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I “discovered” black barley about five or six years ago.  Black barley is a different beast, than pearled barley.  It shares that somewhat nutty flavor, but it retains a delightful chewiness…texture, Baby!  Black Barley, native to Ethiopia, is the only grain that can go from field to table without being processed.  Gloom, or the bran layer, stays attached to kernel and is edible, so it’s “good” for you, too.  That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  The shape is similar to short-grained rice, and the color is a very dark, glossy purplish-brown.  The grain splits open when cooked, revealing a white center.  It offers a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and chewy texture.  This is a substantial grain.  It’s sturdy and holds up well in heating, as well as, freezing.  Most of the black barley we consume comes from the Western US.  Enough about the particulars and on to the recipe!

This was an afterthought.  I had an entirely different meal planned, and I opened the pantry door and there it was, whispering in a sturdy, but come hither voice.  So I cooked some  up…it takes about 45-55 minutes to cook, unless you soak the barley first.  Then it will cut that time in half!  But there was no soaking done by The Goddess yesterday.  You can cook black barley until it splits to show off its white center, but I prefer to cook it until just a few have “exploded”.  The chewiness is not at all unpleasant.  But, that’s my choice…you find your own path.

I was pan-frying whiting fillets with onions and herb-based compound butter.  I cooked the black barley until it was done and all the liquid was absorbed.  Then, I put that aside.  I decided to sauté a little fresh fennel with the ever-present onion and garlic that The Goddess tends to use with abandon.  I thought about adding celery, but decided the fennel was a better option.  Anyway, I had sliced up a Meyer lemon to add to the fish, but changed my mind and decided to toss it in with the veggies, along with some julienned orange zest (from an orange that had seen better days). Normally, I would have tossed in some fresh herbs—rosemary, thyme and maybe parsley.  But, since I had that herb-butter for the fish, I made an executive decision and omitted them.  And lurking in the very, very far reaches of my little brain, was the idea to use the leftover pilaf for a salad…and I wanted to add spices to that.  So, no herbs…this time around.  When the veggies were translucent, I lowered the heat, added the whole cherry tomatoes, popped the cover on and cooked them for about 4-5 minutes, stirring now and again.  I wanted them to remain whole…or most of them to be whole.  That’s it…return the cooked black barley to the pot, add some salt and pepper (taste first!) and serve!

You may have noticed in some of my more recent postings for soups, rice, potatoes, and this…the additional of powdered broth.  I started doing this a few years ago.  The Goddess was in the sun too long, and her mind was in a haze…she had a sort of vision…an epiphany, if you will.  Why boil things in water with salt added, when you can add both salt and flavor with dry bouillon?  And that is what she has been doing ever since.  It makes sense…haziness aside.  But, if you prefer, just use water…the earth will not stop rotating!

Black Barley Pilaf (and Salad)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Moderately Easy
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  • For the Pilaf:
  • 1 1/2 cups black barley
  • Water to cover by about 1 1/2-inches
  • 1 tablespoon dry vegetable or chicken broth base
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely diced fresh fennel
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 12-15 cherry tomatoes
  • Julienned zest of 1/2 an orange
  • 1 Meyer lemon, thinly sliced (seeds removed)
  • For the Salad:
  • For the vinaigrette:
  • 1-2 tablespoons of best flavored olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (Meyer lemon, if you have it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (long pepper, if you have them)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Pinch ground allspice
  • 3 cups leftover pilaf
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 carrot, shredded
  • 2-3 radishes, thinly sliced and julienned
  • 2-4 fresh mint leaves torn to small bits

For the pilaf:  In a medium saucepan, cover the barley with the dry soup base; stir.  Add about 1 1/2-inches of water; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the barley has is tender but still slightly chewy, about 40-45 minutes. Drain the barley well and transfer to a bowl.

Wipe out the saucepan and heat the oil in it. Add the onion and fennel; cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cherry tomatoes; cook, covered for about 4-5 minutes, stirring gently, a couple of times.  A few will collapse, but most will remain whole.  Add the barley back into the pot; stir and correct the season, if needed. Serve as desired.

For the salad:  In the bottom of a large-ish bowl, combine all the vinaigrette ingredients; whisk them together.  Add the leftover pilaf and remaining ingredients.  Fold everything together; dump into a serving bowl, cover and chill for at least an hour.  Serve either chilled or at cool room temperature (I prefer the latter).

NOTE:  You can soak the raw barley before cooking and it will shorten the cooking time considerably.

Black Barley Pilaf (and Salad) Recipe@Marcia Lahens 2023.  All rights reserved