Oh, make no mistake...it is possible to screw up barley and end up with something akin to lumpy brown GAKKK (you know...the slimy goo in a plastic tub that kids beg their parents for at the Walmart check-out). Bottom line...don't overcook the barley!
A couple of years ago when I was designing a menu for the Get Green Organics booth at Central Florida Veg Fest, I came up with a way to turn barley into a meatless chicken salad. It was our best seller! I will publish that recipe sometime in the near future. My point in mentioning that is to showcase the versatility of barley. I'm just not into all the nasty vegan meat substitutes out there. Yeah, it's animal free sure...but there are enough chemicals and preservatives in that stuff to pickle your liver and after a lifetime of consumption...probably negate the need for the embalming process. My mind is going to a dark place...Vegan Zombies...preserved for all eternity by potassium iodide, polysorbate 80, nitrites and sodium...roaming the streets in search of fresh fake meat! M. Night Shyamalan may be calling me for movies ideas but I digress!
So, as I return from the pain killer (from surgery a few days ago) induced, zombie riddled fuge, I remember the barley! Typically we see it in soups or stews but not as frequently as a stand-alone side dish. Today however, that is about to change.
This baked barley pilaf is absolutely inspired by the pungent, fragrant Moroccan tagines with their exotic spices, dried fruits and incredible preserved lemons. Ras el Hanout, which is Arabic for "top of the shelf" is an exotic blend of spices that can be used to flavor just about anything really but works particularly well with absorbant foods like grains. Like curries, Ras el hanout is not a recipe set in stone but rather seems to come from what a particular cook has available or what they like. I've googled it and seen some blends made with spices I have never heard of...let alone seen I've also found it with more commonly available spices. Play around and make your own. That's what I did. If you are interested, my proportions are listed below.
Ras el Hanout "top of the shelf"
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot paprkia
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 generous pinches saffron (ground between the fingers)
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Store in an airtight glass jar for six months. Use in soups, side dishes, as a rub for meats, stews/tagines. Oddly enough...a pinch of this is insanely good stirred into a dark chocolate ice cream base and....in rich, bold Turkish coffee!
*These are just the spices I use and you will notice the absense of cloves (Im allergic). You may play around and find that a different blend suits your taste more...try it!
The barley I've used for this dish is just whole organic pearled barley. I prefer the pearled because it has undergone the least processing. Pearled simply means that the grain has been tumbled and "polished" as opposed to quick cooking which is smashed into a flat flake like oats...but slightly thicker.
Ras el hanout Barley with Preserved Lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup organic pearled barley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Ras el hanout*
3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup dark rasins
10 dried turkish apricots, chopped
1/2 a preserved lemon, diced
salt to taste
minced cilantro for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in oven proof skillet (with lid) over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute 5 minutes or until onion is tender but not caramelized. Stir in barley and continue sauteeing over medium heat until barley begins to toast. Add garlic and ras el hanout. Cook and stir for 1 minute to toast spices.
Pour in vegetable broth and stir, scraping up any spices from the bottom of the pan. Cover and place in oven to bake for 45 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. If barley gets to dry before it is done you may add additional broth.
When only a little liquid is left, remove from oven and stir in raisins and apricots. Return to oven and cook additional 10 minutes. Barley should be tender but chewy and moist. Don't cook until it is completely dry.
Remove from oven and fluff with a fork. Stir in minced preserved lemon. The lemon is VERY salty so wait until the lemon is added before tasting and adjusting salt. You will find that less is needed because of the lemon. Garnish with some minced cilantro.
(c)copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet