This post is from GRS staff writer April Dykman.

We all know that cooking meals at home can save money. For some (like me), it’s a lot of fun, too, but it’s easy to get in a rut — which is where I found myself last year.

Brown rice was my go-to side dish, but there are only so many ways to cook the stuff before your taste buds get bored. That’s when I discovered a whole new world of grains that got me excited to cook again, many of which are now kitchen staples. If you’re ready for something new, try out these under-appreciated grains, each with a distinct texture and flavor.

Barley
Before combat, Roman gladiators ate barley, which was believed to give great strength and stamina. Non-gladiators can just enjoy it for its rich, nut-like flavor and health benefits. Barley is a good source of fiber, selenium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese.

Barley is often thrown into a beef stew, but it is certainly worthy to be a dish all on its own. Try Barley Stew with Leeks, Mushrooms, and Greens or Barley Salad.

Kasha
Kasha is roasted whole-grain buckwheat or buckwheat oats and is commonly eaten in Eastern Europe (though in Slavic countries, the word kasha refers to porridge in general). Kasha is close to wheat in its nutrition content, though it’s gluten-free, and is high in protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and calcium.

Kasha is cooked the same way as rice, and it’s just as versatile. For a couple of ideas, try Wild Mushroom and Onion Kasha or Kasha with Browned Onions and Walnuts.

Millet
In the US, millet is most often recognized as the main ingredient in bird seed. But millet isn’t just for the birds; it’s a staple grain in Africa, India, and Asia.

Millet is high in protein—1/2 cup of cooked millet provides 4.2 grams. It is also rich in niacin, B6, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Like kasha, millet is a good option for those with gluten allergies.

To start cooking with millet, try out Curried Millet, Shiitake, and Corn Salad Restey or keep it simple with Hot Millet Cereal.

Quinoa
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) isn’t actually a grain, but I had to include it anyway, and I’ve saved my favorite for last. While it is commonly thought of as a grain, it’s more closely related to leafy greens, such as spinach and chard. Quinoa, however, is grown for its seeds, not its greens. Quinoa is a 5,000-year-old crop that was a diet staple for the Andean Incas, who referred to it as “chisaya mama,” or “mother of all grains.” It has a light, soft texture and a delicately nutty flavor when cooked.

Quinoa is full of nutitional value, containing all of the essential amino acids and more protein than grains. It is a good source of dietary fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, vitamin E and several B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Quinoa also is another gluten-free option.

One of my favorite recipes for quinoa comes from La Tartine Gourmande, a gorgeous food blog by Béatrice Peltre. (And by gorgeous, I mean that if it was possible to live inside a blog, I’d live in hers.) Béatrice was kind enough to provide the beautiful photos in this article and to let me share her black quinoa salad recipe on GRS. So, to get you started on some culinary experimentation, here is Béatrice’s quinoa recipe. Feel free to experiment and make it your own!

Black quinoa salad with ricotta salata and green zebra tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup black quinoa
  • 2 oz ricotta salata, diced
  • 1 oz finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 green zebra tomatoes
  • 3.5 oz French green beans
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander
  • 10 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red grapes

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 garlic clove, minced finely
  • 1 teaspoon honey Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil

Steps:

  1. Rinse the quinoa under cold water and drain. Add to a pot with twice the same amount of water (2 x 2/3 cup water). Add salt and bring to a boil. Simmer and cover.
  2. Cook for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Stop the heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside.
  3. To prepare the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, combine the garlic and honey mustard with the balsamic vinegar. Add the oil and emulsify with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Prepare the other ingredients: Cook the French beans for 5 minutes in salted boiling water. Rinse them under cold water; cut them in 2.5 inch-sticks and set aside.
  5. Slice the cherry tomatoes and red grapes in halves and the zebra tomatoes in quarters.
  6. Combine all ingredients (quinoa, tomatoes, beans, avocado, ricotta, grapes, parmesan, and herbs) in the bowl and dress with the vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature or fresh.

Serves two.

Note: Most quinoa comes pre-rinsed to remove the saponin, which is a natural, but bitter, resin-like coating. It’s a good idea to give it an extra rinse in cold water before cooking it, as recommended in this recipe.

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