Grains have been a part of the world’s diet for centuries but we’re just now beginning to better appreciate them for their nutrition, flavor and versatility—there aren’t many ingredients that can play a part in nearly every meal of the day. Grains certainly can.
While the grain world is quite broad, there are several that we revisit often. They all have different flavor profiles and unique textures, but all are delicious and satisfying in their own way. Here are the five grains we always have on hand in our pantry:
Barley: One of the oldest grains on the planet, barley is a favorite grain to add to soups but it also makes a delightful cold salad. Barley in its purest state has a very tough, inedible hull which, when removed also takes away some of the fiber-rich bran on the kernels. “Pearl” barley has been processed to remove that hull but some of the bran still remains.
Farro: Although farro may seem like a new, trendy ingredient showing up on restaurant menus and in gourmet food stores, it’s actually an ancient variety of wheat that is loved in Italy for its chewy texture and sweet flavor. Like barley, it’s right at home in soup but is also wonderful as a salad or even as an ingredient in a hearty entrée.
Quinoa: A distant cousin to Swiss chard and beets, quinoa is a seed which cooks quickly into a light, fluffy mixture that makes a fabulous side dish, base for a “bowl” salad, stuffing for peppers or addition to soup. Quinoa is known for its protein content, making it a popular ingredient in vegetarian dishes. White quinoa is most common but it also comes in red, purple and black varieties—feel free to use them interchangeably in recipes (although the color of the finished dish will obviously be different).
Rice: From Indian basmati to Thai jasmine, black, red and brown, rice has been a staple of the world’s cuisines for centuries. The countries of Asia alone grow and consume 90% of the world’s rice crop! Varieties vary in starch content—generally speaking, short grain rice is starchier (and stickier) than long grain. Arborio, a short grain, is prized for making creamy risotto, while basmati and jasmine, both long-grain varieties, are ideal for side dishes that require less sticky grains, like pilaf. Brown rice is simply rice that still has its brown hull and bran covering the grain. It takes longer to cook than white rice but retains more vitamins and minerals.
Wild rice: Technically a grass seed, not a grain, wild rice is indigenous to North America and is harvested in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada, as well as California. We love it in soup, of course, but it’s also wonderful as a cold salad or as part of a spicy sausage skillet.
When it comes to cooking these grains, expect them to take time. Aside from the quinoa, they can take 45 minutes to 1 hour to become tender; a pressure cooker can shave that time in half—check the cooker owners manual for specific cooking instructions for grains.
While the grains each have their own unique flavor profiles and are delicious in their purest state, we have a couple of tricks up our sleeve to help bolster their flavor and the overall taste of a dish. One thing we always do is cook grains in Swanson® broth instead of water. You’ll be amazed at what this simple trick does to the final dish. After cooking, if the grains are going into a salad, we toss them in the salad dressing while they’re hot. The grains will take on the flavor of the dressing and give the salad a deeper, more well-rounded taste.