Hearty grains such as farro, wheat berries, and barley deliver satisfying chew and nutty but neutral flavors, making them tremendously versatile for using in salads, grain bowls, and other dishes. They’re a popular and healthful stand-in for rice —but that doesn’t mean you should cook them like rice.
There are two primary ways to cook grains. The most common method is called the absorption method, and it’s used for rice and other smaller, lighter-textured grains like bulgur and quinoa: The grains are simmered undisturbed in a covered pot with a small, measured amount of water over low heat. Once all the water has been absorbed, the grains are evenly cooked and tender—assuming, that is, you started with the right amount of water. (A related method is the pilaf method, in which the grains are first toasted in oil until lightly golden, then cooked in the measured water.)
Here we focus on the second method, called the pasta method, and it’s what you’d guess: The grains are cooked, with frequent stirring, in an abundant amount of boiling salted water. This is the best technique for preparing larger, more densely textured grains that take a longer time to cook, like farro, wheat berries, and barley.
The pasta method produces consistently foolproof results for a few reasons. Since different brands and styles of these grains can absorb dramatically different amounts of water while cooking, it’s extremely difficult to reliably gauge how much water to use for the absorption method. If you use too much, the starchy grains will turn out gluey. If you use too little, the pot will run dry and they’ll scorch.
Boiling them in a big pot of salted water allows them to absorb just as much water as they need, ensuring even cooking and chewy yet tender texture. You can periodically taste the grains for doneness, just as you do when cooking pasta—something that’s not reliable when cooking grains using the absorption method. And when using the pasta method, all the excess surface starch simply drains away when you pour the grains into a colander.
1 If directed, rinse grains in colander or fine-mesh strainer under cold running water to remove surface starch or detritus; drain.
2 For 1½ cups grains, bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add grains and salt and boil, stirring regularly, until grains are tender but still chewy. Cooking time will vary depending on grain.
3 Drain in colander and rinse under running water. Drain again.
4 For salads, spread onto rimmed baking sheet in even layer to let cool and dry out a bit to minimize stickiness.
5 Combine cooled grains wit h r emaining ingredients as directed.