Whole Food Adventures: Barley

Barley is one of the top cereal grain crops in the world, in fourth place behing Corn, Rice, and Wheat. However, it is probably one of the most underrated of all the cereal grains, particularly in the US, where the vast majority of it is used as feed for livestock, and most of what isn’t used for animal feed is used in the production of Beer. Sweet, sweet beer.

Don’t get me wrong, Beer is a fantastic thing, and so is livestock, or at least the meat that comes from Livestock, but Barley is a very tasty grain, that simply doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Barley comes in a few different varieties, probably the most popular being Pearl Barley, the kind you’ve most likely seen in your beef and barley soup, but I’m here to advocate you resist the lure of pearl barley, which gets it’s white color by removing the nutrient-rich bran coat, and stick with the healthier dehulled barley.

So, what is barley good for? Besides Beer and Animal feed? Well, Barely can be used just about anywhere that rice can, and with similar results, though different flavor. I wouldn’t try barley sushi, but aside from that, I’d feel free to experiment. But, there are some very common preparations, such as the aforementioned Beef Barley soup, and there is my personal favorite barley salad, whose recipe I’ll share shortly.

Beef Barley soup is a classic soup that is very easy to make. Brown some beef in a pot, cheap meat is good for this, and then add water, onions, celery, carrots, barley, whatever else you want really, and let it cook. Easy and fairly fast. But worth it, particularly on a late fall day.

But my favorite barley recipe is a simple barley salad, that I typically construct as follows.

Serves 2 People

1 c Barley

1/4 large onion, julienned

1/2 fennel bulb, chopped

Several slices of bacon

Cut the bacon into smaller pieces, and fry it up. Reserve some of the bacon drippings. Turn the heat down to low on the bacon drippings and add the onion, a pinch of salt, and let it sweat.

Once the barley is done cooking, rinse it in cool water, to bring it down to a cool temperature, then put in a bowl. Add the bacon bits, fennel, and onion to the barley and toss the salad. Serve with a lemon and oil dressing.

It’s delicious, and fast, and simple. And it may just help you discover how great a grain this is.