Pearl Barley

In my childhood, barley was in the pantry to be used in winter to make soup. I never really considered the properties of barley and what made it a popular soup ingredient – I just ate my Mum’s thick, delicious warming vegetable soup. On reflection now, with barley being used for a much wider range of purposes in recipes for home cooks and at restaurants, I think it’s time to reflect on barley’s health and culinary qualities.

Barley is a grain that was originally native to Asia, and was one of the first grains to be widely cultivated. Wheat became the preferred grain when leavened bread came into vogue because the gluten content of barley is lower, so it isn’t possible to recreate the light but chewy texture of wheat bread when using barley.  As a result, until the last five years most of the developed world’s supply was relegated to brewing beer.

The discovery that barley has a high soluble fibre and resistant starch content has prompted it’s revival as a ‘health’ food, with significant roles in immune function, heart health and cancer prevention. These qualities are also what makes barley soak up the juices of soups and risotto so nicely.

But here is where it gets tricky, especially for people with a sensitive tummy or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The helpful soluble fibre in barley is beta-glucan and the resistant starch is mainly fructans. The beta-glucans ‘soak up’ cholesterol and aid digestive health, but fructans (which also promote digestive health) are a FODMAP and therefore can be problematic for people who suffer IBS. So the decision of whether and how much barley to include into your diet will depend on you own health issues. Is it more important for you to consume the beta-glucans or do you need to avoid the fructans for your ‘barley’ belly? Here is a recipe with a version to suit both groups.

Barley (or brown rice) cranberry pine nut salad

You need:

1 cup pearl barley (or brown rice)

750ml water

½ cup dried cranberries

100 grams haloumi

½ cup orange juice

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

2/3 cup roughly chopped parsley

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

What to do:

  1. Place pearl barley (or brown rice) and water in a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until pearl barley (40-45 minutes) or rice (20 – 25 minutes) is tender.
  2. Top up with water if the saucepan looks dry. Drain off any excess liquid and allow to cool.
  3. Combine cranberries and orange juice in a small saucepan, cover, place over medium heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until cranberries have plumped up. Leave to cool.
  4. Heat a non-stick or oiled pan and cook 1 cm slices of haloumi over moderate heat until golden. Dice into 1 cm cubes.
  5. Once barley (or rice) and cranberries have cooled, combine in a large bowl with pine nuts, parsley, vinegar, olive oil and seasoning. Taste the salad; adjust dressing with extra vinegar or olive oil if needed.
  6. Serve as a feature dish, or add grilled salmon, lamb or chicken.

Blogged by Kerith Duncanson – June 2015

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