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No wholesome cook can do without grains

Published on
21 October 2000
Chef Silvano
Chef Silvano

Peeking under the lid of my mentor Karol Kovacovsky, it was 1994 when I prepared my first pot of wheat grains. Since then, mountains of grains have passed through my wholesome kitchen.
One thing, however, remains unchanged since the first day: The inspiring wonder whenever I lift the pot lid after cooking and witness the simple magnificence of the transformation that has taken place.

Anyone who has consciously experienced how a handful of inconspicuous grains turns into a pot full of loosely delicious, fragrant, and powerful sustenance must be enthralled. Understanding this process and applying it correctly forms the basis of any serious wholesome cuisine. The essential points are so simple that it is surprising how little this knowledge is widespread.


The significance of unrefined grains for nutrition, as well as the ecological, geopolitical, and health aspects, has been extensively discussed from various angles. I will limit myself here to the observation that a cuisine that ignores the use of all types of unrefined grains cannot be complete.

The first point to understand is

Grains are not boiled. Instead, they are gently opened, cooked. The individual grains significantly increase in volume, swelling up until the point where the husk bursts due to internal pressure. Grains cooked to this point are optimally enjoyable. They are not overcooked and sticky but rather loose and soft. It should not be served ‘al dente,’ as many chefs believe, but it should also not become rubbery and closed.

Anyone boiling whole grains vigorously in boiling salted water ‘à la créole’ should urgently reconsider their approach. If bloating occurs after consuming whole grains, it is a sign (other causes, see p. 124ff.) that the grains were not adequately opened.

A second important point

Concerns the correct use of salt and heat. Salt has a contracting, pore-closing effect. Especially grains and legumes that still have an intact husk react extremely to salt. They cannot be softened even by prolonged cooking in salted water. For this reason, grains are fundamentally salted and seasoned only after cooking.

Millet, rice, and buckwheat are exceptions. Millet, already completely peeled due to its very hard husk, whole rice is hulled and only has a thin silver skin, while buckwheat quickly splits along its three edges. For these grains, the timing of salting is used to control the cooking process. For example, millet is salted at the beginning to achieve loose millet, while the same millet for a millet porridge is salted at the very end.

Sudden heat also has a contracting, closing effect. Therefore, grains are fundamentally placed in cold water. The exception here is ground or crushed grains: to keep them grainy, they are stirred into boiling water. Milk and dairy products also hinder the opening of dry, unopened grains. To achieve good digestibility, we soak all preparations containing dairy products in water first before contact with the dairy products. For example, soak the flakes for your muesli in a little water before adding the yogurt.

Your stomach will thank you!

The third and final important point is

The realization that, in cooking – as in life – any unnecessary interference can only do harm. Stirring the cooking grains is highly counterproductive!
Stirring in the cooking grains actively destroys the entire steam cycle, the small channels and spaces that form between the grains during the cooking process and allow the grains to ‘breathe,’ are destroyed by stirring and cannot be restored. The mucilage and gluten are activated, hindering moisture entry and leading to ‘sticking.’ Even lifting the lid and peeking into the pot hinders the opening process by causing steam and heat loss. However, if you treat the grains with the same respect and tenderness as you would a sleeping child, nothing can go wrong.


Basic preparations: In addition to understanding the principles, the right method is needed to implement this. There are two ways to achieve this: you can either soak the grains overnight or use them directly without soaking.

From practice, I can say that both methods are equally effective. In restaurants, both whole and crushed grains are usually soaked overnight and then steamed, allowing enough time for swelling. This method guarantees a qualitatively unrivaled result. For personal use at home, however, I usually prepare all grains without soaking.

First and foremost, you need a suitable cooking pot.

When cooking grains, the aim is to keep the grains at a constant temperature for as long as possible, without strong heat, which would cause uneven cooking and burning. For this purpose, sturdy cast iron pots or modern double-walled pots are best suited. To prevent heat loss, wrapping the pot in kitchen towels still works best: set the hotplate to the lowest setting or turn off the gas flame entirely.
Another optimal method is to place the pot in the warm oven.

Some swear by the pressure cooker. The only advantage I can personally see in this utensil is that it at least prevents the cook from constantly sticking their nose into the pot. Otherwise, I adhere to the principle that good things take time. 😋

The rule of thumb for the required amount of water: Twice as much water as grains. Adjust the water slightly downward for millet and rice, and slightly upward for barley and rye. Working with a measuring cup instead of a scale in the grain kitchen is very practical because it allows you to develop the right eye for volume ratios. This works better than all tables. Ratio – 1 part grains : 2 parts water.


Grain preparation without soaking:

Always place whole grains with the corresponding amount of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover well, and let it swell undisturbed. For crushed grains, stir them into boiling water first, bring to a boil. Then transfer to the 100°C warm oven and let it swell for the appropriate time.

Preparation of soaked grains:

To open the grains a bit better for sensitive stomachs, soak them with the right amount of water the day before. Then, cook them in this soaking water, following the same method as for unsoaked grains.
However, you must be even more careful when boiling, as soaked grains react more sensitively to boiling than dry ones and can quickly become rubbery. The best method is to cover the grains and place them in the 100°C warm oven, letting them cook for 60-90 minutes.
For soaked grain grist, this is the only way to achieve an acceptable result.

Pre-treated grains:

There is a traditional method to further improve the digestibility of grains.
This is called roasting. The grains are lightly moistened and then dried again at low heat with stirring or shaking in a dry pan or in the oven. Roasting is time consuming, usually taking 20 to 60 minutes.
It intensifies the taste. Part of the starch in the grains is converted into sugars (dextrinized), making the grains slightly sweet and even more digestible. After roasting, the grains are prepared using one of the methods described. Due to the complexity of this process, I recommend roasting larger quantities of grains at once and storing the excess as a supply. Some high-quality products produced using this or a similar method are available on the market. These include various thermo products and oriental bulgur or pil-pil made from durum wheat.

Advice on grain nutrition:

Few people are accustomed to chewing thoroughly while eating.
This is one of the main reasons why unprocessed grains have not yet gained the deserved importance in human nutrition.

Well prepared grains are unparalleled in many ways. However, if people have to chew these benefits extensively, most would rather forego the blessings of grains. As a chef, I have delved deeply into this contradiction. The recipes presented on this website, such as the mixtures of grains with rice or all the playful uses of grains, are just a response.


Regarding dietary changes, I almost plead with you… avoid any radical, abrupt changes in your diet. Instead, take many small steps, gradually integrate grains into your menu. Don’t torment your conscience if you repeatedly fall back into old eating habits. Forget the deadly seriousness of nutrition prophets! For they are mostly buffoons.
Cook so deliciously that everyone’s mouth waters.
Always stick to the good quality of the products: this will naturally guide you in the right direction.