This month I’m talking about many of my favorite whole grains and how you might enjoy adding them to your own menu plan. This week’s focus is barley – a beautiful addition to breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. I remember moving to Northern California when I was nine. Our neighbors had a baby boy named Charlie. My first memory of Charlie was that he ate barley – Gerber baby-food barley cereal. How strange that seemed to me! After all, if it wasn’t grits, then it had no place in a human, much less a baby diet, right? Or so I thought… Fast forward about six years and I am having lunch in a vegetarian restaurant near Santa Cruz, and lo and behold, there it is again: barley. Only this time it is paired with mushrooms in soup. Why not, I reasoned? Maybe Charlie was on to something. I ordered it. I ate it. I loved it. And I have never looked back. Now, I use barley often for all kinds of dishes, including breakfast cereals, soups and main dishes, and I love barley flour in muffins and quick breads. When it comes to grains, barley is a winner! According to the USDA, eating barley can improve many risk factors for cardiovascular disease including supporting healthy cholesterol levels. Just one cup of cooked barley gives you: Selenium, Niacin, Manganese, 2 mg Iron, 6.2 grams of fiber (soluble and insoluble) and less than 1 gram of fat. All that along with great flavor, texture and versatility, what’s not to like? Shopping for barley is easy and fun. Here are the different ways you’ll find it: Pearled barley – The easiest barley to find, you have probably had this yummy grain in things like soup, but it has lots of other uses, too. Pearled barley is lightly milled to retain all of the germ and at least two thirds of the bran, which makes it a healthy choice to use for grain salads, soups, stews and chili, or as a stuffing for vegetables. Barley flakes — These are made from lightly toasted pearled barley rolled into flakes. Barley flour – This is great baking flour – delicious in cookies, cakes, muffins and quick breads. Replace some of your wheat flour with barley flour for added whole grain goodness! Hulled barley – This is not as commonly available but is the most nutritious barley you can purchase; the tough outer hull is polished off and the whole grain remains untouched. Barley Grits – These may be somewhat difficult to find. They are made from toasted barley kernels that have been cracked into smaller pieces. Ready to boost your body with beautiful barley? Here’s a good start:
- Cook it up and keep it on hand to add to many favorite dishes. Here’s a good basic recipe for Simple Barley.
- Add it to salads in summer and winter. This Barley Salad with Fresh Mint is so good and so is this Ham and Barley Salad.
- Bake crackers with barley flour like these Three-Seed Rosemary Crackers.
- Add it to stews. This Root Vegetable Stew with Beef and Barley really hits the spot as the perfect winter meal.
- Add it to soup like we did in this delicious Barley Soup with Beef and Mushrooms.
- Got a recipe for muffins or quick breads? Substitute ½ the flour with barley flour.
- Make cereal out of cooked pearled barley or barley flakes or grits.
- Make pilaf – use barley in place of rice.
- Make your favorite casseroles with barley in place of other grains.
- Use barley flakes in place of oatmeal when making cookies, or add them to bread for a chewy, lovely loaf!