by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist
Grains have been getting a lot of bad press lately, and undeservedly so. It is true that many people have grain allergies and must stay away from grains or pay the price in intestinal distress, hives, and the like. But to those with no allergy issues who avoid grains, that bad press is doing a disservice to you, your diet, and your health.
All grains start out as whole grains. Whole grains are the entire seed, or kernel, of a plant: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The seed is protected by in inedible shell that protects it from pests, disease, etc. The bran is the outer layer of the edible seed. It contains fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants. The germ contains vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. This is the portion of the plant that allows new plants to sprout. The endosperm is the largest part of the seed and is the germ’s food supply. It contains carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains contain all three parts of the seed. Processing removes the germ and bran which removes 25% of the seed’s protein along with 17 key vitamins and minerals.
Grains, in their natural state, are delicious, healthy, and filling. As a food group, grains include oats, barley, rice, millet, wheat, millet, quinoa, amaranth, rye, sorghum, and buckwheat. Studies have shown that eating whole grains, not the refined grains found in breads and cereals, lowers the risk of many chronic diseases. They also help regulate digestion and elimination, lower blood cholesterol, boost heart health, and keep you fuller longer.
Most people think of beer when barley is mentioned, but in its whole grain form, barley is incredibly healthy for you. It is high in protein and its’ soluble fiber can reduce the risk of heart disease and lower your cholesterol. It also contains insoluble fiber which may reduce the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. It’s very easy to cook and can be added to many of your favorite dishes for extra fiber. Rinse the barley first and use a two to one ratio when cooking. Simply cover one cup of barley with two cups of water or vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and barley is cooked. If you want to cut the cooking time of barley it, like most other whole grains, can be soaked overnight. Soaking the grain will cut the cooking time by half.
Barley is a delicious and unconventional grain. You can use it in place of rice, use it in a curry dish, or add it to soup. It has a rather nutty flavor and is satisfyingly chewy. It’s great for summer salads too. Simply cook the barley and let it cool. Add some fresh steamed vegetables such as asparagus, sugar snap peas, or sweet peas. Toss them together and add a vinaigrette of olive oil and lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Chill for an hour or so. It is a delicious and healthy dish to take to summer parties. Or, try this scrumptious Barley and Kale Salad with Golden Beets and Feta from November 2012’s issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. It makes 4 generous servings and is even better the next day.
Barley and Kale Salad with Golden Beets and Feta
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; more for drizzling
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 bunch Tuscan kale*, center ribs and stems removed, leaves cut into 1-inch squares
¼ cup minced shallots
3 medium golden beets (about 1 bunch), trimmed
1 ¼ cups pearl barley
4 ounces feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons (or more) unseasoned rice vinegar
* Tuscan kale, also called black kale, dinosaur kale, Lacinato kale, or cavolo nero, has long, narrow, very dark green bumpy leaves and is available at farmers’ markets and some supermarkets.
Whisk 1/4 cup oil, white wine vinegar, sugar, and orange zest in a large bowl to blend; season with salt and pepper. Add kale and shallots; mix until completely coated. Cover and chill until kale is tender, at least 3 hours.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°. Arrange beets in a small baking dish and drizzle with a little oil. Season with salt and turn beets to coat. Cover with foil. Bake beets until tender when pierced with a thin knife, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely. Peel beets. Cut into 1/4-inch pieces (you should have about 2 cups).
Cook barley in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 45 minutes. Drain barley and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet; let cool completely.
Add beets, barley, and feta to kale. Drizzle salad with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons rice vinegar; fold gently to combine. Season to taste with pepper and more rice vinegar, if desired. Salad can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.