,and rye, for the weekend.
  8. Get creative. Look for ways to use grains in every meal, even dessert.

Polenta with Tomatoes and Kale

If you’ve never heard of it before, polenta is basically a fancy corn mush that is very similar to the southern staple known as grits. Made with inexpensive, household corn meal, polenta is a great example of how easy it is to cook with grains.  It doesn’t take long to prepare and even better yet, you probably already have corn meal in your pantry. As with most other grains, the basic cooking premise involves boiling the grain in water or other liquid – a task that a cook of any ability level can handle.

While there is pre-made polenta for sale in tubes in the grocery stores, there is really no need to go that route when the cooking process is this simple. Start with the basic recipe then adapt depending upon what you intend to serve it with. Here, I use it as I might pasta – with some Parmesan added in and topped with a crushed tomato sauce and sautéed kale.

I think that the key to a great polenta, or any grain, dish is to use it as the base on which to highlight things such as a nice cut of meat, seasonal vegetables, or even fresh fruit. I’ve seen polenta used in many ways – as the pasta base in a lasagna, mixed with pumpkin puree and served with pork, and even flavored with a little maple syrup and topped with berries as a breakfast dish. Once you get the hang of this simple base recipe, try getting more creative.

Basic Polenta

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • salt
  • 1 cup course cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Combine the milk with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Barely bring to a boil, then add the cornmeal, whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Turn the heat to low and simmer, while whisking on and off, until thick, 10 to 15 minutes. Add in more water if it gets too thick. Add in the butter and Parmesan, if using.


  • Mixing in chopped fresh herbs like rosemary and sage and adding in minced garlic
  • Pouring into a pan, letting cool for ten minutes, cutting into slices and grilling or pan frying with a little oil

For the quick tomato sauce:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook one clove minced garlic with a pinch of red pepper flakes in two tablespoons of olive oil for thirty seconds. Add in one chopped onion and two tablespoons finely chopped, fresh oregano. Cook until soft – 5 minutes or so. Pour two cups crushed tomatoes into the pan with a large pinch of salt. Stir, bring to a boil, and turn heat down to low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Mix in a small bunch of fresh, roughly torn basil and 1/4 cup chopped parsley and you’re good to go.

Eight Grains to Start Cooking Today

Grains are an important part of our diet and cooking them is not nearly as challenging as people seem to believe. In fact, you can cook almost any grain in the same fashion as pasta – by boiling! And also like pasta, grains are inexpensive. Look for them in the bulk section of stores, where you can buy just as much as you’d like, especially if you’re trying a grain for the first time.

Get to know these eight grains, all of which cook up in 30 minutes or less.


couscous2Cook Time: 5 – 15 minutes

Usually made from
semolina or whole wheat flour. Comes in a variety of sizes and colors.
A very forgiving grain – won’t turn to mush when cooking (or overcooking)
Try as a vegetable pilaf, risotto, stew or gratin




Cook Time: 5 – 10 minutes

Rolled oats are the most flavorful and best textured oat variety.

Try as oatmeal, granola, or adding into baked goods

Combine with fresh or dried fruit, ground spices, nuts and seeds
bulgar2Cook Time: 10 – 20 minutes

Bulgar is nothing more than finely ground wheat kernels that have a mild, nutty flavor and fluffy texture.

Try: creaming bulgar and serving with roasted or grilled vegetables, making into a pilaf, chili or pan fried patties.



Cook Time: about 20 minutes

Quinoa is nutty and grassy in flavor with a slight crunch.

Try: serving with caramelized onions, herbs, and other vegetables, in a potato pancake, or roasted with potatoes and cheese
barley2Cook time: about 20 minutes

Pearled barley is creamy, with a slightly chewy texture, which makes it a great rice alternative

Try: it as a pilaf, with mushrooms in a stew, or as a succotash with beans and corn


cornmealCook time: 20 – 30 minutes

Cornmeal is exactly what it sounds like – ground and dried corn kernels. Look for stone ground, which is the most flavorful and least processed

Use yellow cornmeal for polenta and white for grits. Serve either seasoned with cheese and herbs, with meat, vegetables, beans and herbs



Cook time: 20 – 30 minutes

Kasha is hulled and roasted buckwheat kernels that have a unique, nutty taste. Toast in a skillet before cooking to prevent a mushy texture in the end.

Try: serving with onions, parsnips, mushrooms or bitter greens



Cook time: 20 – 30 minutes

Millet is mild, nutty and cornlike. It is said to be one of the first grains used by humans in Ancient China.

Try: making into a mash with garlic and cauliflower or carrots, or bake with winter squash