If you’re like me, growing up, you may have had barley once in a blue moon and most likely it was in soup but never as a main side dish, or as a base for salads, like rice or pasta. This seems to be common place too; in all my years of counselling clients and patients, most will say ‘beef and barley soup’ when asked whether or not they include barley on a regular basis.
Truth be told, I still don’t eat it regularly myself despite my extolling the health benefits of this nutritious, but often passed over grain, but no more.
Barley 101. Using this grain is easier than you think
Barley is not a new food but rather an ancient grain that has fed countless people around the world as far back as 10,000 years ago. Today, barley is grown in many parts of the world including Canada where it is getting ready to enjoy the spotlight like other so-called ‘superfoods’ have including quinoa, kale, lentils, blueberries and green tea.
Barley is a true Canadian product since it is grown throughout the country but most of it in Alberta. Barley is no slouch either; it is Canada’s third largest crop after wheat and canola. In addition to being locally grown, barley is inexpensive, delicious, nutritious and super versatile; did I mention it can easily take the place of rice? But that’s not all, barley can be used to make soups, pancakes, muffins, breads, or cooked up as a hot cereal. Including more barley is as easy as it’s uses are varied.
Types of Barley
Whole Grain Barley
Also called ‘hulled barley’, whole grain barley only has the outer husk removed making it as close to the natural thing as possible. Because the grain is so intact, it can take a long time to cook, e.g. up to two hours [not unlike cooking dried pulses so budget your time accordingly].
Pearl and Pot Barley
Both are put into a machine called a pearler; the grain bounces around a grinding wheel so that some of the out inedible hull is removed and the kernel is polished. The longer the grain stays in the pearler, the more polished it becomes. Pot barley is pearled for a shorter period of time therefore it has most of the barley bran intact; pearl barley is polished longer making it more ‘refined’ with most of the bran removed.
Pot Barley: is half way between whole grain and pearl barley so it cooks faster; still a very nutritious choice
Pearl Barley: because it cooks more quickly that either hulled or pot barley, pearl barley is a versatile grain and is great for soups, side dishes and salads.
A new one for me, barley flakes are a great substitute for rolled oats in granola, cookies and breads or like rolled oats or cornmeal, can be cooked into hot cereals as well.
Apparently hard to source outside of Western Canada, barley flour is a great substitute for wheat flour. A ½ cup of barley flour has about 7 g of dietary fibre compared to about 2 g of fibre for all-purpose flour.
Cooking with Barley
The following tips are from Alberta Barley . Be sure to visit their website.
Pearl and pot barley are the most common types of barley found in grocery stores. Cooking barley as a substitute for rice, or any other grain is easy [yes, there’s more to life than quinoa and teff although they rock as grains, so keep eating them too but variety is always best].
Cook pearl or pot barley on the stovetop, in a rice cooker, in a covered casserole dish in the oven or in a slow cooker [one of my fav kitchen appliance must-haves].
Stovetop: bring the barley to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 50 minutes. Use about a 4 to 1 ratio of water or stock to barley. You can season as desired: savoury spices, minced onions, and dried fruit like figs, currants or apricots [note: top up with extra liquid as the dried fruit will absorb some].
Rice cooker: barley will cook in the same amount of time as brown rice – approximately one cycle in the rice cooker.
Oven: place the barley and liquid in a covered casserole dish and cook in the oven using similar ratios of 4 to 1 like the stovetop method.
Slow cooker: cook your barley in a slow cooker for 3 to 4 hours on low heat.
In Part 2, I’ll cover 10 easy ways to include to ‘Go Barley” including a selection of a few amazing recipes!