In Season: Fried Barley

Barley is so much more than the grain used to make beer, yet this hearty pantry item is often overlooked in our kitchens. Sure, it’s great in stews. It adds richness to stocks and is the perfect filler for a piping hot bowl of soup. But this sturdy grain also makes a wonderful side dish to accompany any warming winter meal.

This grain is one of the first products cultivated by humans, and due to its versatility, it is clear why. Similar in texture to brown rice, barley is nutty and full-bodied in taste. Its chewy consistency is pleasantly neutral, making it an ideal vehicle for many additions.

For those of you who have never tried barley outside of your favorite soup recipe, fried barley is a pleasing place to start. Barley is very absorbent, tripling from its original volume. So, in this recipe I boil the barley using a bit more liquid than I need; then I drain and rinse it. This ensures loose, single grains—ideal for pan-frying. You can also boil and drain the barley a day ahead of time, put it in the refrigerator, and finish the saute the next day for dinner.

Mixed with dried cranberries and apricots, this makes a wholesome side dish, and the leftovers are great at room temperature.

Fried Barley

1 cup pearl barley
4 cups stock or salted water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, diced
¼ cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
¼ cup dried apricot, roughly chopped
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

In a medium-size saucepan, bring liquid and barley to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer, partially covered for 30-35 minutes, or until barley is softened yet remains chewy. Drain barley, and rinse well. Place cooked barley on a baking sheet, and refrigerate either over night, or until ready to use.

In a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, melt olive oil and butter. Add the onion, seasoning with salt and pepper. Saute onion until beginning to turn translucent. Add barley, tossing well in the oil. Leave barley undisturbed in a thin layer over the surface of the pan for approximately 2 minutes, and then toss again. Repeat the process several more times. Make sure that the barley is warmed through and well coated in the oil. This process should take about 10 minutes.

Add the cranberries, apricots, and parsley. Continue to saute until fruit is heated through, about 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Adrienne Kane is a writer and photographer. She is the author of a memoir, Cooking and Screaming, and the food blog, nosheteria.com.
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