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Barley: ancient grain is healthy choice

December 30, 2008
By Mary Ann Menendez

Barley is resilient. It must be as archaeologists have uncovered this supple grain as they dig around the Fertile Crescent. This means that 10,000 years ago, this crop was grown for sustenance, including bread and beer.

An ancient grain, barley is mentioned in the Bible as one of the crops of Egypt (Exodus 9:31), and was an ingredient in the bread that God told Ezekiel to bake (Ezekiel 4:9) "Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof. "

About one-fourth cup of barley contains no fat, 24 grams of complex carbohydrate (96 calories), 3 grams of protein (12 calories), and 5 grams of dietary fiber.

Today barley can be found growing in more than 100 countries. In the United States, barley is grown in about 25 states. This crop is classified as a short-season, early-maturing crop.

Primary uses for barley include animal feed, seed and malt production. A small amount of barley is used for food products, including bread and cookies as well as soups and pilafs. Malting barley is an ingredient for whiskey and beer. About the best thing about this little grain is that it is a whole-grain food and including it in the diet provides numerous health benefits. It is high in soluble fiber and can reduce blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Barley is also low in fat, but high in fiber content. But, it's also very high in selenium, which protects your cells from free-radical damage and also aids your thyroid in producing the thyroid hormone necessary for your good health.

Chicken Barley Soup

8 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned

1 quart water

1-2 tablespoons chicken soup base

1 teaspoon dried thyme (or use frozen thyme leaves if you have them)

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 onion, chopped small

1 cup chopped celery

2 cups diced cooked chicken

1 cup sliced or diced carrots

1/2 cup pearl barley

fresh ground black pepper to taste, salt if desired

In large stock pot, combine chicken stock, water, chicken soup base, dried thyme, poultry seasoning, and dried parsley. Simmer 15 minutes while you chop vegetables and chicken. After 15 minutes, add chopped onion, chopped celery, diced chicken, sliced carrots, and barley. Simmer 45 minutes to one hour over very low heat, until barley is done but still a bit chewy. You may want to add a cup or so of water if the soup reduces too much. Season with fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste, and serve hot. (Be sure to taste before adding salt if using canned chicken stock, which can be rather salty.)

Barley Soup with Ham and Leeks

1 large leek

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

2 tablespoon olive oil

10 cups chicken stock or water with chicken soup base

1-2 tablespoons chicken-flavored soup base

3 fresh bay leaves or 2 dried bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 cups diced ham

1 cup pearl barley

2 tablespoon dried parsley

salt/pepper to taste

Trim most of green top off of leek, trim roots, cut into one-fourth inch strips and cut into small dice, then wash thoroughly and drain. In large soup pot, saute leeks in olive oil for 3 minutes, add celery and carrots and saute 3-5 minutes more. Add chicken stock, chicken base if using, bay leaves and thyme. Simmer 30 minutes on low heat. Add diced ham, barley, and dried parsley and simmer one hour, or until barley is completely soft and flavors are well blended. You may need to add more water during the cooking time. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot, with a drizzle of best quality balsamic vinegar if you wish.

Crockpot Barley Soup

1 and one-half pounds lean ground beef

One-half cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

Two-thirds cup pearl barley

3 to 4 medium carrots, diced

3 ribs celery, diced

1 (28 oz.) can tomatoes

3 and one-half to 4 cups beef broth

2 cups water

1 (10 1/2 oz.) can tomato soup (optional)

1 bay leaf

One-fourth cup minced parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown ground beef, onion, and garlic in skillet; drain well. Transfer meat mixture to slow cooker; add barley and remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on high 1 hour then on low 5-6 hours.

Apple Barley Soup

2 large onions, thinly sliced

3 and one-half tablespoons vegetable oil

3 and one-half cups chicken stock

2 cups apple cider

One-third cup pearl barley

2 large carrots, diced

1 teaspoon thyme

One-fourth teaspoon dried marjoram

1 bay leaf

2 cups apples, unpeeled chopped

One-fourth cup fresh parsley, minced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

One-eighth teaspoon salt

In a small pot, saute onions in oil over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, cover and cook, stirring frequently for 10 minutes or until onions are browned. add stock, cider, barley, carrots, thyme, marjoram And bay leaf. Cover and cook for one hour or until barley is tender. Add apples, parsley and lemon juice. Cook for 5 minutes or until apples are slightly soft. Discard bay leaf and serve.

Barley Salad, Mediterrean Style


2 cups chicken broth, low-sodium canned, or homemade

1 cup barley

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

One-half cup chopped Kalamata olives

2 medium tomatoes, diced

One-half cucumber, diced

Two-thirds cup chopped flat-leaf parsley


One-half cup fresh lemon juice

One-fourth teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the barley, oil and salt. Bring back to a boil, adjust heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes more. Drain excess liquid, if needed. Cool. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a large serving bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, starting with a few drops and then adding the rest in a steady stream, to make a smooth dressing. Add the barley and the remaining salad ingredients and toss to coat with the dressing.

Bell Peppers Stuffed with Barley

1 pound ground beef or turkey

One-fourth cup finely chopped onion

3 tablespoons Italian seasoned bread crumbs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 and one-half cups cooked pearl barley, (following directions on package)

3 bell peppers, cut in half and seeded

2 jars (26 ounces each) prepared pasta sauce

Additional grated Parmesan cheese, optional

In large bowl, combine ground meat, onion, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, egg, salt, pepper and cooked barley. Divide meat-barley mixture into 6 portions. Press each portion into bell pepper half, forming mixture to the shape of the pepper. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place filled pepper halves in dish. Pour pasta sauce over peppers. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake peppers for 1 hour and 15 minutes. To serve, arrange peppers on platter, spooning a portion of sauce over each pepper. Pour remaining sauce from baking dish into container to serve at table. Sprinkle additional grated Parmesan cheese over peppers, if desired, and serve.

Country Corn and Barley Relish

1 cup pearl barley

3 cups water


1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

One-third cup olive oil

One-fourth cup vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dried basil


1 cup diced fresh tomato

One-half cup finely chopped red or green bell pepper

2 green onions, thinly sliced

In medium saucepan with lid bring water and one-half teaspoon salt to a boil. Add pearl barley and return to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Add corn; simmer 15 minutes longer. In the meantime, combine olive oil, vinegar, basil, one-half teaspoon salt and a dash pepper. Pour dressing over warm barley and corn; toss to coat. Cool to room temperature. Add tomatoes, bell pepper and onions. Chill relish 2 to 3 hours. Serve with beef or chicken entrees.

Barley Pilaf

One-half cup sliced fresh button mushrooms

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup pearl barley

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 tablespoons chopped green onion

One-fourth teaspoon crushed dried rosemary

2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in saucepan; add mushrooms and saute until limp. Add barley, broth, green onion and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 45 minutes or until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over pilaf and serve.

Stir-Fry with Turkey and Barley

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cups cooked pearl barley (follow directions on package)

1 and one-half cups cooked and cubed turkey

One-half cup finely chopped red bell pepper

One-half cup sliced green onion

3 eggs

1 teaspoon garlic salt

One-half teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

One-fourth cup slivered almonds, toasted

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add barley, turkey, bell pepper and onion. Stir-fry 4 to 5 minutes. In small bowl, beat together eggs, garlic salt and ginger. Add to barley-turkey mixture, stir-frying until egg mixture is cooked. Sprinkle on soy sauce and almonds. Stir to combine and serve.



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