A hundred years ago, when I was in graduate school -- oh, wait, I think it was only 1992 -- I read a little paperback called Rain Forest in Your Kitchen that has really influenced my food choices. The book's argument is that the everyday consumer can actively encourage biodiversity by buying alternate varieties of standard foods.
A good example is eggs -- nearly all of the eggs sold in the US are white; the mass-production chickens that lay white eggs are all Leghorns. What happens if some virus or other pops up to eliminate that breed only? Whether you go free-range, organic, cage free, omega 3-enhanced or whatever, buying brown eggs instead of white keeps the egg producers raising brown egg chickens, so there's at least one other kind of chicken left in the world.
Apples are another example -- Red Delicious is the #1 apple seller (they are red, but delicious?) The simple act of buying a lesser known (but much yummier apple) makes the orchard owners keep growing more than one kind of apple tree. Biodiversity is about hedging bets, practically speaking, and it also makes for more interesting food.
So what about barley (aside from beer)? One thing I try to do is try to include a lot of whole grains that aren't wheat or corn. It's been years since I had any quinoa (it's on my list to try again), but we do eat oats, millet, buckwheat and barley quite often. I wanted to share two recipes for barley that are easy, delicious, and don't scream "weird whole grain experiment."
The first is actually a modification of a wonderful grain salad I discovered on Heather B.'s beauty that moves blog. It's her wheatberry salad recipe, substituting hulled barley in place of the wheatberries. I've made it both ways, and both are joy to eat (flavors, textures, crunch). Some recent reading indicated that barley is as good, or even better than, oatmeal in a cholesterol-lowering diet, so on those days that I can't bear another granola, oatmeal or muesli breakfast, I can feast on a bowl of this chilled grain salad for lunch instead. Head on over to Heather's Grain Salads post for the details.
I use a Granny Smith apple, almonds, orange juice and maple syrup, and leave out the celery and parsley to suit my taste. Can you see all the delicious bits? Mmmm. Heather also has a Mediterannean Barley Salad recipe in the same post that I plan to try soon.
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Another barley recipe that we eat a lot is a vegetable soup developed by my mom, with my preferences in mind (because I can't bear the taste of celery, it uses tomato juice instead of V-8, which had been her usual before). This one uses pearled barley, which I think is to hulled barley as white rice is to brown -- not a whole grain, as the outer layer has been removed, and it's much quicker cooking. For the purposes of grain biodiversity, though, pearled is ok. This recipe is flexible in the veggies you choose, and whether or not you use meat. Substitute soy protein & veggie stock for the ground beef & bullion, and it's vegan. You can even use V-8 juice and throw in some chopped celery -- it's all good.
1/2 lb ground beef, browned & rinsed (or you could substitute 1/2 - 1 cup of TVP)
1 large can tomato juice
4 cups water
4 beef boullion or veggie stock cubes
2 bay leaves
1 onion, chopped
1 can beef broth or vegetable stock (optional)
tarragon (to taste)
basil (to taste)
Add all above ingredients to a 4 quart or larger stockpot. Simmer together approx 30 mins.
1 lb. mixed vegetables (frozen - cut large chunks into smaller pieces)
1 carrot, diced (if there are no carrots in your mixed veg choice)
additional vegetables as desired (corn, squash, etc)
Return to boil and simmer 10 minutes.
Add 1/2 c. pearled barley. Simmer 20-25 minutes or until barley is tender.
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With all the veggies and grain in the soup, it's pretty good as a one dish meal, but we usually have some sort of whole grain bread along with it.