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Great Grains: From Stellar Stars to Main-Dish Marvels, Liven Up Your Menus with Grains

In the Pantry

Are you in a side dish rut? et's face it; there are only so many ways to prepare rice and potatoes. If you're feeling ready to breathe some new life into your winter menus, look no further than these underappreciated grains, whose distinct flavors and textures can be the basis for any number of inspired recipes.

Culinary Arts

Quinoa: High in Protein and Taste

Pronouced "keen-wa," the high levels of protein and iron in quinoa have earned it top marks among nutritionists as well as cooks in the Americas and beyond.

How to Cook: Rinse one cup quinoa a few times in cold water and drain in a fine sieve. Add quinoa to two cups boiling water, plus salt and olive oil to taste. Simmer in a covered pan for 12-15 minutes, until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Try it Tonight: Quinoa can be used in place of rice in soups and pilafs. It's also a unique base for a main-dish salad.

Millet: An African Staple

The golden grains of millet are eaten daily in much of Asia and parts of Africa, yet are rarely enjoyed in North America.

How to Cook: Rinse one cup of millet and drain. Toast it in a large-bottomed pan over medium heat. When the grains are dry and start to smell good, add three cups of boiling water and teaspoon salt. Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add butter or oil to taste before serving.

Try it Tonight: Plain millet complements grilled meats and vegetables. It enhances many stews and is particularly tasty alongside curried dishes.

Barley: Comfort Food at Its Best

Chewy and delicious, barley is best known for its supporting role in beef-based stews. However, this attractive grain is easy to prepare and can be so much more than just a soup ingredient.

How to Cook: Boil three cups of water or stock in a large pan. Add teaspoon salt and 1 cup of barley. Simmer, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes. Toss with butter or seasoned oils before serving.

Try it Tonight: For a simple, hearty side dish, add braised leeks with rosemary oil to boiled barley. Try substituting barley for Arborio rice for a new take on risotto.

Kasha: Nutty and Delicious

Still a mainstay in Russia and Eastern Europe, kasha's distinct earthy flavor makes it the perfect addition to cold-weather stews or stuffings in any part of the world.

How to Cook: Combine one beaten egg with one cup of kasha (the egg helps bind the groats when cooked). Cook the egg-coated groats in a wide-bottomed pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the grains are dry and no longer stick together (two to three minutes). Add the kasha grains to two cups boiling water or stock and teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about ten minutes. Let it rest for five minutes before fluffing with a fork and serving.

Try it Tonight: Kasha's flavor brings out the best in roasted root vegetables. For a simple pilaf, add olive oil and a diced onion and potato to the basic recipe above.

Going Against the Grain

Feeling up for some culinary experimentation? Give these grains a try. Most can be purchased at natural foods stores in the bulk foods section. Your taste buds and your body will thank you!

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