Cooking With Grains

Culinary grains commonly undergo some degree o processing milling) before they reach the kitchen. The milling process either strips away or scores the bran and may also remove the kernel’s germ. In addition to refining, milling may also break the grain into small pieces or grind it into a meal.

There are various levels of preliminary processing. For example, brown rice that reaches the kitchen has undergone little refining; white rice, on the other hand, has been stripped of its bran and may be polished or converted as well. . . .

The grain’s most nutrientrich part is the endosperm, which serves as a storage facility for the carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and for some of the proteins and oils. Humans rely on the endosperm’s nutrients; even if the germ and the bran are removed, the endosperm itself is still a potent energy source.

The techniques covered here are for cooking the major culinary grains-rice, barley, bulgur wheat, couscous, cornmeal, and certain grains used as side dishes. . . .

Legumes. Legumes are seeds and grow in pods. These seeds can be used in the kitchen fresh or dried. When fresh, these seeds are prepared as vegetables. In the dried form they are known collectively as legumes. Lima beans, for example, can be treated as a vegetable in their fresh state and as a legume when dried.

Like grains, legumes are a potent nutrient source; unlike grains, they have a high protein content. Dishes that combine grains and legumes, such as the traditional southern Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice) contain a particularly effective balance of essential nutrients, providing not only the necessary proteins, but also an impressive amount of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

The purpose of cooking both grains and legumes is threefold. First is to change their texture enough to make them easy to chew. Second, cooking develops an acceptable flavor. Finally, cooking grains and legumes deactivates various naturally present substances that have unpleasant or even harmful effects on humans by directly or indirectly causing vitamin deficiencies. Grains may be cooked using several methods; legumes are always cooked by boiling them.

General Guidelines

Purchasing and Storing. Grains and legumes should be stored in a dry area, away from moisture, light, and excessive heat. It may be necessary to store whole grains .. under refrigeration, because the amount of oil present in the bran and the germ could cause the grain to become rancid.

Legumes must be stored where they can be kept dry because molds can develop under damp conditions.  . .

Sorting and Rinsing. This step is important for unmilled or whole grains and for virtually all legumes because a certain amount of dust often clings to the surface. Occasionally, a few stones will be mixed in with the legumes, so they should be carefully sorted. . .

Grains or legumes should be placed in a large colander or sieve and rinsed well wit cold, running water to remove any dust or foreign particles. Then they should be put in a large container of cold water. Any grains or legumes that float on the surface are overly dry for culinary or nutritional purposes. . . .

Soaking. Soaking is not essential in the advance preparation of grains and legumes, although it is helpful in shortening the cooking time. Whole grains such as scotch barley and buckwheat benefit from soaking because prolonged exposure to water tends to soften the outer layer (bran). Couscous is also customarily soaked briefly in tepid water, prior to being steamed. Bulgur wheat to be used in stuffings or salads is “cooked” by soaking the grain in a large quantity of boiling water for several minutes, until the grain softens. .

Legumes that require more than two hours of cooking time benefit from soaking. Because legumes’ tough seed coats do not absorb water quickly, . . . the only way for water to enter the bean is through a small opening called the hilum, where the legume was attached to the pod. .

An alternative is the “quick soak” or short method, in which whole grains or legumes are placed in a pot and covered with water. The water is brought to a boil and allowed to simmer for two minutes, after which the pot is removed from the heat and the main ingredient is allowed to soak in the hot liquid, covered, for about an hour. The cooking is then ready to begin, in the same water or in fresh water. . . .

Holding. As a rule, grains should not be held for a long time. Some grain preparations, such as risotto, must be served immediately after they are cooked. Pilafs should be prepared in batches throughout a service period.

Legumes may be held for a few days without losing quality if properly stored and reheated, although legumes held in a steam table will eventually break down, becoming soft and taking on a pasty or floury taste. To hold legumes for extended periods, properly cool and store them under refrigeration in their cooking liquid. Prior to service, the legume can be reheated in a liquid such as stock or by sauteing it in a cooking fat.

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