This novel Pearl Barley Salad is light, nutritious and versatile. Additionally, it is super-easy to prepare. The lime juice dressing gives the dish a refreshing, tangy taste. You can serve the salad as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or grilled fish, or as a vegetarian option, on its own, with crusty bread. You’ll find my recipe for Pearl Barley Salad at the end of this post.
I first experienced pearl barley as a salad ingredient several years ago during a visit to Germany. My daughter-in-law prepared a delicious salad that included pearl barley and I was hooked! Until then, I had not considered utilizing pearl barley in this way. I had used it in soups, but that was all.
What is pearl barley?
Pearl barley is a product of barley. Barley is one of the world’s major cereal grains (along with wheat, rice and corn). “Pearl barley” or “pearled barley” is produced when the fibrous outer coating (husk) and the bran are removed from the grains of barley.
Barley has been cultivated for up to ten thousand years in parts of Europe and Asia. The grain has been used variously in the preparation of malt, in making beer and some distilled beverages, as animal fodder and in foods such as bread, soups and stews. Bread made from barley is mentioned in the Bible. You may be familiar with the following passage from the New Testament, in which barley loaves are not only mentioned but are critical to the incident that took place.
John 6:1-14 (New International Version): Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
1-4 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
5-6 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
8-9 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10-11 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12-13 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
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Is pearl barley good for you?
Although pearl barley is not a whole grain, it is still nutritious. It is high in fibre and contains more fibre than white, brown or wild rice. In terms of its energy, protein, vitamin and mineral content, pearl barley is similar to wheat. Like wheat, it contains gluten. Pearl barley has a low-GI (Glycemic Index), and compares favourably with oats and 100% stone-ground whole wheat. (I wrote previously about the health benefits of oats in Make your family a treat: Bircher Muesli, July 10, 2017.)
In Australia, McKenzie’s has been providing pearl barley to consumers for over 100 years. Its product is made in Australia from 100% Australian ingredients. These are the constituents of pearl barley, as listed on its packaging and the company’s website.
|Item||Per Serving||Per 100g|
|Fat – Saturated||LESS THAN 1g||LESS THAN 1g|
|Carbohydrate – Sugars||LESS THAN 1g||LESS THAN 1g|
How do you use pearl barley?
Pearl barley is the most common form of barley used in home cooking and in restaurants.
In years gone by, in Australia, pearl barley was used almost exclusively as an additive of soups and stews. At least some home cooks used it. I don’t remember my mother using pearl barley. In fact, pearl barley doesn’t get a mention in any of my mother’s old recipe books, or any of mine either, until recently. I checked. There are no recipes for pearl barley in any of my recipe books dated between 1970 and 2012 (and I have quite a collection).
Today, you’ll find a variety of pearl barley recipes in contemporary recipe books and on the internet. Donna Hay included two pearl barley recipes in her Fresh and Light (Harper Collins Publishers, 2012), a recent acquisition of mine. Pearl barley is no longer used only in soups and stews, but also in risottos and salads, and much more.
When cooked, pearl barley is soft but firm and chewy. It has a distinctive but mild flavour. Pearl barley is a good alternative to rice. It’s inexpensive too. In Australia, you’ll find it in all major supermarkets and grocery stores.
How do you cook pearl barley?
Cook pearl barley in the same manner as rice, brown rice in particular. Unlike lentils and beans, pearl barley does not have to be soaked prior to cooking. For every cup of pearl barley, add 3 cups of water and bring to the boil in a saucepan on the stovetop. Reduce the temperature and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the grains are plump and tender. When cooked, remove from the stovetop, cover and allow the pearl barley to stand until cool. Do not rinse.
NOTE: 1 cup of uncooked pearl barley produces 3 cups of pearl barley when cooked.
PEARL BARLEY SALAD
3 cups cooked pearl barley
1 cup red kidney beans
1 cup corn kernels
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 green onions (shallots), sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
1 small green or red chilli, seeded, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Add 1 cup of pearl barley to 3 cups of water in a saucepan on the stovetop, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer until the grains are tender (about 30 minutes). Allow to cool.
- Prepare the dressing: Combine all ingredients in a screw-top jar. Shake well.
- Prepare the vegetables: Halve the tomatoes. Slice the spring onions. Chop the cucumber. Drain the canned kidney beans and corn kernels. Chop the coriander.
- Combine the pearl barley, kidney beans, corn kernels, tomatoes, spring onions, cucumber, coriander and dressing in a large bowl. Mix well.
- Serve the salad with grilled chicken or grilled fish, or, as a vegetarian option, alone with crusty bread.