What foods are best to spice up bland whole grains?
April 26, 2009 8:21 PM   Subscribe

Multi-part query: Which foodstuff has the strongest flavor, in your experience? Garlic, onions, peppers, spices? Which spices? Cheeses? Which category---meat, grains, dairy, fruit, veggies, spices? Which category has the least flavor?

We have been trying new whole grains---quinoa and couscous. We find them to be bland, but upon discussion, we had to conclude that all whole grains (oatmeal, popcorn, wheat, rye, millet etc) are bland and need embellishments from the spice cabinet, butter, or cheeses. So we're looking for the strongest flavors to blend with them.
posted by ragtimepiano to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Try making couscous with low-sodium chicken broth and fresh rosemary sprigs added to the water just before you add the couscous. Delicious.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:24 PM on April 26, 2009

You don't necessarily need the strongest flavors to improve the flavors of grains, you just need the flavors that will enhance them. A spritz of lemon juice, for example, on almost any steamed whole grain, will knock your socks off.

Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks blog features a lot of grains, and you should give it a look.
posted by padraigin at 8:25 PM on April 26, 2009

Well, I think can detect about 1 ppm of cilantro (fresh coriander) in most foods, but I also think it tastes like soap, so... swings and roundabouts, I'm saying.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:28 PM on April 26, 2009

Which foodstuff has the strongest flavor, in your experience?

With grain though, although I love to add heat, I think you want to add some tomato and some garlic, or add some cheese, or add an Indian spice mix, or just add chicken stock (not bullion cubes) etc. Butter always works. With what are you eating this grain and how is that made. Perhaps you want consistent flavors. Your question is perhaps too open ended.
posted by caddis at 8:30 PM on April 26, 2009

Cheeses: goat's milk cheese is stronger than many cow's or sheep's milk cheeses. Aged cheeses tend to be stronger and sharper than fresh cheeses. Mold-ripened cheeses tend to be strongest.

Along those lines, and I don't know if it's available in your area, but I would imagine goat milk butter would have a much stronger flavor than cow's milk butter.
posted by jedicus at 8:33 PM on April 26, 2009

Saute 2 or 3 cloves of garlic and one chopped onion in 2 or 3 tbls of olive oil. Add grain and saute that briefly too. Then add chicken broth (amount depends on amount of grain you are using, Check box or bag that the grain came in.) Add a splash or two of cooking sherry.
posted by marsha56 at 8:40 PM on April 26, 2009

Roasted red pepper, sundried tomatoes, scallions, and goat cheese are all strong tastes I commonly add to grains to make them more flavorful. They all taste good together, too if you want to go wild.
I find that garlic adds a nice background flavor when sauteed, but doesn't do a whole lot unless it is raw (then it does a little too much). It's good to add but it's not a star.
posted by rmless at 8:46 PM on April 26, 2009

A little bit of salt & pepper goes a long way. Mabye add in some sesame oil/coconut oil.

But if that's too plain for you, IMO, everything can use a little curry powder.
posted by saxamo at 8:57 PM on April 26, 2009

Everything needs garlic. If you're simply boiling whole grains and eating them with a fork, the first thing I'd look to add is either a meat flavor or a fat. Either add some stock (as people are saying) or add some butter. If you're eating meat with the dish, work out a way to cook the grain and the meat together.

Are you having other vegetables? I like my quinoa toasted (just cook it in a dry skillet, stirring, till it smells toasted) instead of boiled. So, I might stir fry my other veggies and then throw in my toasted quinoa and let it soak up the soy (or Worschester) sauce and onion juice and soften a little bit. Damn... I want some right now. I'm lacking ingredients, though.

And, I know you're going to be all yuppie (or hippie) and ignore me, but DON'T FORGET THE FUCKING SALT.
posted by Netzapper at 8:59 PM on April 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Depends on the grain and depends on your pallet.

Rissotto, sushi rice, white rice: cook in minimal water; when done, fold in butter (to taste) and ponsu sauce (very lightly citrus-flavoured very light soy sauce) to taste.

"Ramen" for Cantonese people is white rice with butter folded in and freshly ground black pepper.

Polenta ("grits") is great with a gravy of some kind (diy insta gravy; butter - melt in low heat; slowly add in flour and stir until you get something that'll brown. Slowly fold in beef (or whatever; Knorr's vegetable or shrimp stock is awesome) stock until you get something that's a gravy consistency).
posted by porpoise at 10:03 PM on April 26, 2009

A few random thoughts:

* Wherever you'd use black pepper, substitute cayenne.
* Cholula sauce and lime, anyone?
* Dill and cheese in Irish oatmeal...yum
* Melted peanut butter and soy sauce on rice is one of life's great guilty pleasures.
* If you don't believe in salt, add potassium.
posted by aquafortis at 10:28 PM on April 26, 2009

I've substituted quinoa for rice in risotto to great success. The ideal spice to enhance couscous is Harissa.
posted by themel at 10:48 PM on April 26, 2009

Quinoa + Goya Sofrito is a mainstay around here.
posted by anti social order at 3:36 AM on April 27, 2009

Salted shrimp paste for a difference.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:05 AM on April 27, 2009

If you are talking flavor and NOT spice/chemical heat (like peppers or horseradish), I'd say that mrmojoflying probably has the best suggestion- any concentrated flavor paste.
posted by gjc at 5:10 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: All the answers are great...so I will not be choosing a fave.
posted by ragtimepiano at 8:58 AM on April 27, 2009

We have been trying new whole grains---quinoa and couscous.

Couscous isn't a whole grain. It's kind of an amalgam between grain and pasta.

That said, definitely try cooking it with stock or broth. It's more meant to be a side dish than a main dish, but consider roasting some root vegetables (with olive oil, liberal salt and pepper, a few garlic cloves, and fresh springs of thyme and rosemary in a covered roasting pan for about an hour at 325) to serve with.
posted by dw at 10:36 AM on April 27, 2009

Another simple couscous recipe:
Chop up some dried apricots, prunes and/or golden raisins, saute with onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, cumin, paprika and a bit of clove. Toss with couscous and serve.
posted by contraption at 11:18 AM on April 27, 2009

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