Include Whole Grains in the Mediterranean Diet

Incorporating whole grains into your Mediterranean Diet's daily meal plans provides a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals; it also adds flavor and texture to your meals.

The trick is to use grains as a smaller side dish to avoid eating too many calories and increasing your blood sugar with too many carbohydrates. Use one-half to one cup of grains with your meals to stay on the healthy side of the fence.

Although people on the Mediterranean coast frequently use pasta, they also consume many other grains, such as bulgur wheat, barley, and cornmeal. When you aren’t used to eating these grains, you may not know how to cook them or add them creatively to your meals. Luckily, introducing them isn’t difficult or time consuming.

Get a handle on cooking times for whole grains

Cooking grains is as simple as adding water and simmering. All grains pretty much cook the same way, other than varying cooking times. In fact, you can cook all grains the same way you cook rice.

You can always find the cooking time for a grain on the package, but here is a quick reference whenever you need it. The amounts listed are for one cup of dry grain.

Whole Grain Cooking Chart
Type of Grain Amount of Liquid Simmering Time after Boiling Amount of Grain after Cooking
Brown rice 2-1/2 cups 45–55 minutes. 3 cups
Bulgur wheat — medium coarseness 2-1/2 cups None; remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain any excess water. 2-1/2 cups
Cornmeal (polenta) 4 cups 25–30 minutes. 2-1/2 cups
Couscous 1 cup None; remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 5–10 minutes. 2 cups
Pearl barley 3 cups 45–60 minutes. 3-1/2 cups
Quinoa 2 cups 12–15 minutes. About 3 cups
Wild rice 3 cups 45–55 minutes. 3 cups

Add flavor to grains

Incorporating grain side dishes in your menu can provide extra flavor to your meals. In fact, your grain side dishes end up tasting just as good as your main dish. In the Mediterranean region, people include a wide variety of grains in their meals; you aren’t going to find a whole lot of plates with plain white rice.

Use the following tips to add some flavor and, in some cases, more nutrient value to your grains (with the exception of cornmeal — its sweet flavor doesn’t need any doctoring up):

  • Add one to two teaspoons of heart-healthy olive oil or your favorite nut oil to your pot of grains for a light flavor. This idea works well if you have a very flavorful or saucy entree.

  • Instead of cooking your grains in water, cook them in low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth for more flavor.

  • Don’t forget your fresh herbs! Try fresh basil, cilantro, or parsley.

  • Throw in some dry spices such as cumin or cayenne pepper for a little kick.

  • Sauté some garlic, onions, and mushrooms and stir them together in your cooked grains. Take it an extra step and add some fresh herbs.

  • Add chopped walnuts or slivered almonds to cooked grains for some crunch.

  • Mix in chopped tomatoes and sliced olives for a savory flavor.

  • Use one to two tablespoons of Parmesan, feta, or crumbled goat cheese in your pot of grains to add flavor and a creamy texture.

After you get the hang of switching up your grain dishes, you’ll never be faced with a boring side dish again! Here is an example of how to combine a few of the preceding tips:

Cook your grain. Sauté a shallot with a teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add it to your cooked grain with 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon crushed coriander, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and salt to taste.

This creation makes a great basic starter dish that you can serve as-is or with veggies, fresh herbs, and/or cheese and nuts mixed in. Don’t be afraid to experiment in your kitchen. You may stumble upon something superb!

You can batch cook a few pots of whole grains for the week to save time.

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