Appreciated the world over, grains play an important role in the diet. They add flavour and texture to our meals, along with important nutrients. When meat or other protein-rich foods are in short supply, grains are an economical, healthy way to extend them. And as grains are used so creatively in so many cuisines, the adventurous cook will find it easy to compile exciting menus that feature these delicious ingredients.
Grains are the seed kernels of cereal plants that are members of the grass family. Most require some processing after harvesting to make them easier to cook and to digest. Rice, wild rice, and barley, for example, must be husked; white rice and barley are also polished, an additional step. Groats, whole grains, or wheat berries (whole wheat kernels) are grains that are husked, but not polished or ground into flour (as corn is for cornmeal (maize flour) or polenta and wheat for couscous). Because they contain the complete kernel -- bran, oil-rich germ, and endosperm -- grains in these forms take longer to cook and can turn rancid quickly.
Rinsing Wild Rice
Unlike most rices, wild rice must be rinsed before cooking (basmati rice is often rinsed as well). Place the rice in a very fine-meshed sieve and rinse with running water to remove any particles or dust that remains after processing. Toss the rice to be sure the water reaches all of it.
Bring a measured amount of water to a vigorous boil in a saucepan. Add seasoning, if called for, then the grain, such as the barley shown here. Stir once with a wooden spoon, cover, and reduce heat to low.
At the end of the suggested cooking time, lift the cover; if all of the liquid has been absorbed and the grain is tender, then it is ready to eat. If the mixture looks soupy, cook a little longer.
Fluffing with a Fork
After cooking, let the grain sit, covered, for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff with a fork to separate the grains and make them easier to serve.