Ask a Chef: The Right Way to Cook Grains

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How cruel is it that processed grains are bad for us? Wasn't figuring out how to make bread one of the biggest milestones in the development of humanity? Many of us have become accustomed to foods so removed from the original grains that we hardly know what they look or taste like anymore, but they can be an incredibly tasty addition to our kitchens. And yes, they may be healthier too. 

"I like to use grains that will hold up over a long period of cooking time but also fill healthy voids in certain dishes," says Chef Louis Moldando of Spoonbar, where things like brown rice porridge and guinea hen with braised farro dot the menu. "I like to use farro, steel cut oats, barley and wheat berries in place of potato, pasta, etc. for my when I’m cooking at home. Not to say I don't like any of the above but when it comes to eating a healthy diet and routine you have mix it up or you’re constantly working against yourself."

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Lots of whole grains can be bought in bulk, saving you money, but also making them a bit tricky to store depending on your pantry room situation. If you're buying them in bulk, make sure it's at a place with high turnover so they haven't had a chance to sit out for too long and go rancid. If they have an oily or musty scent, that’s a bad sign. Once you get them home, store them in airtight containers, and to extend their shelf life you can store them in the freezer.

"Not preparing them properly unfortunately contributes to come peoples' dislike of grains," says Chef Moldando, most commonly because they’re undercooked. The cooking time is different for each type of grain, but remember to wash the grains thoroughly before cooking. The other issue is that often, we just don’t know what to do with them besides put them in a bowl and eat them, and man cannot live on oatmeal alone. Chef Moldando has a few tricks for incorporating grains into everyday meals. "I like to make a bolognese or rich tomato sauce, and do layers of toasted farro, vegetables, tomato sauce, onions, a touch of cheese, then bake for 2-3 hours," he says. “You end up with the ultimate lasagna that doesn't fill you up but hits the right craving and also gives you the right protein and carbohydrates.” Another trick is to use oatmeal, which has a natural creaminess when cooked, in place of cheese on gratins.

Grains don’t even have to be a substitute. When making any stew, add wheat berries or barley to help thicken it, and the next time you make oatmeal cookies, you can substitute broken farro or quinoa. So maybe start making your acquaintance with the bulk bins at your grocery store. If anything' you'll always have spare bird feed.

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