With people looking for more bang for their nutritional buck, ancient and heirloom grains have started to rise to prominence.
Five years ago, you would have struggled to find nutritious grains such as spelt, teff, kamut, chia seeds, buckwheat or millet, but now there is an amazing choice to be found on shelf as these super-foods find their time in the spotlight.
In fact, quinoa—the miracle grain that has spearheaded this new movement—is now so popular that there were many articles out about how it has become too expensive for the people of the Andes who grow it and have used it as a dietary staple for centuries. Although according to an article on NPR that is a bit more complicated than that.
One grain that often gets overlooked, however, is barley, which is surprising once you learn that barley has three times the amount of fiber as brown rice, nearly as much protein as quinoa and contains 8 essential amino acids. This is good stuff, people.
Often, this nutrient-dense food is reduced to bulk, often being used as just a thickener for a soup or a stew. But this tasty pilaf recipe makes barley the star. Toasting the grain first in the pan gives the dish a satisfying, nutty taste. With some fresh herbs and spices and a few roasted vegetables, it is a healthy one-pot meal.
I must admit that I’ve not knowingly cooked a pilaf before, but it turns out that the term “pilaf” (or palaw, pulao, polu etc – depending on where you’re from in the world) describes a dish where rice is prepared by being cooked in a sauce or seasoned broth. This particular recipe substitutes barley for rice, and is all the better for it.
Roasted Barley Pilaf:
Ingredients – for 4
- 1 cup barley, rinsed in cold water
- A glug of olive oil
- ½ cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp allspice
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 4 oz mushrooms, sliced
- ½ cauliflower, broken into small florets
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- A handful of chopped parsley
- Juice from ½ a lemon
Heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the onions and then let fry gently for about 5 minutes. Add the barley and fry on a medium heat for another 5 minutes. Then, put in the mushrooms, cinnamon and allspice and let them cook for about 3 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and raisins, stir well and bring to the boil. Once boiled, turn down the heat and cover.
While the barley is simmering, roast the cauliflower florets for about 20 minutes on a high heat (about 400 °F).
Let the barley simmer for about 30-35 minutes, stir frequently to make sure it does not stick to the pot. You’ll be able to tell that the barley is cooked when all the water is absorbed and the barley feels soft. Season with salt and pepper. Take off the heat and stir in the pine nuts, parsley and the lemon juice.
Serve warm—which I recommend in these freezing times—but note that it is equally delicious eaten cold the next day as a salad.