In researching foods for this blog, I’m ever amazed at the ancient and long-standing human ingenuity in adapting plants for our use. Human history is largely the story of how we’ve overcome adversity, and found ways to survive. It is not coincidental, I think, that the foods I write about have been providing us sustenance for thousands of years. Nothing I write about was created yesterday in a laboratory. Could it be there is wisdom is in the tried and true?
Need I add that the ancient grain, barley, is very much in this tradition? It was the first domesticated grain to be grown in the Middle East and is the world’s fourth most widely grown cereal grain. It is commonly used as animal food and in the production of beer and whiskey. In Korea it is often mixed with rice, and the Japanese drink an infusion of roasted barley called mugi cha, and use it in making miso. Saudi Arabians eat barley soup during Ramadan, and in Moslem tradition it is thought to sooth and calm the bowels. In the U.S., we most often see pearled barley, hulled barley which has been steamed to remove the bran. Some natural food stores sell hulled barley, the equivalent of brown rice, with only the inedible, fibrous hull removed. Hulled barley can be used like pearled barley, only it needs a longer cooking time. Most any rice recipe can adapted to barley, allowing for barley’s more chewy texture. When long-cooked it will break down and add a creamy thickness to whatever liquid it is cooked in. Barley is also sometimes sold as flour, flakes or grits, and often I use malted barley syrup as a sweetener in desserts. My recipe uses hulled or pearled barley in a traditional way: in a soup with mushrooms, but of course, there is a twist (recipe after the jump).