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A guide to cook whole grains well for a delicious and satiating meal

“With their rich, nutty flavour, 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. “Their earthiness and chewy texture complement vegetables and accent the bright notes in a dish.”

They’re also packed with fibre, 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 minutes
  • Barley: Boil 35 minutes for pearled; 45 minutes for hulled
  • Buckwheat: Boil for 12 to 15 minutes
  • Farro: Boil for 50 minutes for whole grain, 25 for semipearled, and 15 minutes for fully pearled
  • Quinoa: Boil for 12 minutes
  • Sorghum: Boil for 50 to 60 minutes
  • Teff: Boil for 10 minutes
  • Wheatberry: Boil for 45 minutes
quinoa how to cook whole grains
Image: Courtesy Shashi Chaturvedula/Unsplash

2. Marinate them warm

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

Goat Cheese Vinaigrette: Whisk together 1 minced shallot, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 to 4 oz. (55-115 gm) 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 flavour, marinate the legumes too). Then toss in some fresh and roasted vegetables for crunch and colour. Top with a generous sprinkle of whatever herb you have on hand.

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 tenderise.

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 flavour 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 (chilli-lime seasoning).

This story first appeared on

(Hero and Feature Image: Courtesy Caitlin Bensel)

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