Whole grains have been lauded by nutritionists and health nuts for decades now, and, more recently, a whole series of "ancient grains" have moved in and out of the spotlight. Quinoa, barley, and buckwheat, followed by kamut, spelt, teff, farro, and plenty others, have all taken turns as the super-grain-you've-never-heard-of (or, at least, never-really-thought-about) du jour, the one that will supposedly work wonders on your health.
While we can't attest to the magical powers of any one grain, we do know this: Whole grains are terrifically tasty, filling, and versatile as well as being good for you on the whole, no matter which one is trending now. They're a natural base for salads, a texture enhancer in soups, and delicious cooked up into a side dish (when properly seasoned and complemented with other ingredients, of course). And, while it might not confer the exact same health benefits, flour made from whole grains—whether it's the buckwheat in Japanese soba or the spelt flour in our cinnamon apple cake—is often all you need to start adding new flavors and textures to your cooking and baking repertoire.
If you're interested in learning more about the proper selection, treatment, and storage of grains, both the familiar and unfamiliar, check out this handy Guide to Whole Grains. But if you'd rather just get to cooking, read on for 33 recipes to get you started on incorporating more of these tasty little nutrient packages into your meals.
The category of wheat is vast and includes many of the popular ancient grains sought out today, but nutty, fibrous spelt is one of our favorites. Here, we use it as a salad base, combining it with quickly cooked mushrooms and leeks. After cooking, we marinate the vegetables in apple cider vinegar for a little tartness to play against the earthy grain, and add a sprinkling of espelette powder for a mild fruity flavor and pretty color.
Turning a grain and vegetable salad into a filling main is as simple as adding beans. This one uses al dente farro, lentils, and small white beans, but its flavor comes primarily from caramelized roasted vegetables. Although we call for zucchini, eggplant, and sweet peppers, feel free to play around with more seasonal ingredients and pantry staples—you might try fennel or black olives.
Bulgur, a Middle Eastern grain made from parboiled and dried wheat kernels, is a fast-cooking crowd-pleaser. Here, we toss it with the contrasting flavors of sweet dried apricots, bitter radicchio, and chopped mint and parsley for freshness. A half-cup of chopped walnuts adds some pleasant crunch.
To enhance the flavor of bulgur, try toasting it before cooking—it maximizes the nuttiness of the grain while adding only a few minutes to your total prep time. This salad complements the bulgur with a strikingly diverse lineup of assertive ingredients: smoked trout, radish, red onion, and Granny Smith apple. But the real eyepopper in this dish is the candied lemon, made by steeping lemon suprèmes in simple syrup to mellow their acidity without leaving them overly sweet.
We particularly like the pearled or Israeli version of semolina-based couscous for its larger, chewier grains. Here, we marry its Middle Eastern roots with a Scandinavian theme, tossing the couscous with flaked salmon, dill, and mustard. A handful or two of spinach leaves wilts up nicely in the salad, adding nutrients and flavor.
A well-rounded, comforting one-pot meal, this dish—combining pearled couscous with chickpeas, sautéed butternut squash, and pancetta—is a perfect choice for a winter weeknight dinner. A garnish of toasted sliced almonds will give it a little more texture. To make it vegetarian, replace the pancetta with a similarly salty element, like a briny cheese.
This is the kind of breakfast we should all be eating before we head to work. A tangy, vinegar-tossed mixture of farro and garlicky kale is the perfect base for poached or fried eggs.
To make this flavorful salad, farro is simmered with a combination of onion, garlic, and carrot, before the grains are combined with tomatoes, cucumbers, and plenty of herbs. A red wine vinaigrette, a handful of pine nuts, and a crumbling of blue cheese bring this fresh and filling salad together.
This one-pot farro salad is best served warm. The perfectly chewy grains are paired with tender spring peas, asparagus, hearty kale, and crunchy almonds. The mixture is tossed in a tangy lemon-mustard vinaigrette and finished with a generous amount of briny feta cheese.
Made with equal parts cake flour and spelt flour, this cake feels relatively wholesome without being austere, sweet but not too sweet. Chopped apples and sliced almonds provide little pops of texture and flavor throughout, and all of the cake's fat comes from sour cream, which gives it a subtle tartness. A pinch of cayenne pepper is the surprise secret ingredient.
The majority of us are familiar with barley's malty flavor through beer and its meaty texture through soup, but this grain can do much more. Cook it as you would risotto, and it takes on a texture somewhere between that of pasta and Israeli couscous. For this all-in-one-skillet dinner, we wilt some kale into the cooked barley, crack a few eggs over the top, then bake it all until the eggs set. Drizzle a little olive oil over it to keep the top from drying out.
The soft flavor and robust texture of barley stand up well to stronger ingredients, like broccoli, tomatoes, and feta cheese in this skillet dinner. We call for grape tomatoes here, which, unlike most tomatoes, are good all year long. For more control over the level of heat, replace the half jalapeño here with red pepper flakes.
While store-bought frozen veggie burgers do vary in quality, none comes close to the kind you can make from scratch at home. To nail the texture—soft and tender, but with little bites of crunch and chew—and mix of savory flavors, our recipe uses a variety of vegetables (leeks, garlic, and mushrooms), chickpeas, cashews, pine nuts, barley, and bread crumbs, with roasted eggplant and Marmite to add extra savoriness. Make a big batch to freeze, and enjoy them all winter long.
Sturdy winter greens and barley do a great job of lending texture and substance to vegetarian dishes. In this soup, we use mildly astringent escarole sautéed with aromatics to temper the bitterness. Tomato paste, soy sauce, and a Parmesan rind in the soup base provide plenty of savory flavor.
Beef barley soup is a classic—and really, truly perfect—winter soup. But the classic version takes quite some time to cook. In this pressure cooker version, a deeply flavorful and comforting beef barley soup comes together in about an hour, from start to finish.
If time isn't an issue, give this more traditional beef barley soup recipe a go. Our version is loaded with chunks of tender beef, plump grains of barley and lots of aromatic vegetables.
Easy to cook, healthy (if that's important to you), and gluten-free (see above), quinoa makes a perfect base for all sorts of dishes. This refreshing, tabbouleh-inspired salad uses ingredients generally associated with summer—cucumber, parsley, mint, and fresh tomatoes—but due to the wonder of grape tomatoes, you can make it right now without sacrificing flavor.
This quinoa salad is bursting with flavorful ingredients—tart cherries, salty feta, and fresh mint and parsley, all tossed together in a bright, lemony sumac vinaigrette. (Sumac is easy to find online if it's not available in stores near you.) Dress the salad right before serving for the best texture.
The ingredient list for this one-pot dish may read like a menu for rabbits, but a generous dose of curry powder, toasted to enhance its flavor, saves it from bland doom. Quinoa pairs with kale and sweet caramelized broccoli and cauliflower for a fresh-tasting dish that's great for those times when you need a little nutrient replenishment.
When you want to turn a soup from a starter or side into a satisfying meal, adding quinoa is a no-brainer. This colorful vegan soup is made with quinoa, butternut squash, onion, carrot, bell pepper, and kale, seasoned with curry powder and red pepper flakes. For a little freshness and crunch, we garnish each bowl with pepitas and cilantro.
When you hear the word "rye," the first things that come into your mind are probably bread and whiskey. While we don't have any distilling recipes for you, we do have a winning rye loaf, dense and chewy and studded with caraway and sesame seeds. Be forewarned that this is an intensely flavored bread for serious rye lovers only. As such, it's better suited for slicing thin and topping lightly (with cream cheese and raw onion, for instance) than for building sandwiches.
If you've never tried cooking with rye berries before, you're in for a treat: They're chewy, earthy, sweet, and wonderful as a salad base. This vegan dish combines them with carrots, onions, cilantro, celery, and toasted Marcona almonds, plus an easy vinaigrette. For the best flavor and texture, cook the carrots whole instead of chopping them beforehand.
One major perk of using whole grains is that they're highly interchangeable—keep a couple of your favorites on hand and you can make just about any grain recipe you'd like by swapping them in. Made with sweet roasted fennel and peppery arugula, this well-rounded salad would work well with spelt or farro, but our preference is for rye berries. A good amount of salty prosciutto and Pecorino balances out the vegetables and grains.
Intensely earthy whole buckwheat groats, sometimes called kasha, are most commonly associated with the traditional Jewish dish kasha varnishkes, which mixes the groats with bowtie pasta. This recipe puts a Chinese spin on the classic, dressing it with soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, cilantro, and garlic-chili paste.
Thin, chewy soba noodles are perhaps the most familiar incarnation of buckwheat these days and with good reason: They add heft and protein to soups and make unexpectedly good Asian-style pasta salads—and they do just fine as part of a main dish, too. Here, we cook our soba in chicken broth, then toss in shrimp, wakame seaweed, and tiny enoki mushrooms. Finish the dish simply with a seasoning of soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, lime juice, and scallions.
Soba combines with chicken and tofu in a protein-packed bowl of soup to warm you up through and through. An aromatic broth scented with lemongrass, ginger, and star anise sets off the meat and tofu with bright and spicy flavors, and bok choy and shiitake mushrooms make the soup extra hearty.
The distinctly nutty flavor of buckwheat sets these blini apart from ones made entirely with all-purpose flour. Stiffly beaten egg whites give the little pancakes an airy lift. The blini offer up their buckwheat-heavy flavor without overwhelming the taste of salty caviar you'll inevitably be piling onto each pancake.
The rich, earthy flavor of the buckwheat in these crepes pairs perfectly with all sorts of nonsweet fillings, like eggs, cheese, and salty-sweet ham.
If you're in search of a dessert that takes advantage of buckwheat's unique flavor, this roasted-buckwheat custard is for you. Japanese roasted-buckwheat tea is responsible for giving these custards their almost-savory and toasted taste, that pairs so well with the lightly sweet dairy.
With its chewy texture and deep, vegetal flavor, wild rice—technically not a rice at all, but the seeds harvested from a species of grass—is one of the most distinctive grains around. Made with sweet-tart dried cranberries, toasted pecans, scallions, and an orange vinaigrette, this salad is loaded with fall and winter flavors and works wonderfully as a side dish for roast chicken.
This dish is more than filling enough to be a meal, but its pretty presentation makes it a great side, too—though you'll want to split each piece in two before serving, in that case. We stuff halved acorn squash with a mixture of wild and white rice, onion, garlic, pecans, cranberries, and ricotta cheese. Drizzle each squash half with olive oil, stick them into a 375°F oven, and you'll have dinner ready and waiting in 40 minutes.
Earthy wild rice gets an equally earthy treatment in this salad, where it's paired with mushrooms, celery root, and toasted pine nuts. If you want to bump up the rice's savory flavor, you can opt to cook the grains in stock and umami-packed dried mushrooms.
The wild rice in this salad is combined with a bright mixture of sweet dried cranberries and tangy pickled apples. Toasted pecans offer a balancing richness, and sautéed onion and celery bring aromatic depth.
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