Bored? Try This

Boredom – it can strike when you most expect it – like sitting on a subway. McDonalds, understanding exactly what riders are feeling, has an ad up that says, “You look like you need something to do”, with a photo of the latest menu item, a frothy caramel macchiato. The message: If bored, go to McDonald’s. (This is not an endorsement, just a translation.)  What they’re also saying though, is try something new.  I agree!  Where we differ?  They’re pushing caramel macchiatos, I’m pushing barley.

Barley’s the “newest” ancient grain. It’s exceptionally high in soluble fiber – the kind that collects fatty acids so they don’t collect on your heart and very low on the glycemic index. (It won’t lead to a spike in blood sugar, and is significantly lower than brown rice, whole wheat and oats.*)

It’s also cheap and sold in bulk. I love bulk food. The bulk food section is the 21st century version of the Precambrian savanna. The place where the gatherer goes to scan the crops, pick, taste, and collect. The foods have all been stripped of their marketing clothes. No packages, logos or flashy claims. They stand exposed. Nothing but a name- to assist the modern gatherer.  And a price – to remind you not to scavenge.

Spices mingle with beans and grains.

Barley though, has never gained a strong following in the West. It’s more commonly used for malt (made from germinated barley) – the key ingredient in beer and added to baked goods. It doesn’t help that it’s an almost painfully slow cooking food. (It can take an hour, shorter with an over-night soak.) “Pearled” barley speeds things up, but don’t do it!  Pearled has had the outer bran removed, resulting in much lower fiber.

I’ve been using it as a substitute for brown rice (it’s much chewier though) and it’s been finding its way into yogurt and alongside vegetables.

Bottom line, barley will provide a workout for both your stove and your mouth, but those “flaws” translate into an incredibly flavorful, slow digesting grain.

Barley at breakfast:  with yogurt, grated ginger and honey

Barley at lunch: with roasted squash and chives

Click here for the “Roasted Squash&Barley Salad” recipe.

Gather away!

Any barley recipes or tips to share?  Other “ancient” grains you’ve discovered?

Related Posts
Grains Don’t Want You To Eat Them (Why not to overindulge on grains)
How An Onion Saved A Marriage (Barley Vegetable Soup Recipe)
If You Can’t Cook, Cook This (Squash Soup Recipe)
Does Instant Gratification Come At A Cost
(Oatmeal Talk)

*Look up foods on the Glycemic Index (Click on GI Database on left side.)

A big thank you to Fishs Eddy for providing the “Aztek” pottery.

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  • Belinda @zomppa

    I love bulk, too! I need to do more with barley. I’ve replaced rice mostly with bulghur and quinoa but need to add barley. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Jamie

    Barley is a good one! I am in love with Kamut and farro, too; although, I’ve been trying to do more gluten-free grains so millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat (not technically a grain) have been on my plate. I like to do mixes to get varying textures and flavors. Ok, don’t mean to take over! Just get a little excited about my grains :)

  • kelly

    I love barley. Too bad it turns out I’m gluten intolerant.

    • Michelle

      So unfortunate! Though, I think in general, we (as a population) eat too MANY grains relative to fish/meat/vegs. My grain consumption is actually quite low but when I DO eat them, I want them rustic and dense.

      I’m just writing up a gluten free muffin recipe for a reader who asked for one, do you want me to send you the link once it’s up?

      • jenny

        ooh! me too please michelle. i just got tested and am now on an elimination diet bec it revealed gliadin/gluten as part of my intolerances. as it has pushed me to do more research and fully dissect and reevaluate my diet… i have found that it there is an evergrowing community of gluten/gliadin free folks.
        could be an interesting topic for a future post?
        thanks for your wonderful smart words.

        • Michelle

          Here’s a link to my Mum’s gluten-free muffin recipe. Sorry that there’s no photo, but my Mum swears it’s outstanding and she’s been making gluten free muffins for over 40 yrs ! Please send feedback when you try it !

  • Rory

    I often make a barley-based salad on Sunday to eat for lunch all week. My favorite barley salad: grapefruit, dried cranberries, red onions, parsley, and balsamic vinaigrette.

    • Michelle

      Yum! Very similar to the general construction of the squash recipe I made!

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  • Jon Sanchez

    thanks for the reminder… Beef and Barley Soup with Beef Tongue… just needed a reminder

  • Emily

    A general recipe or list of ingredients/technique for the barley and squash dish would be much appreciated. I’ve got half a squash in the fridge just dying (literally) to be used up.

    • Michelle

      There was actually a link to the roasted squash and barley recipe in the post. Here it is.

  • Three-Cookies

    My Korean friend makes barley tea. Its quite nice

  • meezermom

    The yogurt, ginger and honey sounds so good. Too bad about the gluten! I’d love to try adding some barley in my menu planning.

    Here’s something I thought was interesting from
    ‘..there is gluten in barley. But interestingly, its different gluten to that in wheat.Current research on gluten intolerance (and research on beer brewing) is looking at using barley components (protease) to help in the digestion of irritant wheat glutens. Experiments in rats are looking promising but extension of that to humans could take a decade. Read more:

    Hey Jon I have some beef tongue in the freezer I don’t know what to do with – any ideas without gluten? We (and three other people) have a local farmer raise a grass-fed cow for us each year and it came with the beef.

    Michelle I’d love to get a link to that muffin recipe as well. And thanks for your response on the sprouted bread – I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but I plan to this week.

    • Michelle

      Here’s a link to the gluten-free muffin recipe. I have personally not made it (since I’m not gluten intolerant) but my Mum has been her entire life and swears by this recipe. Let me know your thoughts if you try it.

  • Betsy

    Anyone know how to cook barley in a slow cooker?

  • Chris

    I have become absolutely smitten with barley ever since receiving the cookbook Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. She has a barley porridge recipe that my family can’t get enough of! I also add barley to my homemade chicken soups in lieu of orzo or rice. Would love to try your squash and barley recipe!

    • Michelle

      Great ! The recipe link was in the post, but here it is again.

  • jMack

    I make a mushroom barley soup (more like stew) with lots of dried mushrooms. You don’t miss the beef. Barley can also be cooked like risotto. I tried it once, didn’t turn out so great. Michelle?

    • Michelle

      Ya, I don’t think substituting barley for arborio rice (risotto rice) would work so well — barley has starch like rice does, but unlike risotto rice, it doesn’t really stick together, the barley grains stay quite separate. Moreover, they wont get as soft as rice …. for “true” rissoto, best to stick with arborio and use barley when you’re not looking for tight grain adhesion.

      • jMack

        I wouldn’t substitute one for the other. I think I read this in D Madison’s cookbook, and since I love risotto and make it often, I had to give it a go. As I recall, it didn’t get soft enough.

        • Pamela

          Actually, I have had success substituting barley for arborio rice. I make a really nice barley risotto with spinach and (frozen) artichoke hearts. Starts on the stove in the same way as a traditional risotto, but gets finished in the oven, covered. No stirring and it’s creamy and delicious. Let me know if you’d like the recipe. I also do a mushroom-barley soup where I add some shoyu and you’re right – don’t miss the meat one bit.

          • jMack

            Interesting! I love risotto and enjoy making it, but I usually reserve it for company or special occasions – mostly because of the massive quantities of butter and cheese. I would love to have a “healthier” version, sounds great! I made the squash/barley dish tonight for dinner – very yummy!

          • Michelle

            You’re not alone in viewing butter and cheese as “unhealthy” – but I have to say I think our fears are greatly misplaced. I am a HUGE believer that pure, natural, unrefined fats are not the culprit of our health probs- not by a long shot. Sugar, refined carbs, processed hydrogenated veg oils, “enriched” , non-fat, breakfast cereals – eaten for dinner as well as for breakfast .. are doing FAR more harm to us than pure butter and cream. Eat the butter and cream – I do (in moderation) and am the healthier (and happier) for it…

  • wendy (healthy girls kitchen)

    Hi Sweet Beet!
    I left something at my blog for you . . .

    • Michelle

      So kind of you! Thank you Wendy, I”m really flattered.

  • Becky

    I have successfully used barley in a risotto-like dish. It was pretty tasty. I also like to throw it in my split pea soup to give it some heft.

  • Bethany

    This is kinda related to Besty’s post above. But has anyone tried and succeeded to cook barley in a rice cooker?

    • Michelle

      I’ve not personally but can’t see why you couldn’t. The big difference will be the amount of water you’ll need. I find it takes about 4:1 water:barley (unless its soaked overnight, in which case a bit less).

  • Dani- danielleislosingit

    Yummy! Im so glad you wrote this;) I love barley. Its chewy deliciousness warms my heart.

  • Wendy (Healthy Girl’s Kitchen)

    I love hulled barley and I love you for pushing barley and not caramel mochiatos!

  • Barbara

    I make a mean Barley Mushroom Soup. I love barley, it’s nutty and amazing. I also love the bulk food aisle. Somehow, I feel like I’m getting over on ‘the man’ when I buy things from there.

  • tomas

    I am reminded of a Campbells soup my mother used to buy, some sort of beef soup with lots of barley in it. Now I add barley grains to my stew as a thickener, and to reduce the number of potatoes.

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  • Cathy

    I’m a bit barley obsessed myself right now. I keep making this barley asparagus and mushroom risotto. I love that it’s heart-healthy and vegan, but I’m sure it would be great with some parmesan:)

    • Michelle

      Everything is great with parmesean! A quick grate on top – how innocent is that?! The cheese gods will praise you.

  • Bette

    I love to add barley to soups of all kinds. I only recenly learned that the pearled barley had the outer hull removed and when I looked for it intact, couldn’t find it.


    • Michelle

      I think the kind you’re looking for is called “hulled barley” – so the hull is removed but the outer bran is still there – unlike pearled which is simply the “core” of the barley with the outer layer removed.

  • Alissa – Not Just Apples

    I made this at the weekend, and it was delicious! Thanks for the recipe – i will be making it loads from now on :)