Cooking With: Grains of All Shapes & Sizes

27 Sep

Quinoa? Brown rice? Couscous? Sign me up!

One of my favorite ways to add to a meal is using grains. I know we live in something of a carb-fearing time, but grains — real, whole grains, with a history and flavor to ’em beyond being overbleached and stripped of all nutrients — are so much more than just “carbs.” They can be the basis of an entire meal.

Just a few of our grainy friends! (In a flash-tastic photo — glamor shot, I suppose.)

For real? For real! Take quinoa, for example. Quinoa’s probably the “hippest” grain around right now, mostly due to its omnipresence on Pinterest and all health-food outlets known to man. Quinoa is an ancient Native American grain with loads of protein, a nutty flavor, and a soft “bite” to its texture. For those watching their gluten intake, it’s gluten-free. For those watching their tasty-intake, it’s a killer addition to many a meal. For example:

  • Whip up some quinoa oatmeal for breakfast — a protein-rich “cereal” with warmth and flavor.
  • Replace the bulgur usually found in tabbouleh with quinoa. The earthiness of quinoa’s flavor pairs nicely with the tomatoes, parsley, lemon and other tabbouleh flavors.
  • Mix with chick peas, chopped tomatoes, quick-sauteed veggies (asparagus? Broccoli? Green beans?), Parmesan, and a dressing of Olive Oil & Balsamic vinegar to create an Italian Quinoa Bowl. So, so good. Surprisingly hearty and crazy-delicious. (Not as “crazy-delicious” as Mr. Pibb + Red Vines, but a lady can dream.)
  • Try cooked quinoa as a replacement for breadcrumbs in a recipe for turkey meatloaf, like this one from The dense, protein-rich loaf will keep you full for hours. Great for a leftover lunch on a long work day.

Image sourced from Quinoa tacos! Whoda thunkit?

  • Mix sauteed onions & peppers, black beans, and quinoa, top with avocado, sour cream, lime juice and shredded cheese, and voila! You have a delicious vegetarian taco filling to serve over tortillas. Nom nom nom!

Here are a few of my other favorite grains, and some suggested recipes or uses for them. Some are pretty straightforward, and others could be a surprise. Expect the unexpected! And as the wisest woman I ever “knew,” Ms. Frizzle, once said, “Take chances! Make mistakes!”

Image sourced from

  • Couscous: A workhorse that cooks in almost no time at all, couscous is delicious when prepared with chicken broth instead of water. Use it as a base for a sauteed and seasoned (S&P + chili powder + cumin) mixture of sweet potatoes, red peppers & black beans. It’s also excellent as a base for stir-fry, or — surprisingly — in salads, like this Summer Garden salad from the wise folks at Taste of Home.

Image sourced from

  • Brown Rice: I recently used brown rice — a great base for almost any meal, from soups to stir-fry — as a binding ingredient in homemade Black Bean Burgers. Combine mashed black beans, brown rice, a tbsp of mayo, and spices / herbs to your liking. Mash into a patty, grill over medium heat, and serve on a bun! Brown rice can even show up in pancakes, like this recipe from Simply Cooked.

Image sourced from

Image sourced from

  • Bulgur: The original basis for a classic tabbouleh, bulgur’s uses are as limited as your imagination. Try this quick-cooking grain in dishes like Ellie Krieger’s Herbed Bulgur-Lentil Pilaf. Nom nom nom!

What are your favorite grains? Are you big fans of basmati rice? How about jamming with jasmine rice? Minnesota wild rice-lovers out there? What else do you use to stock your pantry with grainy goodness?


3 Responses to “Cooking With: Grains of All Shapes & Sizes”

  1. Amy September 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    I recently ventured into the quinoa hole. I use it 50/50 with basmati rice as a healthier base for stir-frys they have similar cook times and water needs). I also made a quinoa mexican rice last night… Cooked in veggie broth with salsa and corn. Yum!

    • galleykitchengal September 28, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      Mmm! Hadn’t thought of the veggie broth — great idea! That mexican rice would be so good with some vegetarian tacos .. 🙂 As always, thanks for the awesome ideas!


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    […] with grains (rice, millet, quinoa, cous cous), a side salad, and some good wine. By “Good,” I mean, […]

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