Planning Ahead ▶︎ Pre-Cooking Grains and Legumes

Pre-cooking grains and legumes and storing them for future use is an excellent way to make meal prep easier down the road. This article addresses choosing grains and legumes to cook ahead, the cooking and storage process, and how to use your treasure trove. Your future self will thank you for the minimal amount of time you invest today!

Pre-Cooked Grains & Legumes | © UrbanCottageLife.com

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.

Pre-Cooked Grains & Legumes | © UrbanCottageLife.com

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?

Pre-Cooked Grains & Legumes | © UrbanCottageLife.com

Cooking Grains and Legumes

Cooking grains and legumes is a relatively simple kitchen task. Just 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. Or, you might prefer to store each component separately rather than as a blend.

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.

Storing Pre-Cooked Grains and Legumes

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.

Pre-Cooked Grains & Legumes | © UrbanCottageLife.com

Using Pre-Cooked Grains and 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!

Pre-Cooked Grains & Legumes | © UrbanCottageLife.com

Looking for Recipes to Use Pre-Cooked Grains and Legumes?

Storing cooked grains and legumes in your freezer leads to pretty much endless possibilities. There are a few ways that I’ve used my store of them. Here’s a bit of a primer on building nutritious Goodness Bowls. This Pomegranate Chicken Thighs & Kale and Grain Salad dish benefitted from this make-ahead prep, as would any grain or legume-based salad, like this Simple Quinoa Salad.

First published 2016 04 12
Updated 2019 03 02

20 comments

  1. Great idea, Mar. I’ve never thought to precook grains before. I do freeze leftover rice but that’s used to settle the dog’s upset stomach. He’s going to have to learn to choose his foods more carefully because dad has other plans for that rice! 🙂

    • Thank you! It’s important to follow good food practices when handling cooked rice. That’s why I spread it out on a tray to cool, and then get it into the fridge or freezer as soon as it comes to room temperature, which only takes 10 minutes or so. I’m not aware of any issue in reheating rice that’s been safely cooled and stored.

      I encourage my readers to check into the safe food handling procedures that are recommended in the jurisdictions where they live.

      Thanks for your question; it raised an important issue. I’ve added a food safety tip to the post to make sure it’s clear!

  2. I wish I was as organized as you with planning ahead…good post. I was curious as to what your friend’s salad consisted of that inspired you.

    • I wish I was always this organized too, lol! My friend’s bowl was a layer of sprouted grains, then greens, then fresh fennel, then chicken chunks cooked in citrus. She had a citrus olive oil and a peach balsamic vinegar available for drizzling. It was so good — simple, nutritious and satisfying — and as you can see, it really inspired me!

  3. My go-to carbo mix for sautéed veggies with or without pre-cooked meat pieces for supper (only 15 minutes to sautee dinner), is to have on hand a non-gluten mix of quinoa, long-grained rice, and dried mixed fruit pieces (raisins, pineapple, mango, etc. very tiny pieces which I buy in bulk and keep in frig). In one large pot, put 1 cup of quinoa, 1 cup of rice, 1/4th cup of mix dried fruit, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, alittle seasoning of your choice (I use chix broth bouillon but you could use Chinese 5-spice or cumin or curry), and 4 cups water and cover with lid. Bring to almost a boil, turn burner off if it’s an electric burner, or keep on low for 10 minutes if it’s a gas burner. Don’t remove lid!! Let it stand for an hour, and then remove lid and fluff the contents with a fork, put in plastic container for storing in frig for the week. It’s an excellent addition to any sautéed veggie with or without a little bit of meat. And I never tire of this mix cause the veggie/meat combo is what gives this carbo mix a new taste each time I use it.

    • Thanks for sharing this Terri. That dried fruit must add such interesting flavour and texture. That’s something I simply haven’t thought of before!

      • I travel in my campervan with a propane stove, so I’ve learned some tricks of healthy fast cooking especially with dried powders/foods/mixes on hand. And the dried mix fruit medley mix is my favorite which I buy bulk, than transfer to a smaller container as I use it. With just a quarter-cup of this fruit medley soaked in a little hot water for an hour, the juice it makes (which is added to the liquids in a recipe) and the plump little pieces of fruit is delicious with almost everything, oatmeal, cookies, pancakes, rice/quinoa mix, cole slaw, sweet/sour gravy over meat, it’s very versatile. I’m never without this wonderful ingredient.

    • Thanks for sharing this Terri. That dried fruit must add such interesting flavour and texture. That’s something I simply haven’t thought of before! One of the things I love about cooking is that there’s always, always something new to learn.

  4. Love quinoia and you taught me some are red will try those ….. lentils is also good rice that I love.

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