Hands holding a bowl with a hearty buckwheat dish

When I was growing up, we basically ate only two types of grain: oatmeal and rice. There were no packets of flavored instant oatmeal; Mom cooked old-fashioned rolled oats on the stove, and we added a little sugar for a hearty breakfast on chilly mornings. As for rice, Mom and Grandma usually served it plain or with peas as a side dish. Sometimes, Mom made Rice-A-Roni, which I loved. I also loved the rice and chickpeas she served with tomato sauce. I thought it made an amazing side dish — and it probably would have made a good meat-free meal too.

When I got married, my husband and I wanted to eat healthily, so we began to experiment with grain dishes. One of our favorite grains was millet. It has a lovely texture like couscous and a slightly sweet taste like corn. We liked it with chicken or beef broth and served as a side dish. But there are so many vegetarian ways to enjoy millet. I like it topped with roasted veggies and olive oil. It’s also good with tomato sauce or served in Indian-style curry dishes as a substitute for rice. Put some butter or maple syrup on top and it makes a yummy breakfast cereal, too!

Barley was another favorite of ours. Usually, we used it in beef barley soup. In recent years, I’ve been enjoying a barley and lima bean soup that Mom’s friend Hannah used to eat as a child. It’s simply barley and lima beans cooked together with a little salt and pepper.

Another dish I learned about from Hannah is Kasha Varnishkes. It uses my favorite grain, buckwheat, along with bow-tie noodles and minced onion. The buckwheat and noodles are cooked separately and set aside. In the old days, the onions were fried with chicken fat, but you can use olive oil, as I do. When the onion is cooked, add the cooked buckwheat and the pasta to the pan and warm all of the ingredients through. If it becomes too dry, I add a little veggie broth or water. Topped with cracked pepper and salt, it’s just perfect!

Grains are some of my favorite foods — delicious, nutritious, and frugal. I think they are an excellent part of an earth-friendly diet. Even if you serve meat or cook the grains with meat broth, grains are filling so one can be satisfied with a lot less food. So experiment and enjoy! Swap out rice for some other interesting grains and you might find some new favorites!

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.