Cooking Local Whole Grains & Beans

Hello everyone.  With the local grain harvests pouring in, and many new members joining us (yes, there are still shares available), it feels like a wonderful time to share more info about local grains & beans.  Here’s the handout I put together for my NOFA class on Cooking with Local Whole Grains & Beans.  We still plan to try and post the video, also, but for now, here’s a lot of info to get you started!  Bon Appetit!


Cooking with Local Whole Grains & Beans

Why Local Grains & Beans?


Health – Nutritional Values, Freshness

Climate Change/Crop Failures

Fossil Fuels/Peak Oil


You don’t need fancy storage for grains & beans – they’re storage crops!  Your kitchen cupboards will work just fine.  We store our grains and beans at home in glass jars in the cupboard or on the countertops, because they’re beautiful and we like looking at them.  We’ve never had problems with grain weevils, and haven’t had members with problems, either.  Once grains are milled, they need to be refrigerated or frozen after a week.

Basic Pot of Beans
If you’ve only had canned beans before, you’re in for a treat!

Place beans in a jar or cooking pot and cover with twice as much water (for instance, for one cup of beans, add two cups of water).  Soak overnight, or at least for two hours.  (Just like with grains, soaking helps break down the phytic acid and makes the beans more digestible, plus they will cook more evenly and you will avoid any gritty/grainy textures.)

Place over med-high heat and bring up to a simmer (or turn your crockpot on low).  Add one thumbnail-sized piece of kombu seaweed for extra goodness.  Simmer until beans are quite tender all the way through (anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours, depending on freshness).  In the crockpot, I usually start them in the morning before I leave for work, and they’re done by dinner.  Stirring makes them mushy, so resist temptation and don’t stir!

Make sure they stay covered by water and don’t dry out.  Adding a ham hock or other bones is delicious and adds wonderful nutrition.  If you don’t have any leftover bones, adding a spoonful of bacon fat works wonders, also, and gives them that silky texture.  You can also cook them with veggies, such as onions, carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaf . . . Dried nettles make a tasty, nourishing addition also.

After the beans are thoroughly cooked, add salt to taste, and other seasonings like molasses or maple syrup.  Adding these before the beans are done interferes with their cooking.

Working with Beans

Now you have basic cooked beans – now what?  I start my week making a big pot of beans that I use throughout the week.  Burritos, huevos rancheros, soups, baked beans, bean salad, and a simple bowlful of beans and broth are all available to you now.

When making a bean salad, be sure to warm up the beans before dressing them with vinagrette, so that the flavors can meld.  Season well with vinegar and salt – cold foods need more seasoning.

Beans are a fantastic component for soups – chilis, stews, and simple soups all benefit from the addition of beans.  Some ideas include white bean kale soup, chili (vegetarian or con carne), Nine Bean Soup, Minestrone, and Black Bean Soup.

Health benefits of Beans

Compared to grains, legumes supply about the same number of calories but usually two to four times as much proteins.
Diets rich in beans are being used to:

  • lower cholesterol levels
  • improve diabetics’ blood glucose control
  • reduce risk of many cancers
  • lower blood pressure
  • regulate functions of the colon
  • prevent and cure constipation
  • prevent piles and other bowel problems

Also richly coloured dried beans offer a high degree of antioxidant protection. In fact, small red kidney beans rate even higher than blueberries.
A lesser-known benefit of beans, though, is their high levels of isoflavones, compounds that are similar in structure to estrogen produced by your body (which is why they are also called phytoestrogens).
These isoflavones may ease the symptoms of menopause, prevent some form of cancer, reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your bone and prostate health, among other benefits.

Grain share 2009

(Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA share, 2009)

Why Eat Whole Grains?

Why eat true whole grains, not just baked goods made with whole grain flours?  First, big difference between “whole grain” and “whole meal.”  Even in whole meal flours, many of the enzymes and nutrients in the grain are lost as soon as they are milled and exposed to oxygen – for total nutritional value the grains must be consumed in whole form.  Humans evolved eating whole grains, not flour, and traditionally those grains were soaked and pre-fermented before consumption to add their digestibility and nutritional qualities.  It’s no wonder so many people are getting sick from eating so much white flour all the time!

A signification portion of the phytonutrients and phytochemicals are found in the bran and germ (the parts removed from store-bought flours, even whole wheat).  Regular whole grain intake helps prevent disease, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke, and digestive system cancers (according to Tufts University, American Heart Association, and Harvard Public School of Health).

Around the world, humans have traditionally pre-soaked and fermented their grains before eating them.  We know now that grains contain phytic acid in the bran, which can block absorption of nutrients in the human digestive system.  A diet high in unfermented whole grains can lead to bone loss and mineral deficiencies (i.e. just adding bran to your diet will actually adversely affect intestinal health long-term).  Soaking grains gives time for lactobacilli (same culture as found in yogurt) and other enzymes to break down and neutralize the phytic acid – overnight soaking in warm acidic water does the trick!  (You can add a bit of sourdough culture, whey, or yogurt to your soaking water to introduce the healthy flora).  This also produces numerous beneficial enzymes which increase the nutritional value.  (Corn is in its own category, and for maximum nutrition should be soaked or cooked with lime – pickling lime or wood ash can be used, this releases the vitamin B3.)

Many people find older varieties of wheat easier to digest than modern industrial wheat (including heirloom wheats such as Red Fife or Turkey Red, and ancient kinds of wheat such as spelt, einkorn, or emmer).  Many folks who feel sick eating white bread can eat whole wheat bread, especially whole wheat sourdough.  And folks who have trouble eating sourdough breads are sometimes able to eat wheat as a whole grain.


Basic Whole Grains

Most whole grains can be cooked up very simply using the following method, and then used in a variety of ways – as an addition to salads, soups, as a side dish, dressed with pasta sauce, or baked in a gratin.   All of these grains, once cooked, can also be stored in the freezer, ready to use!  Lorna Sass calls this the “Grain Bank.”  Adding a small piece of kelp is a great way to add minerals, and adding bones or replacing the water with stock adds flavor and great nutrients!

Wheat, Spelt, or Kamut
1 cup wheat berries
2 ½ cups water
pinch of salt
2 qt pot
This will yield 2- 2 ½ cups cooked berries.  Soak your grains overnight.
Bring the water and salt to a rolling boil.  Add the berries, cover, and reduce heat.  Simmer until tender (about 20-40 minutes), then drain them thoroughly.  You can also finish cooking them in the oven – bring to a boil, cover, and place in a preheated 325 degree F oven, check for tenderness after 20 minutes.

1 cup barley
3 cups water
pinch salt
2 qt pot

This will yield 2 cups cooked barley.  Soak your grains overnight.
Bring the water and salt to a rolling boil.  Turn off the heat to avoid boil-overs.  Add the barley, and return to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 40-55 minutes.  To test for doneness – the barley will be tender but still chewy, and one color throughout when cut in half lengthwise.  Drain off any unabsorbed water, and return barley to the pot.  Cover, and allow to rest off the heat for 5-10 minutes.
You can also bake this in the oven, After adding the barley to the boiling water, place it in a 350 degrees F oven, in a covered pot.

Oats (note – these are whole oat groats, not rolled oats)
1 cup oat groats
10 cups water (2 1/2 qts)
3/4 tsp salt
4 qt pot

This will yield 3 cups cooked oats.  Soak your grains overnight.
Bring the water and salt to a rolling boil.  Add the oats and turn the heat down slightly to prevent boiling over.  Boil uncovered until the oats are tender, 25-35 minutes.  To test for doneness – cut an oat groat in half, it will be one color throughout.  Drain off any unabsorbed water using a strainer.  If you want a creamy breakfast porridge, you’re done.  If you would like plump, chewy grains that don’t stick together, set the strainer holding the grains over a pot holding 2 cups fresh boiling water.  Set a towel on top of the oats, and the pot lid over the whole thing.  Boil for seven minutes.  Use immediately or cool to room temperature and store in the fridge or freezer.

1 cup rye berries
2 1/2 cups water
2 qt pot

This will yield 2 1/2 cups cooked rye berries.  Soak the rye berries overnight.
Bring water and grains to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, 25-40 minutes.  Add salt to taste at the end of cooking.  Once a few grains have burst open, check for doneness.  Cut a rye berry in half; it should be one color throughout.  They should be juicy and the center should be soft.  Remove from the heat, and let soak for 10-15 minutes (this will plump the berries).  Drain off any excess water.  If you want to reduce the surface moisture, you can return the berries to the hot pan and let them sit, covered, off the heat for 5-10 minutes.
To bake in the oven: once the water and grains have come to a boil, cover and set the pot in a 350 F oven.

Emmer (Farro)
1 cup emmer
1 ¾ cup water
pinch salt
2 qt pot
This will yield 2 1/2 cups cooked rye berries.  Soak the emmer overnight.
Bring water and grains to a boil.  Simmer over low heat until tender, about 20 minutes.  To finish in the oven, bring to a boil, then cover and place in a preheated 350 degree F oven and check after 20 minutes.
Emmer is very delicious eaten with butter and a little grated parmesan on top – simple and delicious!

How Do I Really Add These To Meals?

Cooking whole grains and beans is simply a lifestyle change, a new set of habits that may take a little while to get going!  Make a meal plan (See Fields & Fire for more info about this) that includes beans and whole grains, and use it!   Get in the groove of checking your meal plan for the next day, and pre-soaking your beans or grains. Get rid of pasta in your cupboard, and simply substitute whole grains in your favorite recipes that call for pasta or rice!


Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way by Lorna Sass
Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck
Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair
Cooking from Quilt Country by Marcia Adams
Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a local grain CSA, you can get some great dried beans from Seed Savers Exchange, Rancho Gordo, or try searching on LocalHarvest.

4 Responses to “Cooking Local Whole Grains & Beans”

  1. 1

    always something new to learn, thanks for sharing this, adrie!

  2. 2

    Is there a difference between wheat berry varietals? I have the option in my CSA to get Hard Spring or Soft Spring berries. For baking I understand they have different properties but when soaking and eating the berries is there one that you would recommend over the other?

  3. 3

    You’re right that hard red is usually better for baking bread (more gluten), but it can vary. They would both be delicious, the soft spring will be softer naturally, but it will also depend how you cook them! Sorry I don’t have a clear-cut answer for you :) How lucky to get some wheat in your share!

  4. 4

    Thanks Adrie! I opted for the Soft spring berries and I’m looking forward to trying out some recipes.

    Thanks for sharing all your food knowledge, the learning curve is made easier by your blog.


Want to Leave a Reply?