Sick of Rice? Give These Grains a Try

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

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Here's everything you need to know to expand your grain repertoire.

Many home cooks make rice on a regular basis; it pairs perfectly with chicken, makes a great base for salads, and holds its own when paired with beans. But there’s more to grains than rice, so we’ve put together a rundown of six other grains that are packed with nutrients and bring the texture of dishes to whole new levels.



The mellow corn flavor and fine texture of these tiny seeds make them extremely versatile in both savory and sweet applications, including flatbreads, polenta-like puddings, and pan-fried cakes. We particularly like them in pilafs or even just mixed with a pat of butter.

KNOWING WHEN IT'S DONE: All of the cooking liquid will be absorbed and the grains will be fully tender.

TIP: Slightly overcooking millet causes the seeds to burst and release starch, creating a creamy consistency that makes this grain ideal for breakfast porridge.

RECIPE TO TRY: Millet Porridge with Maple Syrup

Serves 4

We prefer this porridge made with whole milk, but low-fat or skim milk can be substituted.


1 1/2 cups water
1 cup millet, rinsed
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup


1. Bring water, millet, cinnamon, and salt to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until millet has absorbed all water and is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Increase heat to medium, add milk, and simmer, stirring frequently, until millet is fully tender and mixture is thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in maple syrup and serve.



Best known in this country as a staple used in soups, this high-fiber grain’s nutty, subtly sweet flavor makes it an ideal accompaniment to meat, chicken, and fish. Both hulled and pearl barley (the most widely available varieties) are stripped of their tough outer covering, but we prefer quicker-cooking pearl barley, which has been polished to remove the bran layer as well.

KNOWING WHEN IT'S DONE: The grains will be softened and plump but still somewhat firm in the center.

TIP: For a hearty alternative to risotto, substitute pearl barley for the Arborio rice typically used. Like rice, the barley will release starches when stirred, creating a creamy consistency. Be sure to add extra liquid since barley takes a bit longer to cook.



Bulgur is made from wheat berries that have been steamed or boiled and ground into fine, medium, coarse, or very coarse grain. Don’t confuse it with cracked wheat, which is not parcooked.

KNOWING WHEN IT'S DONE: The grains will be somewhat tender but still firm.

TIP: Instead of simmering it in water, we often reconstitute fine- or medium-grain bulgur by soaking it in water flavored with lemon, lime, or tomato juice (use 2/3 cup of liquid for 1 cup of bulgur and soak for 60 to 90 minutes).



A favorite ingredient in Tuscan cuisine, these hulled whole-wheat kernels boast a sweet, nutty flavor and a chewy bite. In Italy, the grain is available in three sizes—farro piccolo, farro medio, and farro grande—but the midsize type is most common in the United States.

KNOWING WHEN IT'S DONE: The grains will be tender but have a slight chew, similar to al dente pasta.

TIP: Although we usually turn to the absorption method for quicker-cooking grains, farro takes better to the pasta method because the abundance of water cooks the grains more evenly.

Wheat Berries

These are not berries at all but whole, husked wheat kernels with a rich, earthy flavor and firm chew. Because they’re unprocessed, they remain firm, smooth, and distinct when cooked, which makes them great for salads.

KNOWING WHEN IT'S DONE: The grains will be softened but still quite chewy, smooth, and separate.

TIP: Though not typically done when boiling grains, we toast wheat berries in oil before adding them to the water, which brings out their nutty flavor.


Though actually a seed, quinoa is often referred to as a “supergrain” because it’s a nutritionally complete protein. We love the pinhead-size seeds (which can be white, red, black, or purple) for their faint crunch and mineral taste.

KNOWING WHEN IT'S DONE: The grains will unfurl and expand to about three times their size.

TIP: Toast quinoa in a dry (no oil or butter) pot before adding water; we’ve found that toasting it in fat gives the grain a slightly bitter flavor.

 Quinoa Pilaf with Apricots

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Quinoa Pilaf with Apricots, Aged Gouda, and Pistachios

How did we guarantee that our recipe would produce tender grains with a satisfying bite? Senior editor Dan Souza explains how he developed the perfect quinoa pilaf and that it's possible that Americans have been cooking quinoa all wrong.

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