Growing up in Ireland, barley was very much a part of our diet. It was used as an ingredient in soups and stews and was also one of my grandmother's most relied on medicinal foods. If we were ever suffering from a cold or flu, she would brew up some barley water to administer. She also claimed it cured kidney infections. Of course it's used to brew our national drink, Guinness, so if we didn't eat it, we sure did drink it.
Like most whole grains, barley is high in dietary fiber, particularly beta-gluten soluble fiber, which is said to promote healthy blood sugar as it slows down glucose absorption, so it is an excellent food for diabetics. When sprouted, it is high in maltose, a sugar that is the basis for malt syrup, which is an excellent sugar substitute. I use it a lot to sweeten puddings, muffins or to drizzle on my porridge in the morning.
Barley can be easily incorporated into your daily diet. Cracked barley or barley flakes can be cooked up for a warming breakfast or can be added to soups and stews to give heartiness and flavor, cooked and added to salads with raw or cooked vegetables or ground into a flour to use in making breads, cakes or cookies. Since its outer hull is too tough for consumption, barley is most commonly used as pearl barley, which has the hull and germ removed. You can also use hulled barley, which preserves the bran. Barley can be cooked much the same as rice, but pearl barley cooks in about 40 minutes, whereas hulled barley takes about an hour for a more chewy texture and can be cooked longer for a softer texture. Here's a simple barley salad you might enjoy:
- 2 cups cooked pearl or hulled barley
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
- About 6 pitted black olives, chopped
- 1 cup lightly steamed mange tout, cut diagonally in half
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds, lightly toasted
- Fresh basil leaves—torn
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- Big pinch sea salt
A Sip and a Splash
Many people who have difficulty digesting dairy products are turning to alternatives such as milk made from soy, whole grains or nuts. There's a vast range of milk on the shelves of health food stores and many supermarkets these days, the most popular being soy or rice milk. I would caution against using soy milk made from nonorganic beans as soy is one of the main genetically modified crops, so if this is a concern for you, check to make sure the soy you're consuming is from non-GMO beans. Rice or oat milk make a lovely alternative, and you can easily make your own milk from nuts or grains.
I hope you enjoy my Shepherd's Pie, which is a dish I grew up on. My mum made it using minced beef or lamb and topped it with mashed potatoes. In place of the potato, I'm using creamed millet, made from a combination of millet and parsnip, and I'm substituting azuki beans for the meat. Azuki beans are used a lot in both sweet and savory dishes in Asia and are said to be nourishing for the kidneys.