Okay, I finally understand the ingenuousness of “health bowls”—it’s a fabulous way to enjoy a healthy one-bowl-meal using a mix of grains, fresh vegetables and whatever else you have on hand. In this case, a healthy better-than-rice bowl of barley, fresh spinach, sweet dried cranberries, and toasted pine nuts. End result — an ultra-satisfying, easy and nutritious meal. It’s not quite a salad, and I’m not sure it would qualify as a quasi-risotto, so I guess it’s somewhere in between those two. Name unknown. Hence “Barley Bowl”.
Consider pearl barley a healthier choice over rice
Did I tell you that barley is one of my go-to-grains? Not only does it have a fantastic chewy texture and unique nutty taste, but even pearl barley, which is not entirely a whole grain, has more fiber than white, brown and wild rice. This less robust, “polished” grain still retains many vital nutrients, but if you want a whole grain option that really packs a nutritional bunch, then go ahead used hulled barley. It’s minimally processed—and carefully so, as to ensure that only the tough inedible outer hull is removed. But it takes longer to cook, so plan ahead. Alternatively, give it a soak overnight to speed things up. Plus soaking whole grains is said to help unleash even more of their nutrients, support better absorption of the various vitamins and minerals, as well as aid in digestion. All good things.
This barley bowl is also great using alternative grains
I choose pearled barley for this recipe but it can easily be swapped out for other grains that have a similar texture. Grünkern is a great choice or pearled spelt (Dinkel schnellkochend) since both of which don’t need a lot of time to cook. Grünkern is a personal favorite as it is highly nutritious and has a deliciously nutty flavor and chewy texture. And it’s the healthier option compared to pearled grains which are no longer considered “whole” grains. The cooking time of Grünkern is similar to pearled grains, and you can save time by soaking the whole grain overnight in double the amount of fresh, cold water and bringing it to the boil the next day with the soaking water. This reduces the cooking time to only 10-15 minutes; and preserves valuable vitamins.
For the barley bowl:
1 cup pearl barley (200 g)
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 cup organic dried cranberries (apple juice sweetened) (50 g)
For the pesto:
3 generous handfuls baby spinach, plus 1 handful (100-120 g)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan, plus more to garnish
sea salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. In a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups (750 ml) of water to a boil. Add the barley and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until the barley is al dente. If liquid remains, drain the barley in a colander (or use the lid of the pot to strain off any excess moisture). Set aside to stand for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat until lightly golden. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. Using the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and dried cranberries and sauté until the shallot is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add to the bowl with the barley.
4. Using a food processor (or hand-held immersion blender) blend together 3 handfuls of spinach with the lemon juice and 4 tablespoons olive oil until smooth. Add grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
5. Scrape the pesto into the bowl with the barley, add the remaining handful of spinach leaves, as well as the pine nuts and toss until well combined. Adjust seasoning as desired. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve immediately. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
TIP: For a vegan version, skip the parmesan cheese and add an extra pinch of salt and perhaps an extra squeeze of lemon juice.