Monday, October 31, 2016

Barley: What Is it and How Do I Cook It?

Pearl Barley
Barley has been around for more than 10,000 years.  I first tasted it in my grandmother’s Chicken Barley Soup, but I didn’t know what it was until much later.

I really fell for this grain when I lived in London and frequented Cranks, a popular vegetarian restaurant.  It was originally located right on Carnaby Street, well before the street itself became the headquarters of Swinging London.  By the time I discovered it, though, Cranks had moved around the corner to Marshall Street.  I never noticed any high fashion people there having lunch, but I did see lots of unusual salads. Almost all of them featured such grains as cracked wheat, wheat berries or barley.

Most barley sold today is pearl (or pearled) barley.  It is missing both its outer husk and bran.  Pearl barley has a mild taste, mixes well in vegetable salads and is high in fiber.  I also like to serve it as an alternative to rice.  If I have some fresh mushrooms, I’ll slice them, brown them in a bit of butter or olive oil and add them to the cooked barley.

Cooking pearl barley is like cooking rice.  Bring water to a boil, add the rinsed barley and cook, covered, on low heat, for 40-45 minutes, or until the grains are tender yet chewy.  1 cup of barley needs about 3 cups of water to produce a chewy grain and about 4 cups of water to produce a softer grain.

You can also buy hulled barley in some stores and on the Internet.  This barley has had its hull removed, but the bran is intact.  It is darker brown in color and takes about 25% longer to cook.

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