The simplest way to prepare rice and grains is to boil them. I prefer using only the amount of water they will fully absorb while they become tender, but you can also cook them pasta-style in plenty of boiling water and drain them. Toasting in a dry skillet or sauteing in a skillet with a little oil or other fat can enhance the flavor and texture of the grains, and of course you’ll probably want to add other ingredients at least some of the times, but there’s rarely anything more complicated than that.
Once cooked, you can keep rice and grains warm and fluffy for up to 30 minutes or so. After fluffing, leave the lid on and set the pot over the lowest heat possible or wrap the pot in a towel. Leftover rice and grains will keep in the fridge for days, and grains store well in the freezer for months. So make a double or even triple batches whenever possible. As for those additions, here they are:
- Stir in a tablespoon or more of butter.
- Stir in a tablespoon or more of olive oil.
- Drizzle with soy sauce.
- Add lots of pepper.
- Stir in a couple of tablespoons minced fresh herbs, ideally warmed first in melted butter.
- Cook a couple of tablespoons minced garlic, leek, scallion, or shallot in olive oil or butter until just soft to add while fluffing.
- Add lemon juice to taste (great with butter and pepper).
- Mix in 1/2 cup or so grated or crumbled cheese, from mild to strong.
- Mix in 1/2 to 1 cup cooked beans, with some of their liquid.
- Stir in a tiny bit of ground cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and/or cloves — exercise restraint and be sure to taste.
- Add up to 1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon, sausage, chorizo, or chopped ham.
- Add up to 1/2 cup dried shrimp or a couple of mashed anchovies.
- Season with any spice mixture .
- Instead of some or all of the water, use stock.
- Top with a bit of tomato sauce.
Mark Bittman is the author of more than 20 acclaimed books, including the “How to Cook Everything” series. He wrote for The New York Times for more than two decades, and became the country’s first food-focused op-ed columnist for a major news publication. He has hosted two television series and been featured in two others, including the Emmy-winning “Years of Living Dangerously.” Bittman is currently the special adviser on food policy at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and the editor-in-chief of Heated.