Posted by: A Part of the Solution | October 20, 2011

Barley Pilaf

I learned about hulled barley while I was going to school in London years ago. The earthy, complex flavor and chew of hulled barley are irresistible to me. Confusingly, hulled barley has more of its original structure left on it after processing than pearled barley–seven layers more. Hulled barley is like brown rice in that respect. And it’s commensurately better for you than its highly polished sibling.

I love the chewy texture of hulled  barley in pilaf. It contrasts winningly with the smooth, concentrated character of the cooked veggies in it. Neither of these recipes is difficult to prepare, though neither is quickly done.  Their virtue lies in the long cooking time of the pilaf being a hands-off proposition. Make extra because it reheats beautifully, or turns into a barley salad with the addition of some chopped dried fruit, and/or nuts, and a few of the classic salad veggies (celery and radishes and tomatoes and peppers for example) with a vinaigrette dressing.

Barley Pilaf with Squash (or Pumpkin)

1 cup hulled barley, well washed

1 TBSP olive oil or nut oil

1 medium onion or the white part of a fat leek, chopped

2 cups diced winter squash or pumpkin

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander OR 1/2 tsp sage

3 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy bottomed pan over medium to medium low heat, stir the hulled barley until it smells toasty, puffs slightly and becomes a darker brown–about 8 minutes. Put the barley by and in the same pan, heat the oil then add the prepared onion or leek. Let this cook for about five minutes. Now add the squash or pumpkin and the seasonings. Allow these to cook until the spices are fragrant and the squash begins to take some color.

Add the barley back into the pan and stir it around a little. Now add the stock, reduce the heat to very low and allow the pan to simmer until the stock is nearly all gone and the barley is tender. This should be about 45 minutes. You could also cook it in the oven for 55 minutes at 325° once you’d brought the pan to a simmer after adding the stock stove top. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

You may garnish this with gremolata (recipe below) and/or Parmesan, in which case you’ll want to reduce the amount of salt you season the pilaf with (never forgetting that unless your stock is homemade it’s not sodium-free).

Barley Pilaf with Mushrooms

Make these changes to the ingredients given above:

1 more TBSP olive or nut oil (or you could use butter with the mushrooms)

3 shallots instead of the onions

instead of paprika, cumin and coriander/sage, use 1 tsp grains of paradise (or that volume of freshly ground black pepper), 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 tsp cayenne

12 oz mushrooms instead of the squash

3 1/2 cups mushroom, beef or chicken stock

1 TBSP  fresh dill, chopped

Proceed with the barley as directed above. In the extra tablespoon of oil, sauté the mushrooms with a light sprinkling of salt over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Cook the shallots for only 1 minute before adding the spices and the mushrooms. Finish the dish with salt, pepper and the fresh dill (or try the gremolata and/or Parmesan option  suggested above).


1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, rinsed and stemmed and chopped

1 tsp lemon zest

1 TBSP lemon juice (do I have to say fresh?)

2 cloves of garlic mashed and chopped with

1/4 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the above and put a small spoonful on top of each plate of pilaf at service. Pass the grated Parmesan at the table.



  1. I love barley, too! These recipes look so lovely. Thanks!

    • You’re absolutely welcome. You can turn the project into risotto by adding the hot stock one ladle at a time and stirring as it’s all absorbed. You’ll need more like 5 cups of stock to come up with a risotto finish. To my mind, it’s more flavorful than the rice version.

  2. This looks great! I have a bag of barley in my cabinet, and I was just thinking the other day – what am I going to use this for?? Now I know!
    Thanks for sharing!

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