Updated November 2010.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste. And, sometimes, the mind is just a terrible thing.
This morning is one of those times.
I was feeling a wee bit witty, and started to craft a barley spin on Edward Fitzgerald's famous lines:
A Pot of Barley underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Beer, a Loaf of Bread — a Bowl of Really Thick Soup? — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness of Rhode Island ...
I realized that's all I could manage from memory, and I'd need to look up the rest of the poem. What's the title??? Oh yes, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Barley deserves better than bad puns and botched poetry. It's one of the most ancient grains, dating from the Stone Age. It used to grow wild in an area from North Africa to China. Barley is mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating to 5000 BC; the first known recipe for barley wine dates to 2800 BC, and recipes for beer were perfected in the Middle Ages.
Today, the world's largest commercial growers of barley are Canada, Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. Massachusetts grew the first North American crop of barley in 1602, when the pilgrims planted seeds they'd brought from England, but the crop was not successful. It did thrive in later seasons in the climate of Pennsylvania, where farmers added limestone water to the barley and, after a bit of fermenting and distilling, they ended up with something much better than bread or porridge: whiskey!
What the pilgrims, and the Romans, and the Egyptians didn't know is that barley is high in beta-glucans, which help lower cholesterol. (Some varieties of barley contain up to three times the level of beta-glucans as most varieties of oats.) What they did know, and what we know now, is that barley is filling, nutritious and versatile.
Mushroom barley soup
This is great winter soup that freezes well and easily accommodates the addition of leftover cooked chicken, turkey, or chopped root vegetables like parsnips or rutabagas. Serve with salad and good black or rye bread. Serves 4-6.
1/2 cup pearl barley, washed
4 cups chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium canned)
2 cups beef stock (homemade or low-sodium canned)
1 small onion, chopped
2 small ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
1 lb sliced fresh mushrooms, any kind or a combination
Soy sauce, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
In a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot, bring first 5 ingredients to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Add remaining ingredients, and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender (30-40 minutes). Season with additional black pepper, to taste.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Curried mushroom, bean and barley soup
Vegan barley and lentil pilaf with spinach and mushrooms
Warm salad of kamut, cranberries and feta
Other recipes that use barley:
Moroccan chickpea barley salad, from Simply Recipes
Barley salad with mint and lemon, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Barley risotto with peas, from Guilty Kitchen
Barley-stuffed tomatoes, from Appetite for China
Beef stoup, from The Cutting Edge of Ordinary
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