Barley will give your dish a different twist every time

June 24, 2009|By TARA DUGGAN / San Francisco Chronical

Ingredient obsession can be a good thing. Sometimes a certain ingredient pops up again and again in a store, in a restaurant or in your pantry. If you keep tasting it and cooking with it, you soon know enough about it to bore your friends at dinner.

For me this happened with barley. We were having folks over for dinner and I planned to use a recipe that called for farro, which I thought I had in my pantry. Hours before dinner I discovered that I didn't have it, but I did have a bag of pearl barley. It worked just fine.

A week after the barley dinner I was leading a cooking class group through a farmers market when we stopped to talk to Robin Koda of Koda Farms, a rice grower. It turns out she had just started selling her farm's small production of hulled barley, which is less processed than pearl barley. I had to try it.


We took it back to the class, cooked it for close to an hour and let it cool in the pan. Right before serving, we tossed it with butter and herbs and reheated it. The grain was crunchy but tender and just the right thing for pork chops with fresh cherry compote.

This recipe for Barley with Walnuts and Roasted Spring Vegetables is yet another version of that dish. Roasted radishes retain some of their peppery flavor but become mild and tender in the oven, adding complexity to the sweet carrots, zucchini and spring onions.

Both hulled barley and pearl barley are considered whole grains, though pearl barley has both the hull and part or all of the bran removed. Some types of pearl barley require more simmering than others, but the longer barley takes to cook, the more nutritious it is. The goal is for it to be al dente but not to feel like you're eating twigs.

I'm not sure what my next ingredient obsession will be -- jicama, maybe? -- but I hope it turns out as delicious as the barley did.


Serves 6-8

o The Parmesan, nuts and seasonal vegetables help turn the hearty barley into a vegetarian main course; serve it with a salad. This also makes a delicious side to roasted or grilled meat dishes.

2 cups hulled or pearl barley
1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
12 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into medium dice
8 ounces zucchini, cut into large dice
5 radishes, cut into medium dice
1 cup chopped red spring onion, greens reserved (see Note)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more to drizzle
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup walnut pieces
Reserved spring onion greens (optional), thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place the barley and 1 teaspoon salt in a pan with 4-1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the grains are tender with a slight crunch and most of the water has evaporated, 35-40 minutes. Spread out on a baking sheet and let cool. Do not drain unless there is a lot of extra liquid; if so, save the liquid in case the barley seems dry later.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the carrots, zucchini, radishes, spring onions, 2 tablespoons olive oil, thyme, rosemary and garlic in a large bowl. Add plenty of salt and pepper to taste. Spread out on a baking sheet so that all of the vegetables touch the pan, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the walnut pieces on a small baking pan placed in the oven. Watch carefully, and remove when the pieces begin to color, 8-10 minutes at most.

Toss the vegetables with the barley and the spring onion greens, if using, and spread out on the pan you used to roast the vegetables. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees and cook until the barley is warmed through, about 10 minutes.

Toss in the Parmesan and nuts, if using, and a drizzle of olive oil. Add some of the reserved water if it seems dry. Taste for more salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Note: You can use an equal amount of green spring onions or red onion instead.

Wine pairing: Barley has a subtle nuttiness, enhanced by the walnuts. A light-bodied red with a little tannin would work. Try a dry rose or a Chardonnay with a bit of oak, such as the 2007 J. Lynne Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

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