Jenny Chandler expounds on the benefits of batch cooking as a way of saving time and money, through cooking one ingredient in bulk and using it for myriad recipes. This time: pot barley
It’s easy to forget about barley with so many trendier grains and seeds on the scene. I’m as guilty as any of reaching for the freekeh, quinoa or red rice rather than the bag of barley that would have been my gran’s go-to grain for soups and stews.
Barley is an ancient grain, probably the first crop of all to be cultivated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, but nowadays much of it’s grown for animal feed or germinated to produce malt for beer or whisky. But it’s not difficult to track barley down and since it’s economical, healthy and fabulously versatile, it’s definitely back on my menu this year.
So why choose pot over pearl? Pot barley has the hull removed but retains much more of the precious germ and bran than the more highly polished pearl. Pot has a nuttier flavour, a bit more bite, and then there’s the added bonus of the extra soluble fibre.
Although pot barley will take under an hour to cook from scratch, I do think it’s worth soaking the grains overnight—it’s not just about halving the cooking time, soaking whole grains is believed to make them easier to digest, as well as enabling better nutrient absorption.
The soaking faff (for although it’s hardly tricky, it does require forethought) is why I always batch cook my barley. You may as well kick off with at least 500g barley (yielding 1.5kg of cooked) as, once prepared, you can keep it in the fridge for up to five days or freeze for a couple of months.
Simply cover the grains in plenty of cold water and leave to soak for about 12 hours. Drain, then simmer the barley in approximately three times its volume of water with a good pinch of salt. Cooking times do vary, it’s all down to the amount of bran encasing the grain, but you’re looking at around half an hour. Be sure to cook the kernels until creamy and soft, retaining just a hint of bite—think luscious comfort rather than worthy health food. Allow the grains to cool down in the pan in any remaining liquid and then store in the fridge.
What to do with your cooked pot barley:
—Add to soups, broths and stews for the last 15 mins of the cooking time, bringing extra texture and substance to the dish. The classic would be scotch broth (with lamb and veggies) but the barley will sit equally happily in a minestrone.
—Use as a super-quick alternative to risotto. Just fry off your onions and add the barley along with a splash of wine, some stock, your chosen green veg and then finish with butter or cream and a good grating of parmesan.
—Stir into porridge as it finishes cooking to add texture, nutty flavour and extra fibre.
—Mix with dried fruit, brown sugar and warm winter spices to stuff apples before baking.
—Use as a salad base in place of bulgur wheat with loads of green herbs and pomegranate seeds. Be sure to add plenty of dressing as the grains will sup it all up beautifully. Always warm the grains through with a splash of water when eating cold rather than serving straight from the fridge, otherwise they can feel rather firm and starchy.
—Mix with roasted vegetables for a great one-pot dish served with yoghurt, hummus or a rich miso dressing.