FoodService Update

Grains Go to School

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD

Many studies link whole grains to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Thank goodness we have opportunities beyond white rice to introduce students (and others) to the great world of grains! The grains you choose to put on a menu can depend upon demographics, budget, cooking equipment, and product availability in your area. The good news is that there is a grain for every taste, every budget, and every kitchen.

If your audience tends to be 'middle of the road' and not into 'new and different,' purchasing the 'whole' version of familiar products can help to include more grains on the menu. Whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat pancakes (sneak some quinoa or other grains into the batter), and whole wheat pasta are examples. You can also use crushed multigrain cold cereals (select one that is low in sugar) for breadings, as additions to muffin batter and cookie dough, or as a dry ingredient on salad or dessert bars.

Consider a gradual approach to introducing new grains into the menu, and pretty soon your diners will be looking forward to quinoa, bulgur, farro, or sorghum! Imagine the color, crunch, and taste of multi-grain tempeh with black beans, onions, tomatoes, and corn; quinoa with black beans and grilled onions; quinoa and oat pancakes; burritos with quinoa, brown rice, and kale; or cooked, cold grains on the salad bar!

Bulgur and Farro

Bulgur and farro are whole grains, with farro being more 'whole' and chewy, and bulgur being a bit less chewy. Both should appeal to students, as they provide great texture, a mild flavor, and a pleasant appearance. Cooked farro is dense and filling, similar to wheat berries. Bulgur, made from cracked, precooked wheat, is light and fluffy. Farro is more nutritionally dense, while bulgur is higher in fiber, meaning that larger servings of bulgur have fewer calories than farro.

Farro does very well in cooked grain salads. It can be cooked and cooled and tossed with cooked, chopped veggies and lightly dressed with Italian dressing for a fast, cold salad. Hot farro works well in pasta sauces, as well as in gravies. You can use farro where you would usually use white or brown rice, or mix farro into rice to create a new dish!

Bulgur can be made into a hot breakfast cereal by cooking it in soy or rice milk and adding dried fruit, chopped nuts, and maple syrup. Bulgur adds texture and interest to muffins, quick breads, and yeast rolls.

Pearl Couscous

Pearl couscous, also called Israeli couscous or Mediterranean couscous, is actually pasta, but cooks like a grain. Select the whole grain version to offer lots of nutrition, including B vitamins, potassium, protein, and fiber, with no sodium, fat or cholesterol.

Pearl couscous can be cooked on the stove, in the oven, as described below, or even in a rice cooker. Pearl couscous cooks quickly and can be used as an entrée, with lentils or beans, as a side dish, added to soup, or cooled and made into a salad.


Sorghum has been used over the years to produce many food items, including syrups. It's becoming popular as a cooked grain, for its sturdy texture and pleasant taste. When it comes to cooking, sorghum is very 'forgiving.' Actually, if sorghum is a bit overcooked, the grains "burst" and are better able to absorb seasonings!

As you can see, grains can be a colorful, textural addition to any menu. They are versatile and easy to prepare! Be sure to try some of the recipes that appear later in this article.

Here are some tips on how to create successful cooked grains. No matter what type of grain you cook, you want to be certain to wind up with a wonderful product, not too chewy, not too mushy.

  • Use the right proportion of liquid: research the grain you are preparing to see if it is a 2:1 ratio (two parts water to one part grain) as it is with rice, or if more or less liquid is needed.
  • Select a pot, pan, or baking dish with enough room. The more grains are allowed to expand, the better the texture and the yield.
  • Use a flavorful liquid instead of only water: vegetable broth, mushroom broth, and fruit or vegetable juice can be used for all or part of the cooking liquid to add flavor and color.
  • Quickly toast grains in a very hot, dry pan prior to adding liquid; this helps to develop the color, texture, and taste. You can heat the pan or pot you are using to cook grains and toast them right in that pan or pot.

Oven-Baked Grains

When we think of cooking grains, we usually think about cooking them in a pot on the top of the stove. Cooking grains in the oven frees up stove space, and can sometimes produce a more even product, avoiding the scorching or uneven cooking with the top-of-the-stove method. Oven-baked grains really follow about the same procedure as stove-top grains. Here's what you'll want to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Start with uncooked white, red, brown, or green rice, quinoa, farro, barley, sorghum, or your grain of choice.
  2. Select your baking pan, remembering that the grains may double or triple in size—we want to provide enough room for the grains to expand and the steam to circulate.
  3. Rinse the grains with cold water until the water is clear. It's not necessary to wash grains, unless you know your supply tends to have pebbles or other material, but some people feel that removing some of the 'starch' produces a better product. Try to rinse as little as possible, so you don't rinse away the nutrients.
  4. Place the grains in your selected oven pan.
  5. Bring the liquid you are going to use to a boil on top of the stove. If you are in a commercial establishment with a heated water supply, such as a large coffee urn, you may want to jumpstart your liquid by using some of this preheated water.
  6. Carefully pour the hot liquid over the grains, cover tightly, and transfer to the oven. A general rule of thumb is that about 2 pounds of grains should oven steam in about one hour, depending on the grain and the size of the pan. When the liquid is absorbed, the grains should be done.
  7. Once you are satisfied that the grains are cooked, carefully fluff to let the steam out. This is an important step, as the trapped steam will continue cooking the grains, and we don't want overcooked mushy grains!


Sorghum Salad

(Serves 20)

This colorful salad can be served as an entrée or used as a filling for tortillas or wraps. For variety, pearl couscous can be used instead of the sorghum.

  • 5 cups sorghum
  • 15 cups water (3½ quarts) or use a combination of vegetable broth and water
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (for salad dressing)
  • 3 cups chopped parsley
  • 5 cups chopped tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
  • 4 cups peeled, chopped cucumbers (about 1 ½ pounds)
  • 1 cup chopped onions (optional)
  • 4 heads Romaine lettuce, rinsed, leaves chopped

Combine the sorghum and liquid in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 1 hour, until the grains are tender and have begun to burst. Remove from the heat and strain off any liquid remaining in the pot.

In a large bowl or pan, whisk together the lemon juice and oil. Add the cooked sorghum and toss together. Add the remaining ingredients, except the lettuce leaves, and toss together. Right before serving, add lettuce and toss to combine.

Note: Sorghum can be precooked and stored in the refrigerator for two days.

Total calories per serving: 297 Fat: 13 grams
Carbohydrates: 44 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 23 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams

Corn Chowder with Grains

(Serves 20)

For variety, sorghum or farro may be used instead of quinoa in this chowder.

  • 10 cups water
  • 5 cups quinoa
  • 5 cups peeled, cubed potatoes
  • 3 cups peeled, cubed carrots (if using frozen carrots, do not allow to thaw)
  • 2 cups finely diced onions
  • 4 cups cut corn (if using frozen, do not allow to thaw; if using canned, drain)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped fresh parsley (or use 3/4 cup dried parsley)
  • 1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons onion powder
  • 10 cups warm soymilk

Place water, quinoa, potatoes, carrots, and onions into a large pot, steam jacketed kettle, or tilting skillet and allow ingredients to simmer until tender, about 30 minutes, depending on cooking method. Stir in corn, parsley, black pepper, and onion powder and simmer another 5 minutes or until hot all the way through. Add soymilk, bring to a fast boil, stirring constantly, and reduce heat immediately. Simmer 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Notes: If you would like the chowder to be very thick, it can be thickened with leftover mashed potatoes, stirred in gradually at the end of cooking. Red bell peppers and green peas make a colorful garnish and this is a method for getting more veggies into the recipe.

Total calories per serving: 300 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 53 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 96 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams

Everything Rolls

Makes one hundred 2-ounce rolls. One serving = 1 roll.

  • 1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon yellow cornmeal (9 ounces)
  • 1 cup farro or wheat berries (8 ounces)
  • 2 Tablespoons salt (1 ounce)
  • ¾ cup organic brown sugar or other sweetener (6 ounces)
  • 1 pound whole wheat flour (4 cups)
  • 5 pounds all-purpose flour (20 cups)
  • 1 ¼ ounces instant yeast (2 Tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon)
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil (2 ½ ounces)
  • 2 quarts water, warm or 110 degrees (8 cups)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place dry ingredients in a mixing bowl for a mechanical mixer. Use a dough hook and mix on #1 or slow speed for 2 minutes.

Add vegetable oil and mix on #1 speed for 2 minutes more. Gradually add enough water to make a soft dough that pulls itself from side of bowl.

Mix dough on #2 or medium speed for 10-12 minutes, or until a small piece of dough can be stretched to resemble a thin, stretchy sheet. Cover and leave in a warm place or proofer and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes, depending on conditions.

Punch down the dough, and then knead the dough until all the bubbles are gone and the dough is smooth, without any bumps. Shape dough into one hundred 2-ounce rolls, using a 2-ounce scoop, or 4 Tablespoons of dough per roll. Place dough balls on nonstick baking pans and proof them — allow them to rise — until they double in size.

Bake rolls for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans and allow to cool before serving.

Notes: The dough can be mixed by hand, but will take some additional time and muscle! Plan ahead for these rolls, as they will need to proof (sit) for about 1 ½ hours. They bake quickly, but take some time to prepare!

Total calories per serving: 120 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 24 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 142 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Basic Quinoa

(Serves 20)

Quinoa is cooked using the same method as brown rice. Quinoa is generally done when the grains become lighter or transparent, and the germ (looks like a spiral) has separated from the kernel.

  • 5 cups quinoa
  • 10 cups water (or a combination of vegetable broth or tomato juice and water)

Stove-top method: Combine quinoa and water in a large pot and bring to a fast boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until all water is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Rice cooker method: The usual rule of thumb for quinoa or brown rice is two parts liquid to one part grains. Add your liquid and quinoa to the rice cooker. Mix lightly to combine and to prevent scorching on the bottom, cover and allow the rice cooker to do its job!

Note: To flavor your quinoa as it is cooking, you can mix in 2 Tablespoons of onion powder or cinnamon, depending on the flavor you desire, or 2 Tablespoons of a dried herb or spice combination of your choice.

Total calories per serving: 159 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 29 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 9 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Quinoa Pilaf

(Serves 20)

  • 5 cups quinoa
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup finely diced carrots
  • 1 cup finely diced celery
  • 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper
  • 1 cup finely diced red bell pepper
  • 1 cup cooked corn kernels

Combine quinoa, water, and broth in a large pot and bring to a fast boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until all the water is absorbed, approximately 30 minutes.

While quinoa is cooking, spray large pan with vegetable oil spray. Mix vegetables together and add to the pan, stirring and sautéing. When quinoa is done, mix into vegetables, allow to heat for one minute and serve.

Total calories per serving: 177 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 33 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 33 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Whole Wheat Pearl Couscous with Broccoli and Peas

(Serves 20)

This "green" dish can be served hot or cold and holds well in the refrigerator for two days. Vary the veggies for a seasonal touch. Bulgur, cracked wheat, or kasha may be used in place of the couscous for variety.

  • 5 cups pearl couscous
  • 8 cups water
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 4 cups cooked broccoli florets
  • 3 cups cooked green peas
  • 1 cup reduced-fat Italian dressing
  • ½ cup nutritional yeast (optional)

Place pearl couscous in a large pot or commercial rice cooker. Cover with water and broth, bring to a fast boil, reduce heat, cover, and allow to steam until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, approximately 20 minutes, depending on cooking method.

Place couscous in a large bowl or pan. Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Serve warm, or allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour for a cold salad.

Note: Couscous can be prepared ahead of time and chilled until ready to use.

Total calories per serving: 189 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 36 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 142 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Hot Grains Cereal and Fruit

(Serves 20)

This dish is so delicious; it's like having dessert for breakfast!

  • 5 cups quinoa, bulgur, brown rice, or kasha
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups pineapple or orange juice
  • 3 cups diced apples
  • 3 cups dried fruit, such as raisins, cranberries, or cherries
  • 1 cup orange juice concentrate
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3 cups heated soy, rice, or almond milk

Combine grain, water, and juice in a large pot or commercial rice cooker and bring to a fast boil. Lower heat and allow to simmer, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes, depending on cooking method.

Stir in apples, dried fruit, and concentrate. Combine cinnamon and heated milk. Stir into grains. Serve hot. If desired, garnish with sliced bananas or grapes.

Note: Seasonal fresh fruit or canned fruit, packed in water or juice, can be used instead of apples.

Total calories per serving: 284 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 59 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 27 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Grain Stuffed Peppers

(Serves 20)

Prepare dish ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze. Brown rice, farro, or sorghum can replace quinoa.

  • 10 whole bell peppers
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 4 cups seeded and chopped red and/or green bell peppers
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 4 cups drained, chopped canned mushrooms*
  • 8 cups drained, chopped canned tomatoes (reserve juice)*
  • 3 cups salsa*
  • 10 cups cooked quinoa (start with 5 cups uncooked quinoa)
  • 3 cups crushed vegan multigrain cold cereal

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Wash whole bell peppers and cut in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and stems.

Place pepper, cut side up, in baking pans, ready to be filled. Set aside.

Spray a large pot with vegetable oil and allow to heat. Add chopped peppers and onion, and allow to cook, stirring, until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and allow to heat for 3 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes (saving the juice) and the salsa. Stir and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir in quinoa. Mixture should be just thick enough to stick together, resembling the thickness of bread stuffing or dressing. If mixture is too thick, stir in some reserved tomato juice.

Fill peppers in baking dish with quinoa mixture and sprinkle crushed cereal on top of each. Pour reserved tomato juice around filled peppers—this will supply some steaming liquid while the peppers are baking. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and allow to bake for 5 more minutes. Serve hot.

Notes: To reduce sodium, use fresh mushrooms, tomatoes, and salsa for *items.

Total calories per serving: 244 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 48 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 405 milligrams Fiber: 8 grams

Sunshine Super Salad

(Serves 20)

  • 10 cups cooked, cooled quinoa (use 5 cups uncooked quinoa)
  • 3 cups finely diced carrots
  • ¼ cup low-salt soy sauce
  • 1 cup minced parsley
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 ½ cups sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup minced black olives
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes (if using canned tomatoes, drain)

Place quinoa in a large bowl or pan. Add remaining ingredients and toss well to combine. Serve immediately or allow to cool in the refrigerator. If desired, serve with a small amount of salad dressing, or use as a crunchy sandwich filling instead.

Notes: With the addition of silken tofu or vegan mayonnaise to moisten the mixture, this recipe can be used to make veggie burgers! If sunflower seeds are not desired, 1 ½ cups mashed garbanzo beans can be used instead.

Total calories per serving: 234 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 35 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 162 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Whole Grain Pudding

(Serves 20)

Serve this dish warm or cold. Decorate with fruit!

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 10 cups cooked quinoa (start with 5 cups uncooked quinoa)
  • 2 cups raisins or a combination of dried fruit
  • 6 cups soy or rice milk
  • ½ cup shredded coconut (optional)
  • ½ cup organic brown sugar or other vegan sweetener
  • 2 cups drained, chopped canned pineapple
  • 2 cups drained, puréed peaches
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking pan or muffin tins with oil. Combine all ingredients. Pour into pan or muffin tins. Bake until set (not wobbly), approximately 45 minutes.

Note: Brown rice, bulgur, or sorghum can be used instead of quinoa.

Total calories per serving: 275 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 54 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 42 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Nancy Berkoff is a chef and registered dietitian. She is the VRG's FoodService Advisor and author of Vegan in Volume.