3 ways to enjoy an ancient favorite: barley
Photo: Dave Carlin
Barley Salad with Fresh Herbs and Pomegranate

By Tina Wasserman

In the time when the Holy Temple existed in Jerusalem, Jews from all over the land would come to Jerusalem for three major festivals, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.  These three holidays centered on harvest times of the year.  Although Passover always focused on our escape from slavery in Egypt, it also celebrated the first crop of spring, barley. 

Barley Salad with Fresh Herbs and Pomegranate

Although custom prevents us now from eating any barley during the days of Pesach, in ancient times, Jews would eat barley after the seder was conducted.  This salad highlights the new barley and fresh herbs that grow during spring and catches the end of the growing season in Israel and the United States. 

Here is a recipe from my “Entrée to Judaism for Families” book and includes Tina’s Tidbits for how to make this recipe with children.  Enjoy even if there are no kids in sight!

  • 1 ½ cups pearled barley
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chiffonade of basil
  • 25 medium seedless red grapes cut into quarters (about ½ cup)
  • ½ cup Craisins soaked in ¼ cup orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 15 grindings of black pepper (1/4 teaspoon)

1. Place barley in a pressure cooker and cover with 1 ½ quarts water. Cook on pressure #1 for 20 minutes or follow manufacturer’s directions.  ALTERNATIVELY, cook barley and water in a covered 3 quart saucepan over moderate heat for 45 minutes or until tender but not mushy.  Drain, and rinse barley in a colander and place in a large mixing bowl.

2. Cut celery stalks in half lengthwise then slice stalks into ¼ inch pieces.  Add to barley. 

3. Chop dill and parsley with a chef’s knife and chiffonade the basil with the same knife.  Use a paring knife to cut the grapes. Add herbs, grapes and Craisins to the barley.  Set aside or refrigerate while you make dressing.

4. Put the remaining ingredients in a screw topped jar.  Cover and shake well to combine.

5. Pour some dressing over barley salad and toss gently with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until it is moistened but not soupy. Reserve any remaining dressing for later if salad seems dry.

Serves: 6-8

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Regardless of the age of the child, I would suggest the barley be cooked before you engage them in making this recipe.
  • All children can make this recipe but children under the age of 7 can not be expected to have the eye/hand coordination to use a paring knife to cut the grapes.  A ten year old can make this dish with minimal supervision.
  • When a young child is using a chef’s knife have them place one hand on the handle and the other hand resting on the top of the knife.  Then tell your child to point their fingers, “up to the sky” while keeping their palm on the top of the blade.  Since a chef’s knife is about 2 inches wide their little fingers will be far from the blade especially if fingers are pointed upward.

Spring Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon

I love the soft, but chewy, texture of barley and the starchy consistency of cooked barley makes it perfect for a soft, risotto-like dish that highlights spring’s fresh asparagus. Add whatever additional herbs or vegetables to this dish to make it your own!

  • 2 ¾ cups vegetable broth or water and 1 Telma vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, slightly crumbled
  • 10 asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced into ¼ inch dice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • ½ cup white wine, Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • 15 grindings of black pepper, or to taste
  • Finely grated zest from ½ lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
  • ½- ¾ cup grated fresh Parrano or Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup toasted, slivered almonds (1 Tablespoon removed for garnish) 

1. Combine the broth and the crushed saffron threads in a 1-quart pot and bring to a simmer.

2. Meanwhile, remove the tough ends of the asparagus, wash, and cut the stalks on the diagonal into ½ inch pieces reserving 1 ½ inches of the tip.

3. When liquid is simmering drop in the asparagus stalk pieces and blanche for 2 minutes until bright green and slightly tender.  Remove with a slotted spoon to a small glass bowl. Add the tips to the simmering broth and cook for 1 minute.  Remove from broth and set aside.  Keep broth warm while you prepare the barley. 

4. Heat a 3-quart saucepan over high heat for 10 seconds.  Add the extra-virgin olive oil and heat for 10 seconds.  Add the onion and garlic and reduce heat to medium.  Sauté mixture until onions are slightly golden but do not let garlic burn.

5. Add the barley and stir to coat with the onion mixture and oil. 

6. Add the wine and stir constantly until the wine is absorbed.  Add all of the simmering broth, stir, and then cover and reduce heat to low.  Stir the barley mixture every 5 minutes or so to prevent sticking and burning.  If all the liquid has been absorbed and the barley appears too hard and/or dry, then add another ¼ cup of water and cook for another 5 minutes.  The barley will be firm,  but tender after 30-35 minutes.

7. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the salt, pepper and lemon zest until well combined.

8. Gently combine the grated cheese into the mixture and when evenly distributed and melted add the almonds and the reserved asparagus pieces MINUS 5 asparagus tips.

9. Immediately serve the barley risotto in a nice dish garnished with the reserved tablespoon of almonds and the 5 remaining asparagus tips.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • The “pearling” of the barley grain exposes its starchy interior to the liquid and creates the creamy consistency of this dish
  • Parrano cheese is similar to gouda cheese in consistency but has the sharp tang of a Parmesan Reggiano; either can be used
  • If you want an even richer consistency, add 1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to this or any hot barley dish. 

Vegetarian Mushroom Barley Soup — Krupnick  

How long have Jewish people been eating mushrooms?  A long time!  Mushrooms were mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (Nedarim 55B) and wild mushrooms were in such abundance in ancient Israel during the rainy season that discussions arose about putting a tax on them.  Mushrooms weren’t actively grown on farms until the beginning of the 1600s and it became an important ingredient in Jewish cooking throughout the world.  Mushrooms were especially important to poor Ashkenazic Jews. They were easily found in the forests and their flavor, especially when dried, was a boost to a relatively bland diet since spices were expensive. 

One favorite dish of the Ashkenazim that survived the move from the shtetl to America was the hearty mushroom-potato-barley soup called Krupnick.  In Europe Krupnick was mostly starchy potatoes seasoned with a little meat and mushroom. Today, rich flanken meat is added in large strips and mushrooms become the major flavoring ingredient.  Potatoes are often replaced by lima beans as well. 

Moving with the times, I have taken the delicious beef based mushroom barley soup from my first book and created a vegetarian version that is just as rich and delicious, and probably more like the original Krupnick!  

The secret to the thickness of this soup is the lima beans.  They are peeled and therefore disintegrate into the stock when fully cooked.  Do not panic, they peel very easily when properly soaked and children love to pop them out of their skins.

  • 1 ¼ cups dried large lima beans
  • 1 ounce dried imported mushrooms, preferably porcini (¾ cup loosely packed)
  • 2 quarts water or packaged vegetable or mushroom broth
  • 1 mushroom bouillon cube, optional
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 carrot diced
  • ½ cup medium pearl barley

1. Cover the lima beans in a 2-quart glass bowl with 1 inch of water.  Microwave on high for 3 minutes and then let them soak for 1 or more hours or until the skins easily slide off.

2. Cover dried mushrooms in a 1-quart bowl glass bowl with water.  Microwave for 2 minutes and let them sit in the water while you peel the lima beans.

3. Meanwhile, remove the skins from the lima beans by gently squeezing on one end; the bean will just slide out.  Place beans in a 4-quart pot.

4. Carefully lift the mushrooms out of the water and gently squeeze them over the bowl. Save the juices.  Chop the soaked mushrooms and set aside. 

5. Add the water or broth and the chopped, soaked mushrooms to the lima beans in the pot.  Strain the mushroom liquid into the pot as well.

6. Heat a 10” frying pan for 20 seconds.  Add the oil and heat for 10 seconds.  Add the diced onion and sauté for 2 minutes.  

7. Add the celery and fresh mushrooms and cook until wilted and translucent.  Add this mixture to the soup pot along with the diced carrot, salt and pepper to taste.

8. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 1 hour stirring occasionally so that the beans do not stick.

9. Add the barley and cook for ½ to 1 hour longer or until the barley is tender and the lima beans disappear.  Check the seasoning.  Add more broth if soup is too thick (it will thicken even more when cool).

Serves 6-8

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • If you own a pressure cooker, lima beans can be cooked for 15 minutes on low setting and then they will be ready to peel.
  • Do not make the mistake of buying small lima beans.  It will take you forever to peel them!
  • Olive oil mimics the taste of traditional goose fat and sautéing the vegetables adds depth to the flavor of this soup.

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