Pearl barley, a blast from the past
A quick and simple guide to cooking and eating pearl barley.
Refined into barley malt for use in beer, fed to livestock or hidden in thick soups and stews; poor pearl has been on the bench for many years now. Let’s give her some new dresses and ask her to dance!! She is just as good as quinoa.
I actually do not like the texture of pearled barley in soups, I find it’s kind of slimy and chewy. When I read that whole grains are a must for the postmenopausal woman I went on a whole grain mission. Pearled barley was on my list, but I left it to last, sad face, because of my stew bias. It is a great source of fibre and packed with vitamins and minerals. Reading on Health benefits. I sighed and looked up some recipes I have in old books, they were seriously uninspiring. I was a little lost until I stopped thinking about pearled barley as pearled barley!!!!! I thought of it as rice or quinoa. Everything changed.
Pearled Barley cooks like rice, it just needs a little longer. Cover 1 cup of pearled barley with 2 cups of water and simmer for 30-40 minutes before fluffing with a fork. It absorbs flavours so you can cook in stock too. It also benefits from sitting in the dressing for a while. I took a deep breath and started again and it has been a revolution. A whole new world has opened up, I have made Frankenstein salads, stealing ideas I know work and putting them together with pearled barley. Here’s my top three ways to eat this amazing grain.
An amazing risotto by Jack Monroe is my favorite.
I make a mushroom stock with leftover peelings. It’s easy to do: dry out some mushrooms (discarded stems are good for this), keep them (frozen if you like) with onion skins and carrot peelings, then put them all in a saucepan, and add some thyme and parsley and a few cloves of garlic. Cover with water, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer for around an hour, then strain and store. If you haven’t got the time or inclination, bought vegetable stock will do – but you’re missing out on an intensely good experience. Sometimes I prep the veggies and boil the kettle. I then make a kind of tea, using all the discharged scrapes. Better than plain water!! I then boost with a veggie stock cube.
1. Mushroom Barley risotto – serves 2 – 3 warning takes about 40 mins to cook
- 3 tbsp oil – rice bran is good
- 200g mixed mushrooms, sliced. You can use any.
- 4 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 leek, hard green parts removed, finely sliced
- 200g pearl barley
- 700 – 900ml mushroom or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp picked thyme leaves, dried will do, just put in a little earlier
- Salt and pepper, to season
- 2 tbsp cream cheese
- 30g hard, strong cheese, grated or shaved parmesan
- A fistful of parsley, roughly chopped if you like it.
Put two tablespoons of oil in a wide, shallow pan on a medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes to brown and soften, stirring occasionally, then remove and set to one side, including any liquid.
Turn down the heat, add another tablespoon of oil, then cook the garlic gently for a minute. Add the onions, stirring to stop them sticking – you want everything soft, sweet and translucent. Add the leeks and keep stirring regularly.
After around 10 minutes, pour in the pearl barley and stir. Add a splash of stock, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, and when the stock is almost all absorbed, add a little more. Repeat, stirring, until the stock is used up, about 20 mins or until the pearl barley is soft and swollen, just like you would for normal rice risotto. I like to turn the heat off, put a lid on and allow to sit for a further 10mins, if using dried thyme add it now and stir. This risotto will have some bite, do not expect pearl barley to be as soft as rice,
Add the mushrooms, thyme and seasoning, and stir through to warm for a minute or two. Remove from the heat, add the cream cheese and stir well. Serve, garnished with the cheese and parsley. I eat with rocket, a drizzle of olive oil and lemon zest.
2. Roast carrot and pearl barley salad – serves 4 – 6
You will need
- 10 carrots, peeled and cut into batons or 1.2kg baby carrots scrubbed and cut in half.
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp za’atar – if you can not find this, mix equal quantities of fresh chopped thyme, sumac and sesame seed and mix with ½ tsp salt.
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 1 clove of garlic crushed
- 1 bunch of kale roughly torn with stems removed or baby spinach
- ½ cup of pistachios roasted
- two blood or navel oranges – segmented. save the juice.
For the dressing
- juice and zest of two blood or navel oranges use the zest from the ones you segment too
- 2tbsp of maple syrup
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- a handful of chopped mint
- 3 tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 220°.
Cover 1 cup of pearl barley with 2 cups of water and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the grains are soft, fluff up with fork. Make the dressing by shaking all the ingredients in a jar or whizzing with a blender. Adjust to your liking, it should not be too sweet, add a little lemon juice if it is. As soon as the barley is done, drain and pour the dressing on, let it sit.
Drizzle 2 tbsp of the oil over the prepared carrots, season with salt and black pepper and massage so they are evenly covered. Place on a lined baking tray so they are not touching and pop in the oven for 15 mins. Take the tray out, add the onions evenly over the top, return to the oven for about another 20mins or until the carrots are soft and turning golden at the edges. While still warm sprinkle the lemon juice and za’atar.
If you are using kale use the other 2 tbsp of olive oil and gently fry the garlic and the kale for a couple of mins or until the leaves have wilted. If you are using baby spinach fry the garlic only and use the leaves raw. I much prefer spinach.
Combine the dressed barley, carrots and red onion, leaves, garlic and oil, mix gently. Finish with the mint and roasted nuts, segmented orange and feta. If you find it too sharp drizzle with a tiny amount of maple. I also like to use pomegranate molasses. In the above pictures, I added the nuts and spinach leaves just before serving. Season with salt and freshly ground or New York cut pepper.
Here is exactly the same salad using Buckwheat, kale and hazelnuts, just before I combined. Don’t tell pearl!
3. Greek Barley Salad serves 2 – 3
I think this tastes even better the next day.
You will need
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup pitta olives – kalamata are best – halved
- 250g punnet of cherry tomatoes halved
- 75g rocket
- 100g feta crumbed
For the dressing
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/3 cup olive oil or hazelnut oil
- handful of sliced basil leaves
- salt and pepper to season
So give the old girl a go. I am now a convert, I still do not like in stews and soups, but I regularly use instead of rice as it keeps you fuller for longer.