Whole grains have become one of the hottest food trends in recent years, with home cooks expanding far beyond oats and rice to such exotic grains as quinoa and bulgur. Though they have been around for thousands of years, these ancient grains are finally making their way into many Canadian kitchens.
Comforting, easy to digest and mellow in flavour, starchy foods like bread, rice and pasta are among the most popular foods for kids. So it stands to reason that alternative grains such as millet and barley should be an easy sell.
For a rundown on what’s out there, how to cook it, and how to serve it, read the grain glossary below.
Barley: Pearl and pot barley are common on most grocery store shelves, the former having had their hulls a little more buffed than the latter. Both can be tossed into soup or cooked in a pot of boiling water for 40-45 minutes; barley flakes look and cook the same as old-fashioned (large flake) oats.
Buckwheat: Native to Russia, buckwheat is actually the triangular-shaped seed of a plant related to rhubarb. Despite its name, buckwheat is gluten-free and most often found in flour form, as soba noodles or kasha.
Bulgur: Cracked wheat berries that have been hulled and steamed, bulgur is best known for its role in tabbouleh, the Middle Eastern salad loaded with parsley and lemon. It’s classified by texture, ranging from coarse to fi ne, and is easy to cook, needing only to be reconstituted by pouring boiling water overtop, similar to couscous.
Kamut: Kamut (pronounced ka-moot) is actually the trademarked name for an ancient khorasan variety of wheat. Many people find it more digestible than modern wheat, and it can be found in similar forms.
Millet: A staple in many parts of the world for thousands of years, millet is easily digestible with a mellow flavour. The teeny grains can be cooked like rice, with a ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part millet, for 20 minutes.
Quinoa: Actually a seed related to leafy greens like beets and kale, quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse, providing a complete protein on its own, and it’s gluten-free. It needs to be washed and drained in a fine sieve to get rid of a natural insect repellant coating that’s not harmful, but tastes bitter. Cook it as you would cook rice.
Steel-cut Oats: While the breakfast cereal varieties of rolled oats are popular, steel-cut oats are used less often, but have potential in savoury side dishes and soups as well. They take 20-30 minutes to cook in a pot of water; use a ratio of 3 to 1 water to oats if making porridge.
Spelt: An ancient red wheat, spelt is found to be more easily digestible than other types of wheat, but is available in similar forms.
Wheat Berries: They look like plump, mahogany-coloured brown rice and have a dense, chewy texture. Boil in water for 1 hour to plump them up, and drain well.
Wild Rice: Truly Canadian, wild rice is harvested from a species of grasses native to the Great Lakes region. Cook it as you would brown rice, for 40-45 minutes.
Originally published in ParentsCanada, April 2012