Preparation of Grains, Legumes, and Pasta

Grains, legumes, or pasta can be found in nearly every menu. They provide vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber), and other substances that are important to good health. To keep the fat content low in recipes with grains, legumes, or pasta, add only small amounts of higher fat ingredients.

Culinary Techniques for Grains and Legumes

Grains and legumes should be simmered, rather than boiled. When grains are properly cooked by simmering, they are relatively dry and fluffy with a nutty flavor. Any acidic liquid, such as citrus juice, should be added during the final part of cooking to avoid toughening the grain or legume.

Preparing Rice Pilaf

Pilaf is both a grain dish and a cooking method in which the grain is first heated in a pan (either dry or in a small amount of oil) and then combined with a hot liquid. Using this method results in a flavorful product and easier preparation.

The basic ingredients in pilaf are:

Ingredient Technique
Grain: Check grains carefully and remove any debris.
Cooking Fat: Use small amounts of vegetable oil or olive oil.
Liquid: Stock is generally preferred. Fruit or vegetable juice may be substituted for up to
one-half of the liquid.
Onion: Minced onion may be used.
Optional: Bay leaf, thyme and other herbs and spices add flavor. Vegetables may be added.

The basic steps in preparation are:

  1. Heat the cooking fat or oil in a steam jacketed kettle or large sauté pan.
  2. Add onions and allow to cook in their own moisture.
  3. Add the grain and sauté until golden.
  4. Transfer to a steam table pan or saucepan with metal handle.
  5. Add the hot liquid and seasonings.
  6. Cover the steam table pan or saucepan and place in oven.
  7. Cook until individual grains are tender.

Preparing Legumes

  1. Measure or weigh quantity of beans, peas, or lentils needed for recipe.
  2. Sort and rinse.
  3. Soak beans to soften slightly and to shorten cooking time.

There are two methods of preparation depending on the time and equipment available:

Overnight Method - Pour beans in a stockpot with enough water to cover. Refrigerate overnight. Drain and discard liquid. Proceed with the recipe.

Quick Soak Method - Measure amount of water needed for the recipe. Heat water to boiling and add beans. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove beans from heat and allow to soak for one hour. Drain and discard liquid. Proceed with the recipe.

Culinary Techniques for Pasta

Pasta is another excellent carbohydrate-rich ingredient, which provides energy for growing children. The preparation for pasta differs from other grain-based products.

  1. Bring water to a rolling boil.
  2. Add pasta and stir to separate.
  3. Cook pasta just until tender, but not soft.
  4. Drain immediately and serve at once, or "refresh".

"Refreshing" is a process by which the product is immersed in ice-cold water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. If combining with frozen vegetables, the frozen vegetables help stop the cooking process. The hot pasta heats the frozen vegetables which then maintain their crunchy texture.

To Reheat Pasta:

  1. Place pasta in a wire strainer or colander.
  2. Submerge in boiling water until hot; drain well.
  3. Finish as desired.

Important Notes:

  • Stir pasta when adding to the liquid to prevent it from sticking together.
  • Use sufficient water for best results. Use four quarts of water to one pound of pasta.
  • If cooking filled pasta, such as ravioli, reduce water to simmer to prevent product from bursting open.

Taken fromWhat's Cooking? A fact sheet for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, Volume 3, Number 3, National Food Service Management Institute, The University of Mississippi.