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Archive for Wednesday, January 20, 1999

BARLEY BELONGS BACK ON THE TABLE

January 20, 1999

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Most of the barley grown in this country goes straight to the brewery, not to the dinner plate as it did for thousands of years before industrialization. I think we've been missing something here.

Barley is a quick-growing cereal crop with a high tolerance of temperature extremes. That has made it valuable in parts of the world where food is not taken for granted. However, in the United States during the past century, we've pretty much relegated barley to the fermenters, who supply the malt used in beer, Scotch whisky and vinegar.

My only recollection of eating barley as a child is of a beef and barley soup that my mother made. In my own kitchen I've added it to soups when I was looking for an alternative to rice, but, like everyone else, I forget about it most of the time.

My interest in cooking with barley was piqued when I ran across a recipe for a barley-shiitake pilaf in an issue of Cooking Light last fall. It had been a couple of years since I had looked for it in the store and I was astounded to learn that barley is so little regarded these days that I actually had trouble finding it.

While I did find that pearl barley was stocked in the bulk section of a local natural foods store, I got there after some barley-lover had bought the entire inventory -- except for about two cups, which was all I needed.

I soon learned why someone would stock up.

I was unable to find pearl barley on the shelves of a large supermarket that typically carries anything you'd ever want to cook with. Pearl barley was not to be found in the pasta aisle, nor near the rice and not among the cereal grains. When I tracked down a person wearing a store apron, I might as well have been asking for the moon. My question was definitely one the young man had never fielded before.

In short, I left the store without it.

What shocks me about this dearth of barley is that we've just gone through a period of heightened awareness of the value of cereal grains and roughage in our diet and barley fits the bill. It isn't weird looking, it doesn't taste funny (in fact it has a richer, deeper flavor than most types of rice) and it's cheap.

Even after barley has been husked and polished, which is the definition of pearl barley, it retains nutrients and flavor. In the summer months I wage a personal campaign on behalf of okra and I'm thinking of making barley my off-season cause celebre.

The pilaf, which I served to company, received high praise and requests for seconds. Although the shiitake mushrooms add a dimension of flavor, they are pricey and you could substitute another variety.

The original recipe called for four cups of water and for cooking the barley in a saucepan. The result was a gooey mess. I then cooked another cup of barley in a rice cooker, using just two cups of water and got fluffy grain.

Barley-Mushroom Pilaf

2 cups water

1 cup uncooked pearl barley

6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups onion, chopped

1real grains and roughage in our diet and barley fits the bill. It isn't weird looking, it doesn't taste funny (in fact it has a richer, deeper flavor than most types of rice) and it's cheap.

Even after barley has been husked and polished, which is the definition of pearl barley, it retains nutrients and flavor. In the summer months I wage a personal campaign on behalf of okra and I'm thinking of making barley my off-season cause celebre.

The pilaf, which I served to company, received high praise and requests for seconds. Although the shiitake mushrooms add a dimension of flavor, they are pricey and you could substitute another variety.

The original recipe called for four cups of water and for cooking the barley in a saucepan. The result was a gooey mess. I then cooked another cup of barley in a rice cooker, using just two cups of water and got fluffy grain.

Barley-Mushroom Pilaf

2 cups water

1 cup pray, and sprinkle with half the cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake for 45 minutes.

Makes six to eight servings.

-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at mellinger@harvey.bakeru.edu. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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