Creative Ways to Cook with Whole Grains

You know they're good for you — now, you'll crave them, too.

Bowls of cooked whole grain dishes
Photo: Caitlin Bensel

"With their rich, nutty flavor, whole grains are the perfect component to almost any meal," says Abra Berens, the executive chef at Granor Farm in Michigan and the author of Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes (Buy It, $30, "Their earthiness and chewy texture complement vegetables and accent the bright notes in a dish."

They're also packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and they're a good source of plant-based protein. And they lend themselves to all kinds of cooking techniques, so it's easy to be creative and come up with new ways to serve them, says Berens. Use her delicious ideas to get started.

3 Simple Steps to Turn Whole Grains Into a Satisfying Meal

1. Add Water

Cooking whole grains doesn't have to be complicated — especially on busy weekday nights, says Berens. Just approach them like pasta: Boil them in plenty of salted water (no need to measure a certain amount), and drain the excess water when tender. (

To make sure grains are done, follow the time guidelines below, and check by biting into them. The grains should be tender throughout.

  • Amaranth: Boil for 20 min.
  • Barley: Boil 35 min. for pearled; 45 min. for hulled
  • Buckwheat: Boil for 12 to 15 min.
  • Farro: Boil for 50 min. for whole grain, 25 for semipearled, and 15 min. for fully pearled
  • Quinoa: Boil for 12 min.
  • Sorghum: Boil for 50 to 60 min.
  • Teff: Boil for 10 min.
  • Wheatberry: Boil for 45 min.

2. Marinate Them Warm

For truly flavorful whole grains, marinate them right after cooking — the heat pulls the flavor through to the center, says Berens. Try a zesty or creamy vinaigrette like Goat Cheese Vinaigrette, an herby pesto, or your favorite condiment.

Goat Cheese Vinaigrette: Whisk together 1 minced shallot, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 to 4 oz. goat cheese, 1/4 cup vinegar (any type), and 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt.

3. Finish with a Few Key Add-Ins

Combine marinated whole grains with legumes (for even more flavor, marinate the legumes too). Then toss in some fresh and roasted vegetables for crunch and color. Top with a generous sprinkle of whatever herb you have on hand.

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Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes

Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes

Clever Ways to Cook Whole Grains


This method works best with short and starchy varieties like farro, barley, and arborio rice, says Berens. As the starch releases, it thickens the liquid and the grains tenderize.

To do: Toast grains in oil. Add wine (optional), and cook until evaporated. Stirring constantly, add a ladleful of hot broth or water. After the liquid has been almost fully absorbed, add another ladleful. Continue until grains are tender.

Try this dish: Stir a creamy cheese like ricotta or mascarpone (or use grated cheddar) and arugula into a risotto made from barley. Top with apple slices sautéed with ginger.


Stewing intensifies the flavor of the whole grains as well as all the other ingredients, says Berens.

To do: Sauté aromatics (onion, garlic, and herbs like thyme or sage), then add your grain of choice, along with broth, water, or even beer, says Berens. Simmer until the grains are tender and the liquid is almost completely absorbed.

Try this dish: Stew farro in vegetable broth with zucchini and rosemary. Top with a drizzle of olive oil infused with paprika and cumin.


This is a great way to use up cooked whole grains. Once they're crisped, scatter them over roasted vegetables, pasta dishes, and salads for some tasty crunch, Berens says. (Translation: This hack is perfect for your weekly meal prep.)

To do: In a skillet, fry cooked grains (pat them dry first) in olive oil until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate, and sprinkle with salt.

Try this dish: Toss crisped freekeh into a sliced cabbage and kohlrabi salad. Add cilantro, chopped pitted dates, and Tajin (chili-lime seasoning).

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