February 2010
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Cooking With Whole Grains Promotes Good Health


While everyone knows that to promote good health you should eat more whole grains, we all tend to eat refined grains instead. Whole grains have more fiber, more health-promoting nutrients and can even help control your weight (by keeping you feeling full longer). But making the switch isn’t always easy. You have to get used to trying, buying and eating new foods. And many people think they don’t know how to cook whole grains.

The truth is there are some simple ways to add whole grains to your diet and most whole grains are simple to cook — you can even prepare them in a slow cooker. Here are tips for adding more whole grains into your diet and cooking them. Also, included is a simple whole-grain recipe.

Simple Ways to Eat More Whole Grains

Here are three quick and easy ways to get more whole grains and give the fiber and nutrients in your daily diet a big boost:

1. Use whole-wheat flour in recipes instead of white flour. This is one of the easiest ways to boost your intake of whole grains. It usually works well to substitute whole-wheat flour for half the white flour your recipe calls for. (In other words, if the recipe calls for 2 cups of white flour, use 1 cup of whole-wheat flour and 1 cup of unbleached white flour.) Often, you can use 2/3 whole wheat flour and 1/3 unbleached white flour in the recipe and it will still turn out wonderfully. 

2. Use brown rice in place of white rice. You can turn all your favorite rice dishes (from salads and stuffing to stews and casseroles) into servings of whole grains. Choose long-grain brown rice when you want light, dry grains that separate easily. Choose short-grain brown rice when you want starchier rice where the grains stick together when cooked. Quick-cooking brown rice (available in many supermarkets) makes this substitution a snap.

3. Add barley to your favorite dishes. Barley is a whole grain contributing super-healthy soluble fiber. Cook barley and add to side dishes and salads, or stir uncooked barley into casseroles, soups or stews while they’re cooking (let simmer for 60-90 minutes). You can find it in most grocery stores as pearled barley, in which some of the hull, bran and germ have been removed.

How to Cook Whole Grains

Are you new to cooking whole grains? Here are some quick cooking tips:

Brown Rice: One cup of uncooked brown rice makes about three cups of cooked brown rice. Follow the directions below if you are using the stovetop, microwave or rice cooker. For the stove top: Combine 1 cup dry rice, 2 1/4 cups liquid, 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) and 2 teaspoons canola or olive oil (optional) in 2 to 3-quart saucepan. Bring to boiling, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the saucepan and cook for about 45 minutes (rice should be tender and water is absorbed). For the microwave: Combine 1 cup rice, 2 1/4 cups liquid, 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) and 2 teaspoons canola or olive oil (optional) in a 2 to 3-quart microwave-safe dish. Cover dish and cook on HIGH for 5 minutes or until boiling. Reduce setting to MEDIUM (50 percent power) and cook 30 minutes more or until rice is tender and water is absorbed. For the rice cooker: Most rice cooker manufacturers recommend specific amounts of rice and water. Generally, though, use about 2 cups of water for each cup of dry rice.

Barley: Use about 3 cups broth or water to 1 cup of dry barley (pearled or hull-less). Cooking times may be a little longer using the hull-less barley and a little shorter if using barley grits. Stove top: Bring the barley-water mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat to simmer, cover the pot and cook until tender (about 60 minutes). Oven: If you’re baking your barley in a very liquid casserole mixture, it will take about an hour and 15 minutes to cook. (Because barley is best cooked slowly, it doesn’t lend itself to cooking in the microwave.)

If barley and brown rice don’t appeal to you, not to worry; there are plenty of whole grains to go around. Not all are suitable for microwave cooking; sometimes it’s not that convenient because you have to be in the kitchen to change the power setting throughout the cooking process, and you also need to be stirred midway. That said, here’s how to cook some other whole grains:

Wild rice: Wild rice adds a nutty flavor and chewy texture to any dish. To make it, use 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of wild rice. Use a saucepan with a tight-fitting cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring at least once. Cover the saucepan; turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook about 50 minutes or until the rice kernels puff open. For the microwave: Combine 1 cup of well-rinsed wild rice with 3 cups of water or broth in a covered 2-quart glass casserole. Cover dish and microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes. Microwave on MEDIUM (50 percent power) for 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes; drain any excess water before using.

Bulgur (from hard red wheat): Use 2 cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of dry bulgur. Bring to boil in a medium saucepan, then lower heat to simmer. Cover saucepan; cook about 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. For the microwave: Combine 1 cup bulgur with 1 3/4 cups hot water in a microwave-safe dish. Stir and cover; cook on HIGH for 2 minutes, 15 seconds. Stir again, cover the dish and let stand for 7 minutes.

Quinoa: It’s important to rinse quinoa well before cooking to remove a bitter-tasting resin on the outer hull. To cook, combine 1 cup of well-rinsed quinoa with 2 cups water in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer about 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.

Amaranth grain: Combine amaranth grain and water in a nonstick saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring mixture to a boil; cover pan and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until grains absorb the water and bind together (about 25 minutes).

Whole Grains in a Crockpot:
Most of these whole grains will cook in liquids added to a slow cooker if it’s on for about eight hours. Just add half a cup or more to your slow-cooker stews and soups. If you’re making a casserole-type dish in the slow cooker, make sure there’s enough liquid for the grain to absorb. You can also cook just the grains in the slow cooker overnight or throughout the day on the LOW setting. If cooking in the crockpot overnight, be sure to use four cups water per cup of whole kernel grains.

Whole Grain Recipe
Cream of Chicken &
Mushroom Casserole

2/3 cup pearled barley, dry (or use barley groats, increasing the cooking time to about 90 minutes    total)
1/2 cup basmati white rice (or long grain rice)
1 package dry onion soup mix (like Lipton’s)
4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (about 1.6 pounds), each cut into 2" strips
1 can cream of mushroom soup, condensed (Healthy Request)
3/4 cup fat-free sour cream (or light sour cream)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups mushroom slices, raw
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted in nonstick pan until golden brown
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon parsley flakes)

Preheat oven to 350o. Combine barley, rice and onion soup mix in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Place chicken breast strips evenly on top of the mixture. In medium bowl, combine condensed cream of mushroom soup, fat-free sour cream, chicken broth and sliced mushrooms. Spread on top of the chicken and barley mixture. Cover pan with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil, sprinkle almonds and parsley over the top and bake 15 minutes more. Serve hot. Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Information per serving: 343 calories, 26 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 7.8 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 52 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 358 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 21%.

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local County Extension office.