How To Cook Grains and Lentils
In A Food Steamer

Learn how to cook grains in a food steamer. It's the easiest way of cooking whole grains because it's foolproof. Perfect for lentils and small beans too.

Now, we're going to use brown rice in this example, just to keep things simple. But the same general rules apply to steaming most whole grains, lentils, and small legumes.

First, soak your brown rice for 8-12 hours, or overnight. Drain, rinse, and drain again.

Why should you pre-soak your grains and legumes? Because it makes them easier to digest and the nutrients become more available. There are some "grains" that are technically seeds that you don't HAVE TO soak first (like quinoa and buckwheat). But they will cook up much faster if you do. I'm pre-soaking ALL of my grains and pseudocereals these days.

Fill the base of your steamer to the line indicated in your steamer's instructions. It's usually to the highest water (FULL) line. You may or may not have to add the drip tray, depending on the steamer. Next, add the steamer basket. (If you're using the 3-in-1 cooker we recommend you can skip this step.)

Now, let's get the rice ready.

  1. We usually start with 2 cups of brown rice BEFORE soaking.

    Since the rice will swell during the soaking process, you'll end up with more than the 2 cups you started with.

  2. Since we started with 2 cups, and it's customary to add the same amount of water to cook, go ahead and add 2 cups of water to the rice-steaming bowl along with the pre-soaked rice.

    (Of course, you can soak as much or as little as you like. But if you always use the same amount, you never have to sit there wondering "Damn, how much did I soak this time?")

  3. Add your bowl filled with the rice/water combo to the steamer. Place lid on top of the whole shebang.

    (If you're using the 3-in-1 cooker that we recommend, you will simply add the water/rice combo directly to the cooker bowl itself. There is no need to add additional water to the base of the cooker or you'll destroy the electric component!)

  4. Set timer for 60 minutes.

    Many pre-soaked whole grains, lentils, and small legumes take 60 minutes to steam, but some take a much shorter time. Refer to our handy chart below for guidance. And always play around and find the tenderness you like best.

    When timer goes off, it's okay to let it sit for 10 minutes or so to cool slightly and allow any additional liquids to be soaked up.

    Steamed brown rice/wild rice/barley combo

    Using oven mitts, remove rice bowl from steamer. Set aside to cool.

    Here you'll see we combined brown rice with wild rice and barley. I know, it's TOTALLY crazy of us, but we like to live on the edge!    ;)

    Anyway, you can mix and match because the rules are the same for any whole grain. And also for lentils and small legumes.

    Scoop out what you need into a bowl to season.

    Before storing the rest away, be sure rice is completely cooled. What I like to do is spread the rice out into the bottom and up the sides of a large bowl. Takes about 20 minutes or so to cool completely. Set a timer so you don't forget about it. Spoon into a jar or other container with a lid, and store in the fridge for 3-5 days.

    Below you will find some of the more popular grains and small legumes you can steam, with the approximate timing of each (based on pre-soaking first).

    Be sure to mix and match! The texture contrasts make for a deliciously interesting meal. Of course, the cooking times may all vary, so just be sure to use the cooking time of the ingredient that takes the longest time to cook.

    For more in-depth info, click any one to learn all about shopping for each, prep tips, and flavoring suggestions (as well as other cooking techniques we recommend).

    These foods steam perfectly.
    Times are based on pre-soaking.
    Photo of buckwheat-kasha
    15 minutes
    Photo of quinoa
    15 minutes
    Photo of barley
    45 minutes
    Photo of millet
    60 minutes
    Photo of small beans
    Small Legumes!
    60 minutes
    Photo of brown rice
    Brown Rice!
    60 minutes

    By the way, you can also steam up some tempeh. Organic Corn on the Cob also steams beautifully and takes about 15 minutes. I like to cut the cobs into thirds and stand them up in steamer, but they can also be laid down horizontally, depending on the size of your steamer.

    Happy cooking!    :)

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