MARVIN'S FAVORITE GRAINS



Delicious and Nutritious Grain Recipes


The grains I love and incorporate into my meals are amaranth, farro, quinoa, steel cut oats, and barley. All have a delicious nutty flavor ranging from mild to more pronounced and they have different textures from semi-firm to firm. If you are unfamiliar with working with whole grains, select a few different sized ones; play and try each of them to see which ones you like best. They all cook up similar to brown rice. Plus they make easy dishes for a quick dinner!


For a full listing of my grain recipes, click here. For more specific whole grains and their recipes, keep reading. This includes amaranth, barley, farro, quinoa and steel cut oats.


Recipes include specific measurements, but as a general rule 1 part whole grains takes 2 ½ parts liquid depending on the grain you are preparing and the firmness desired. Don't worry too much! The instructions are also on the package.


Whole grains can be purchased at health food stores and grocery stores. Grains are packed with important vitamins, minerals and fiber. This is why they are highly recommended by doctors and dieticians. Nine to thirteen servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains everyday is the recommended requirement for a healthy diet. Also remember these plant products are cholesterol-free. Try me easy dishes next time you need a healthy quick dinner.


Amaranth (A - ma - ranth)

Anything I would serve with grits or couscous, I will use amaranth — one of the two mother grains.


Amaranth is a grain that has been cultivated for thousands of years and is recorded as being a large part of the Aztec Indian's daily diet. You can find amaranth at health food stores and some grocery stores.


Amaranth is known as a mother grain. It contains twice as much calcium than milk and over three times more fiber and iron than wheat. Using amaranth in combination with wheat, corn or brown rice results in a complete protein and is as high in food value as fish, red meat or poultry. I use amaranth and all grains like I would use brown or wild rice, oatmeal or grits. I basically choose what I want my end result to be in terms of texture and consistency and implement my grain of choice.


To cook amaranth boil 1 cup seeds in 2 ½ cups liquid such as stock or water or half water and half stock or apple juice until seeds are tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.


1 cup dry amaranth
2 ½ cups stock, water or a mixture
Pinch sea salt


Bring liquid to a boil. Add whole grain, lower heat, cover and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir once. Turn off heat and let sit covered for ten minutes. Add salt to taste.


If eating as a breakfast cereal, include apple juice in the cooking liquid and increase to 3 cups. Sweeten with agave, honey, molasses or brown sugar. Add raisins, dried fruit, allspice and some nuts.


Amaranth with Kale, Oregano & Tomato Sauce


Quinoa (Keen - wah)

Anything I would serve with grits or couscous, I will use quinoa — one of the two mother grains.


Quinoa is a small, yellowish grain that sometimes is mistaken for couscous. It is one of two mother grains; amaranth is the other one. Mother grains contain most of the essential nutrients and vitamins we need in our daily diet. Quinoa, like the other whole grains listed here, are good substitutes for any rice, couscous or pasta. Less commonly available, but equally delicious, quinoa is also available in red and black versions. Try these for added color in your dishes.


1 cup dry quinoa
2 ½ quarts stock or water
Pinch sea salt


Cook quinoa like you cook brown rice. Place the cooking liquid in a medium to large pot over high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. While waiting for the liquid to boil, pour the quinoa into a fine mesh strainer in the sink over a clear bowl. Run water over the grains. Rinse the grain until the water in the bowl is clear. Add the quinoa to the boiling liquid. Lower the heat and boil for roughly 10 to 15 minutes. Taste a few grains to check for doneness. There will be some crunch similar to al dente pasta. Drain the liquid and grain. Let the quinoa sit in a strainer for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.


Quinoa Turkey Sausage and Shrimp Pilau

Grilled Chicken, Quinoa and Bok Choy


Farro (Far - oh)

Farro is a great pasta substitute. I also enjoy it as a substitute for rices, particularly risotto.


Farro, is an Italian grain and is widely used in soups and stews; it is also known as emmer wheat. The size is larger than most other grains and it tastes similarly to hazelnuts and barley.


Farro is much higher in fiber than wheat and can be purchased both pearled and unpearled. Pearled grains have the outer hull removed; they require less cooking time but also are missing some nutrients. There is typically a less chewy texture with pearled farro.


1 cup farro
1 ¾ cup stock or water
Pinch sea salt


Bring the liquid and salt to a boil. Add farro and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until the farro is tender. Remove from heat. Drain off excess liquid, place back in pot, cover and let sit for ten minutes.


Farro Salad with Apples and Chicken, and Broccoli

Healthy Chicken Risotto with Farro

Wild Mushroom Farro Risotto


Barley (Bar - lee)

Barley is another one of my favorite grains to work with because of its versatility. I use barley as a breakfast cereal, in stews, as a rice substitute, and it also makes a great risotto.


Barley too comes in pearl and unpearled form. Similar to pearled farro, pearled barley has the outer layers removed and takes less time to cook. You should be able to find barley in most supermarkets. It is usually found next to dry beans, lentils and rice. You will also find it like other whole grains in health food stores in bulk containers.


1 cup pearl barley or hulled barley
3 cups stock or water
Pinch sea salt


Bring liquid to a boil. Add salt. Add barley, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the barley is tender. It will still be a little chewy when done, similar to al dente pasta. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes for pearl barley or 40 to 55 minutes for hull and black barley. Drain off any excess liquid. Immediately return the barley to the hot pot . Cover and steam off the heat for 5 to 10 minutes.


Barley & Chicken Pilau

Barley Seafood Stew

Colombo Chicken and Barley


Steel Cut Oats

I use Steel Cut Oats as a breakfast cereal and also as a rice substitute.


When purchasing grains you want to get the whole grain since this is when they are of most benefit to you. For example rolled oats are oat grains without the outer hull or hulled, then pushed through steel rollers to flatten them. With oatmeal, the hulled grains are first cooked then rolled out super thin. On the other hand, steel-cut oats start with the whole grain, which contains most of the nutrition, and then are cut into small pieces with steel blades and left unrolled so they look like brown rice.


A single serving, or ¼ cup dry, of steel-cut oats contains 150 calories, no sodium, very little fat, and plenty of dietary fiber. The cooking time for steel-cut oats is longer than what you experience with rolled oats. Some recipes call for several hours of cooking to achieve a really creamy porridge. For a main or side dish, possibly similar to couscous, cook until al dente to retain the texture of the grain. Adding walnuts or pecans to the oats during the last five minutes of cooking brings out the nutty flavors.



See a full list of all my recipes, including healthy grains, grilled items, breakfast dishes and snacks.



Photographs of Marvin Woods Courtesy of Mark Hill © 2006 Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.