Pearl barley: A hidden storecupboard gem
When it comes to simple and nutritious British food, you can’t go far wrong with the humble barley grain. It’s a wonderfully versatile cereal grain with a rich nutty flavour and an appealing chewy consistency.
This ancient grain is packed with fibre, contains important vitamins and minerals, is slim on fat and is cholesterol-free. Pearl barley is barley that has been processed to remove its outer hull and bran; all barley must have its fibrous hull removed before it can be eaten. The grain is then polished to a shiny ‘pearl’, making it tender to the bite and easier to cook.
What is barley used for?
A key use for barley is in beer and whisky production, and it’s also used in a variety of Middle Eastern dishes. In Asia barley forms the basis of Tibetan staple tsampa (a kind of porridge) as well as in mugicha tea in Japan. It can also be used to make barley water, usually sweetened and flavoured with orange or lemon.
In everyday cooking, this versatile grain can be used in salads, hearty soups, stuffed peppers, stews and pilaf as well as orzotto; an Italian dish similar to risotto but using pearl barley in place of rice.
How to cook pearl barley
Allow about 50g uncooked pearl barley per person. Bring a pan to the boil with around two parts water to one part barley and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
• Boil pearl barley for 30-40 minutes, then drain and leave it to cool slightly. Toss the barley with olive oil, lemon juice, cucumber, chopped parsley and mint for a tasty take on tabbouleh.
• Add a handful of barley to a pan of stock and vegetables and leave it to slow cook for a hearty veggie stew.
• Use barley in sweet dishes as a new take on rice pudding. Follow the link for our recipe for pearl barley pudding with coconut and raspberries.
• Simply boil the barley until tender, drain and then stir through some melted butter or marge. Serve this as a side dish with stews, chilli or tagine.
Suma pearl barley, sourced from British cereal experts Silvery Tweed, features in the Channel 4 programme The Food Chain, a series tracing the journey of Britain’s best-loved foods from field to table.