I mostly drink my barley. To be honest, other than knowing it’s a main ingredient of a beverage I admire, I have barely given barley a thought.
But during the past few weeks I’ve been falling in love with the stuff, and am on a campaign to try it in all of its forms. That’s not going to be easy, because at the moment I can’t get past how much I love the plainest possible form — cooked, hulled barley.
Why bother trying something other than the wheat and rice we’re all used to eating over and over and over again at nearly every meal? Well, there you go. I answered the question by asking it.
For those of us who are sensitive to wheat, who need to control our calories, who need to raise our fiber consumption, control our blood sugar, whole barely is a great food. Its versatility and flavor make it one of the real rewards for people who are working at losing weight. Barley tastes good.
For flavor and fiber, I like hulled barley, available at your local health food store or through grain companies online. Pearled barley (scrubbed of its bran) is available just about everywhere, cooks a little faster, and is yummy too. You can find instant barley, barley grits (a great bulghur wheat substitute, if you’re wheat sensitive), barley flakes, and rolled barley. Barley flour is a low-gluten flour great for use in pancakes, popovers, and quickbreads.
The whole grains take a little while to cook. Many people soak the grains all day or overnight before cooking them. Pressure cookers eliminate soaking time, and rice steamers work very well, although you need to watch out for bubbling over. In my rice cooker, I can cook barley in under an hour. Lately I’ve been cooking up a batch on weekends, then refrigerating it to use throughout the week as side dishes, in salads, or simply heated by the bowlful in the morning. Its high protein and fiber content make it a great food to eat alone, but I usually add a little olive oil, because I like that sort of thing.
Barley takes spices nicely, and works as well hot or cold. This makes it fun to play with, working as the basis of a cold salad or a hot pilaf. It can be cooked with water or broth, added to soups, breads, and casseroles.
I’ve been rolling up a half a cup of barley spiced with cumin and chili powder into my Ezekiel sprouted-grain tortillas with baby spinach and some shredded queso fresco for a great morning sandwich on my run out the door. Oh yeah. It’s good.
It’s good, and it’s old. One of the grand old grains, among the first ones we ever thought to cultivate. It’s good for more than beer. More than the malt in your milkshake. Give whole barley a try, or you might be missing something.