You may or may not be aware of the ritual that the Budweiser’s, Miller’s and Coors’ folks
perform on a daily basis. They take barley and soak it for several days then let it sit at a cool
temperature for several more days until the grain germinates. This “green” malted barley then is
dried until it develops that characteristic malt flavor of that particular beer. In reality, most
large breweries purchase their malted barley grains. However, did you know that this precious
grain offers a lot more to the culinary world than just beer? Yes Norm, the world is larger than a
simple mug of brewski.
Botanically speaking, the Hordeum species is mainly cultivated for animal feed or for that other
fermented alcoholic beverage. Nutritionally speaking, barley is one of the heavy weights of the
grain world but is often overlooked as a food source.
What’s in Barley?
For starters, barley is a very good source of dietary fiber. Namely soluble fiber – the fiber that
helps reduce serum cholesterol. In fact the Food and Drug Administration recently allowed
barley containing foods that have at least three-fourths of a gram of soluble fiber per serving to
state that they may reduce the risk of heart disease. This places barley in the nutrition major
league as that other grain, oats. Despite also being a very good source of selenium and a good
source of copper, manganese and phosphorus, barley still doesn’t get the press and notoriety of
Cheerios and Quaker Oats. Oh well, I guess beer still trumps nutrition in America.
How Do I Prepare Barley?
Part of barley’s nutritional and culinary obscurity may have to do with its preparation. Pearled
barley (the type found in most supermarkets) requires roughly 45 minutes of boiling.
Compounding this long cooking time is the fact that its high soluble fiber content along with
decent protein content causes a “foaming” of the cooking liquid – and subsequent boil-over if
the cooking vessel is not deep enough or if insufficient cooking liquid is added to said cooking
vessel. For each cup of dry pearled barley, I usually add at least 3 quarts of water in a 6 quart
stock pot or Dutch oven bring to a boil then cover (with the lid just slightly cracked) and
simmer for 45 minutes. DON’T use a 3 quart pan even if the dry barley doesn’t appear to take up
much space because it WILL boil-over. If you have a pressure cooker, the cooking time can be
reduced to 15 to 20 minutes but once again, use a cooking vessel that looks a lot larger than
you THINK you need (even pressure cookers will hiss foamy bubbles through its safety pressure
Now What Do I Do With It?
Cooked barley can be added to any stew or curry to fortify its nutritional qualities while
maintaining the “heartiness” of the original dish. Simply substitute half of your chili beans with
cooked barley. Or substitute equal portions of potatoes with cooked barley in your favorite
curries. Of course, barley added to a beef consommé makes the traditional beef and barley soup
(substitute textured vegetable protein granules for a vegetarian beef and barley soup).
How about adding cooked barley with leftover chopped, grilled chicken, diced tomatoes, your
favorite fresh minced herb and toss with a simple vinaigrette for a hearty, complete entrée salad.
Cooked barley can also be added to cooked brown rice for the base of a baked, whole grain
casserole (see my March 2003 article for my Italian Grain Casserole). Finally barley can
substitute for any small pasta especially since it always has that “al dente” texture of perfectly
cooked semolina – unless you fall asleep while simmering it. Therefore, you can replace the
elbow macaroni in minestrone, the noodles in chicken noodle soup and some the beans in your
The Gochiso’s “Fast” Seafood Barley Curry
1 & ½ cups dry pearled barley
5 quarts water
2 cans Healthy Choice Gumbo soup
1 can Campbell’s Healthy Request Cream of Chicken soup
1 can of water
1 lb frozen imitation crab (surimi)
1 lb frozen bay scallops
1 lb frozen assorted seafood (shrimp, crab, scallop, clams, etc)
¼ cup dry white wine
2 tbsp curry powder
Add barley to 4 quarts of boiling water then reduce heat to simmer, cover (crack lid slightly)
for 45 minutes, Drain barley and set aside.
Heat 5 to 6 quart stock pot or Dutch oven (spray with non-stick spray if not non-stick lined
pot) then 3 cans of soup, water, wine and curry powder. Bring to a simmer then add 3 lb of
assorted seafood and cooked barley. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve with a green salad for
a complete meal.
More than Just for Beer