I’m feeling particularly competent today. After having lunch yesterday with a friend who served nourishing and completely satisfying salad bowls with a mix of grains, greens and more, I’ve been thinking about nothing else. Well, not quite nothing, but visions of similar meals on my table sparked my imagination and got me into the kitchen first thing this morning.
I’ve made such meals before, like this one, but always at the last minute, meaning I had to start by preparing the grains or legumes. While that’s a pleasant project for an afternoon where I have the time and inclination to cook, like everyone I appreciate being able to pull together a nutritious, tasty meal quickly. This is where pre-cooking grains and legumes comes in.
Choosing Grains and Legumes to Cook Ahead
This morning I cooked up a batch of large green lentils with a clove of garlic and a half onion that was lounging in the refrigerator, just to infuse a little more flavour. Then I made a batch of brown basmati rice. Quinoa was next on the list, and seeing that both the regular and red varieties were in the pantry, I made some of each.
The result is a mix that’s pleasing to both the eye and the palate. I love the subtle interplay of colours and shapes, and especially the pop of colour the red quinoa provides.
The possibilities for making pre-cooked grain and legume mixes like this are vast. Just use the ones you like to eat (and don’t be afraid to experiment — in future I may add farro or freekah). I’ve frozen both lentils and chickpeas in the past, and would like do this with beans as well. If you’re unsure whether a grain will freeze well, I suggest you check online. While I haven’t made amaranth or teff, I’ve seen advice that they’re too small for this purpose. Opinions seem to be divided on using millet this way, so I may experiment sometime and decide for myself. My friend used a mixed of sprouted grains, and I’m definitely going to look for some of those because they were delicious.
Think also about what proportions of the individual elements you’d like to have. If you’re a big fan of lentils, you may want them to predominate or at least be equal to the other elements in the mix. You could freeze the individual grains and legumes separately, as well, to give you more options at time of use.
What are your favourite grains and legumes to cook ahead, and how do you use them?
Cooking and Storing Grains & Legumes
Cook each grain or legume individually, according to the package instructions and taking care not to overcook them. Keep in mind that you’ll likely be reheating them at some point, so there will be some additional cooking time in future.
When each batch is ready, spread the tender grains and legumes onto parchment-covered baking trays set on racks, spreading them out as thinly as possible to encourage the cooling process. Turn the cooked grains over once or twice while cooling, and use a spatula to break up the individual rice and quinoa grains as much as possible. When everything is cool, you can lift the parchment (be careful to use all four corners — I had a small rice spill!) to convey each cooked grain or legume to a large bowl. Gently fold everything together using a large serving spoon or spatula.
Food Safety Tip
For food safety purposes, it’s important to transfer the cooled rice and other grains to the fridge or freezer as soon as they are sufficiently cooled (i.e., to room temperature), which only takes about 10 minutes or so.
As for storage, for convenience I suggest dividing into the portion sizes that make the most sense for your purposes. For the most part I scooped up one-cup portions, which I’ve deemed adequate for me, put them in plastic sandwich bags, pressed out the air and sealed them flat. These are in the freezer now, where they’ll last a couple of months, awaiting my next craving. I have a bigger portion in the fridge, ready for company tomorrow, but I could keep them there for four or five days. In case you’re wondering, I have 11 portions squirrelled away, and they’ll be a boon on days when I want a good meal but want to keep the prep simple.
Using Pre-Cooked Grains & Legumes
So what will I be using my treasure trove for? While each element contributes its own texture and subtle flavour, grains and legumes really are a blank slate for whatever flavour profile or treatment catches my fancy. I can add them cold to hot dishes, or gently warm them with a bit of water in the microwave or a skillet and use them in breakfast, lunch or dinner bowls. They would be good mixed into a salad, added into soup, or heated and tossed with herbs, aromatics and other goodies to make a side dish for a meal. I’ll let you know what I come up with!
What are your favourite grains and legumes to cook ahead, and how do you use them? Let me know in the comments!