Barley is grossly under-appreciated. When I found myself in the grains aisle at a Lebanese grocery store in Houston a few months ago I happened to add a bag of barley to my cart. When I got home I realized that it is an amazing grain – it is low in calories and high in nutrients.
In India, barley is most traditionally used for barley water which is a drink made with boiled barley and consumed when one is sick. It is also very cooling to drink on hot summer days. I have tasted barley water and have to confess that it is the blandest and most uninspiring drink I have ever tried. It tastes like starchy water and gives the impression that it would be full of nutrients.
It is not often found in Indian recipes but the ones I found are conjee, a thin porridge eaten throughout India, and khichdi, a simple rice and lentil dish that can be called comfort food.
Barley is consumed as a possible preventative for kidney stones, reducing the occurrence of kidney stones and other ailments by flushing toxins out of the body. I found an article in the Times of India (2013) that promotes drinking barley water as a way to achieve a thinner waistline. Hmm, I think that I need to try this!
Barley is also very high in nutrition. It contains large amounts of both insoluble and soluble fiber which is known to reduce cholesterol. It is high in protein and other important nutrients to keep one full and healthy. I like eating barley because of its ‘meaty’ texture; I feel like I am eating something substantial that will stick with me throughout the day.
Barley is available hulled and pearled. Just the outer hull is removed in processing for hulled barley. This kind has the most nutrients left intact. It takes a long time to cook, over an hour. It is very chewy in texture and makes a great breakfast cereal. Pearled barley has had most of the outer husk removed so it is not considered a whole grain. It is still very nutritious but some of the fiber has been removed. It takes much less time to cook and is not quite as chewy as the hulled variety. It is more suited for most recipes. Do not worry if you purchased hulled or pearled; either one can be used for a delicious dish. The only change that must be made is cooking time.
It is also available as a quick version that takes just 10 minutes to cook because it is precooked and dried. I have not tried cooking with it but my daughter bought it and says it tastes fine.
My Barley Kesari combines barley with a traditional Indian desert recipe called Kesari which is made with cream of wheat and a lot of butter and sugar. In my healthy version, I use a tiny bit of butter and a fraction of brown sugar but include dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries, mango and pineapple chunks to add different flavors and textures as well as sweetness. To make Barley Kesari the most difficult task is to be patient while the barley boils. It can take over an hour until it is tender. Once it is cooked, adding the sugar, butter, fruit, saffron and cardamom only takes a few minutes. Once it is ready, serve immediately with fresh raspberries on top while hot. It is delicious as well as healthy!