Grains are the dried seeds of grass plants; those that are used for food are called cereals. About one-quarter of our diet is made up of grains such as wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley and rye.
All cereals contain a high percentage of carbohydrate, with varying amounts of protein, minerals and vitamins. Although they don't provide complete protein by themselves, they become highly valuable foods when they are mixed with milk products, eggs, dried beans or animal proteins.
Kinds of Cereal
Barley. Barley was probably the first cereal cultivated by man. In Scotland it is very popular, used in soups as a thickener, as a porridge, in cake, and in the distillation of Scotch whiskey. Pot barley has had the outer hull removed; pearled barley has been processed to remove both hull and germ, leaving small, creamed-colored balls that look like pearls. Cooked barley has a mild flavor and a chewy texture; it is very good steamed and buttered, particularly good when served with lamb.
Wheat Berries. The health food movement is in large responsible for the popularity of this delicious, chewy grain, made from whole wheat kernels with only the outer layer removed. Without the strawlike chaff or husk, wheat berries have a nutlike taste and bursting with nutrients. They are good mixed with hot rice, or chilled and added to salads.
Bulgur Wheat. Bulgur is made by boiling, drying and cooking whole wheat grains. It resembles brown rice in its chewy texture, hearty flavor and nutritional makeup. Because bulgur is dehydrated, it must be reconstituted by soaking in liquid for 1 hour if you are using it raw, as in a salad, but not when it is cooked. Use a ratio of one part bulgur to two parts water, broth, tomato juice, or other liquid, depending on the flavor you wish to add. Long popular in the Middle East, bulgur is increasingly familiar here, where it is used in soups, stuffings, breakfast cereals, salads, and as a side dish with meat and poultry.
Cornmeal. The only native American grain, corn was used by the Indians before Columbus and was introduced to Europe by the early explorers of this continent. Cornmeal is made of ground corn kernels. Water ground meal retains the vitamin rich germ, while commercially ground meal is made from only the starchy part of the kernel. As with all ground kernels, the texture of the meal can range from coarse to fine, depending on the dish being prepared. A coarse grind is ideal for Italian polenta, while finer grinds are usually used for American southern favorites such as spoon bread, muffins, and mush, although some people do prefer a coarser texture in these dishes as well. Cornmeal dishes are traditionally cooked in heavy cast iron pans to encourage the formation of a thick, dark crust. Both yellow and white cornmeal are available. The difference is really only in the color.
Hominy. Hominy is a staple in the American south; dried corn that has had its hull and germ removed with lye and soda. Hominy grits are ground hominy grains. They are white, about the size of toast crumbs. Cooked, their texture is thick and chewy and their flavor rather mild. You can stir in cheese, spread the grits in a casserole with more cheese on top, and bake until cheese melts. Serve grits with fish, ham, or sausage, or make them into breakfast cereal with brown sugar, butter and raisins. The unflavored porridge is delicious cooled, sliced, and fried in butter.
Buckwheat. Buckwheat has nothing to do with wheat; wheat is a grass, where as buckwheat is a low shrublike plant producing seed that is often ground into flour. Buckwheat has a distinctive flavor that is popular in Asian and Russian cooking and in American pancakes. When the seed is parboiled, dried, and coarsely ground, it is called buckwheat groats or kasha. Groats make a hearty side dish for turkey, duck, venison and other game.