Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dig In - Barley

Barley is not just for making beer, feeding animals or making beef barley soup.   It is wonderful people food and has been for a very long time.  It was one of the first domesticated grains and was cultivated by the Egyptians between 6000 and 5000 B.C.   Somehow over the millenia barley has lost favor as a staple ingredient for breads, soups, cereals and more - at least in the United States.  (One reason may be that corn is much more productive.)  Today only 3 per cent of the U.S. barley crop is used for food products.  44% is used for malt (i.e. beer),  51% for animal feed and 3% as seed.

Minnesota is the eighth largest barley producer of the 27 mostly northern and western states that grow this important grain crop.  Barley is produced all over the world, too, because it is highly adaptable -- from north of the Arctic circle in Europe to near the equator in the mountains of Ethiopia.  It used to be the chief bread grain for the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans, until it was supplanted by wheat.  You know the Bible story of the loaves and the fishes?  That was barley bread.

I have resolved to use more barley in our house.  It is great cooked with all manner of vegetables and a broth -- prepare it just like rice in a risotto.    We also like it for breakfast as a porridge or hot cereal.   I am definitely going to grind up some whole barley into flour and experiment with unleavened barley bread.  The Finns call this rieska and it comes in many versions.  I think it would be great served with winter soups -- warm, with good butter or a little cheese.

One cup of cooked pearled barley contains 6 grams of protein (the same amount as in 6 ounces of milk), less than 1 gram of fat, practically no sodium and about 230 calories.  It contains significant amounts of niacin, thiamine and potassium.  Unpearled, or whole brown barley, contains B vitamins and more protein and is a better source of dietary fiber than pearled barley.

Forms of barley
Pearled - this is the most common form of barley sold for people food and is sometimes referred to as polished barley.  The inedible outer husks and a protein rich layer called the aleurone are removed, along with the germ. Even with the outer layer removed, pearled barley is an excellent source of fiber because it is contained in the entire grain. This version of whole barley is the one most people are familiar with.  The grains cook fairly quickly (about 25 minutes)  and have a chewy and creamy texture.

Whole hulled barley - this is the most nutritious and is brown in color.  Because just the outer hull is removed, it takes longer to cook - about 45 minutes to an hour.  Scotch barley, which is a bit more processed to remove outer layers,  is somewhere in between pearl and whole barley in terms of cooking time, nutrition and chewiness.

Grits - This is the whole grain toasted and cracked into pieces - kind of like steel cut oats or cracked wheat.  It is used as a cereal and will cook in about 15 minutes. You can toast whole barley yourself in the oven or in a heavy pan on top of the stove - be careful not to burn.  Grind in a grain mill or food processor (for small quantities.)

Rolled barley - this is just like rolled oats.  I use barley flakes just as I would oats - as cooked cereal or in granola with rolled wheat and oats or in breads or cookies.   Rolled barley flakes do not get as soft and mushy as rolled oats when cooked with water as a hot cereal - they stay separate and chewy.

Flour - the kind commercially available is almost always made with pearled barley.  


You can learn a lot about barley and find some recipes at this website.

Whole brown barley
To cook, add one cup to 4 cups boiling water or broth, lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan tightly and cook for about 45 - 60 minutes.  Check pot after 30 minutes to see if more liquid is needed.

Pearled barley
Simmer barley in a covered pot for  20-30 minutes.  Ratio for cooking: 3 parts water to 1 part barley.  Yield is about 4 cups cooked barley for each cup raw barley grains.  Try cooking whole barley in fruit juice - such as apple or cranberry juice - and some honey.  This makes a great breakfast porridge served with milk or yogurt and maybe some dried fruit or nuts.

Whole barley pudding - the Finns call it Ohraryynipurro
According to Beatrice Ojakangas, in her classic  - The Finnish Cookbook - "This is the traditional dessert or supper main dish in the province of Satakunta in Western Finland, but you may prefer to serve it as a breakfast dish or in place of a starch dish in any menu.  Serve with butter."
This recipe is adapted from The Finnish Cookbook.
1/2 cup whole barley
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups milk
1 T. butter
1/2 t. salt
Cook the barley and water slowly for 30 minutes, preferable in a pot that can go from stovetop to oven.  Add milk, salt and butter and stir.  Cover and bake at 250 degrees for about 4 hours or until all liquid is absorbed.  Stir about once an hour (or not - if you have to leave the house it won't hurt this to bake undisturbed.)  Makes about six servings.

Unleavened barley bread - the Finns call it Rieska
This recipe is also from The Finnish Cookbook.  The Finns serve this bread with cold buttermilk.  Or in place of a hot bread for breakfast or with a hearty salad for lunch.  In some places the bread is baked on cabbage or rutabaga leaves for more flavor.  Or bits of bacon, ham or salt pork are stuck into the bread before baking.

I recommend this cookbook to any serious cook who lives in Minnesota.  Aside from the wealth of information about Finnish culture, there are recipes for foods that are easily grown or found in Minnesota - rye, barley, root vegetables, berries, mushrooms, dairy products, apples, prunes and all kinds of meat and fish.

I ground up some whole pearled barley and made this bread this morning.  Used 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup whole milk because we had no cream in the house.  I also used about 1 cup plus 2 T. flour and a 8 inch pan, not a 9 inch.   The bread is very flat - about 1/2 inch thick - and has a lovely sour taste and crunchy texture.

1/2 cup buttermilk, milk or water
1/2 cup cream
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. sugar
1 cup barley flour
1 T. melted butter
Mix together the first four ingredients.  Then stir in the flour and then the butter.  Beat until smooth.  Pour the batter into a well greased and floured 8 or 9 inch round baking pan. (9 inch results in thinner bread) Or spread the dough on raw cabbage leaves on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake in hot oven (450 degrees) about 30 minutes or until lightly browned.  Serve hot with butter.  4-6 servings. 

Baked curried chicken and barley (this is from the barleyfoods website - see link above)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 medium tart green apple, chopped
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1 cup pearl barley
2-1/2 cups chicken broth
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
3 tablespoons orange marmalade or apricot jam

Heat oil in large skillet; sauté onion, bell peppers and garlic 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped apple and curry powder; sauté 4 minutes longer. Stir in barley and chicken broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Pour barley mixture into large baking dish or casserole. Arrange chicken breasts over barley and season with garlic salt. Cover and bake in 375º F oven for 45 minutes. Remove cover; brush chicken with marmalade. Continue to bake, uncovered, 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 431 calories, 34g protein, 8g fat, 59g carbohydrate, 68mg cholesterol, 9g fiber, 850mg sodium.

Barley apple salad
Cook one cup of pearled or brown barley until tender.  Mix with 2 apples, chopped; 1/2 cup fresh orange or apple juice, 1 T. honey; 1/3 cup raisins and 1/3 cup sliced celery (or sliced raw fennel if you have it.)  If desired, serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.

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