“Barley and mushroom is a soothing combination. It’s mainly a textural thing, with the barley both gently breaking and enhancing the mushroomy gloopiness.”Chef and Author, Yotam Ottolenghi
Believe it or not, barley is one of the oldest grains known to man. It was farmed by Ancient Egyptians over 10,000 years ago. Many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes include grains like barley, bulgur, freekeh and farro.
My familiarity with barley and how to cook it was limited until I met Shelley Spruit from Against The Grain Farm. She grows several varieties of barley and uses them in her local products, such as whole barley, barley porridge, barley flour, roasted barley (to make tea) and a pancake mix (it’s delicious and nutritious).
When I toured Shelly’s farm just outside of Ottawa, she opened me up to a whole new world of different barley varieties and the reasons why they’re so good for us and the health of the soil. Put simply, growing barley (which is a type of grass) is very regenerative to the soil – as explained on the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) website. And barley is also really good for us. On top of containing a whole host of vitamins and minerals, it’s very high in these 4 nutrients:
- Lignans – antioxidants linked to lowering certain cancers and heart disease
- Tocotrienols – an antioxidant (a form of vitamin E) known to have powerful effects on cholesterol
- Soluble fibre – particularly “beta glucans” which provide multiple benefits, such as:
- Slowing digestion in your small intestine, allowing more time for your gut to absorb more nutrients
- Feeding good bacteria in your large intestine
- Insoluble fibre – adds bulk to your stool and accelerates intestinal movement, reducing your likelihood of constipation
These nutritional benefits PLUS the fact that growing barley is good for the soil is why I consider barley a SUPERFOOD. It also has the added bonus of storing well in our pantries for enjoyment at any time.
It’s important to note that just like many whole grains and beans, it’s best to soak barley overnight to unlock nutrients and to get rid of anti-nutrients. (For more on soaking click here.)
I’ve been experimenting with Shelly’s whole barley grains and I came up with this delicious risotto style dish with broth, mushrooms and Herbes de Provence. I’ve posted the recipe below and encourage you to give it a try!
Barley and Mushroom Risotto
- 1 cup whole grain barley berries soaked for 4-6 hours
- 4 cups grass fed beef or chicken broth, or vegetable broth
- 3 Tbs grass fed butter
- 1 shallot minced
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1/2 lbs wild mushrooms (dried varieties are great just soak them for 10 minutes prior to cooking)
- 1 tsp Herbes de Provence
- 1 tsp Sea Salt
- Few turns of ground pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese grated
- chiffonaded parsley when in season
- Heat the broth in a saucepan and keep warm nearby.
- In a high sided skillet or sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 TBS of butter. Add shallots, garlic, 1/2 tsp of the sea salt and dried herbs. Stir to soften.
- Add mushrooms and continue to stir until tender and beginning to brown slightly, about 5-6 minutes.
- Add barley and the remaining 1 Tbsp butter. Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.
- Add wine and cook until the wine is absorbed, 3-4 minutes.
- Now begin to add the broth one ladle-full at a time. Stir slowly and gently until it is absorbed by the other ingredients. Repeat until you’re out of broth and your barley is al dente.
- When barley is cooked, stir in grated Parmesan cheese.
- Serve with additional grated Parmesan and chiffonaded parsley. Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste.
I get my grains from Against The Grain Farm because they’re in my geographical area and it’s important to support local. You can easily find a grain farmer in your area whose growing their grains in a sustainable manner and stock up!
Tasty food and healthy food are not mutually exclusive