Mix and Match Grains to Create the Flavor You Desire

published Feb 17, 2016
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

The other day my mom asked me where I learned to cook (because we both know it certainly wasn’t from her). I didn’t have to think too long for an answer: “From PBS and cookbooks,” I said. One of my favorite PBS shows, which I later had the chance to work on, was Ming Tsai’s Simply Ming. That’s where I learned how to tea-smoke fish, braise short ribs, and make Ming’s house 50-50 rice.

Ming Tsai’s 50-50 rice, a blend of white and brown rice, is the house rice served at his restaurants. While working on his show, this blended rice was used in stir-fries and served alongside entrées; it was my first introduction to cooking with mixed grains.

I’m sure there’s a nutritional advantage from mixing the two, with brown rice adding more fiber, but this blend of rice, which feels simple and obvious to me now, made an impression on me. Aside from its taste, versatility, and flexibility, it was the permission to continue to mix grains I hadn’t thought about mixing before.

DIY Grain Mixes

Whether you’re after a balance of flavor, nutrition, or just need to use what’s left to make dinner, cooking a combination of grains can add a new dimension to the routine pot of grains. Before you go about mixing with wild abandon, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Seek a Balance of Flavors and Textures

The combination of white and brown rice takes advantage of the benefits of both varieties, with the brown rice bringing a nuttiness to neutral-flavored white rice, and white rice keeping the overall dish less dense. Think about what each grain will bring to the overall mixture. Quinoa brings nuttiness and wild rice brings texture, while amaranth, millet, and oats increase the creaminess. Want smokiness? Go for farro. Highly aromatic? Basmati or Jasmine can bring that. Pearl barley will give your mixture a nuttiness, but also a pleasant chewy flavor.

Time It Right

Unless you’re after a creamier porridge, all the grains don’t need to go into the pot at once. There are a few that cook at similar times, but otherwise, you’ll have to time when you add the grains accordingly, which means adding them to the pot at different times to get the overall texture you’re after.

Blends We Love

  • Quinoa & brown rice: This blend doubles up on nuttiness and texture. Be sure to add the quinoa later in the cooking process, as it takes far less time to cook than brown rice. Use this blend to make your next grain salad.
  • Jasmine rice & farro: Jasmine rice brings a buttery-sweet scent to the roasted smokiness of farro for a very sophisticated blend that pairs beautifully with boldly seasoned dishes.
  • Oats, millet & quinoa: Need to update you winter breakfast? Cook this trio together until just beyond cooked for instant creaminess.

Do you combine grains? What are some of your favorite combinations?