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Champagne of grains

Locally grown barley is not only a nutritional powerhouse, it's versatile and tasty, too

Barley Tabbouleh

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Barley Tabbouleh

Canada is one of the top barley producers in the world, the Prairies offering ideal growing conditions for this nutrient-packed grain. But how often does barley make it to Canadian tables?

A new cookbook by food writers Pat Inglis and Linda Whitworth should help barley reclaim its place in Canada's kitchens. With over 100 recipes, Go Barley: Modern Recipes for an Ancient Grain (TouchWood Editions, 245 pages, $29.95) showcases barley's nutritional benefits and culinary range.

Spinach Smoked Salmon Barley Risotto

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Spinach Smoked Salmon Barley Risotto

Pat Inglis (left) and Linda Whitworth co-wrote Go Barley

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Pat Inglis (left) and Linda Whitworth co-wrote Go Barley

"In Canada we kind of forgot about barley a little bit. In a lot of cultures, it was relegated to a poor man's food," explains Whitworth, a home economist who works for Alberta Barley. "Right now, with the resurgence of people wanting to eat whole grains and ancient grains and the interest in eating local, we have an opportunity to remind people that barley is out there."

"It meets all the criteria," says Whitworth. "And it tastes wonderful."

Go Barley launches tonight in Winnipeg at McNally Robinson Booksellers, with the two Calgary-based authors on hand to speak and sign books. (And yes, there will be tasting samples of some of the recipes.)

Inglis, a home economist and food writer, cites barley's versatility. "We started out with some of the more traditional uses, like beef-and-barley soup," she says. "But the more we worked with it, the more we found it was such a wonderful ingredient to use in so many ways."

Beyond those hearty wintertime soups and stews, barley works well in a range of foods, adding nutty taste and chewy texture to salads, risottos, pilafs, stuffings and vegetable dishes. Whitworth particularly likes using barley in salads: "It's got a nice strong bite to it when you put it in a salad, and it just seems to enhance all the other ingredients."

Barley flour contains loads of fibre while retaining a smooth, silky texture. "It adds a rustic aspect to baking," says Whitworth, and pairs well with chocolate and spices.

Barley even comes to the rescue of a dish that can easily become a culinary disaster: the veggie burger. When they were developing recipes for the book, Inglis remained apprehensive. "I kept putting it off," she admits. "Finally I got to the point where I had to face up to the barley burger. And now that might be one of our favourite recipes."

"It's delicious, and it doesn't fall apart on the grill. It's a wonderful vegetarian barbecue option."

As Canadians become more concerned about where their food comes from and what's in it, barley seems like a natural go-to option. Barley is packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fibre. Also, the fibre goes all the way through the grain, so even pearl barley, in which the bran is removed, boasts a lot of fibre.

Barley is easy to cook with and convenient to pick up. Pot and pearl barley can be found in any supermarket. Barley flour and barley flakes are sold at bulk- and health-food stores, as well as some grocery chains. (Just stick to small amounts of the flour, advises Inglis, because it doesn't keep as well as standard wheat flour.)

To expand my own barley range -- previously restricted to thick soups -- I experimented with a barley risotto, which requires almost no stirring; a cool, crisp, refreshing barley tabbouleh, perfect for a hot summer day; and a quick, healthy granola made with barley flakes. (All recipes taken from Go Barley by Pat Inglis and Linda Whitworth.)


Spinach, Smoked Salmon and Barley Risotto


15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

250 ml (1 cup) pot or pearl barley

80 ml (1/3 cup) dry white wine or water

1 900-ml (32-oz) carton reduced-sodium, ready-to-use chicken broth

170 g (6 oz) smoked salmon, cut into strips

170 g (6 oz) baby spinach, cut into smaller pieces

250 ml (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese

10 ml (2 tsp) lemon juice


In a large skillet over medium-high, heat oil. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add barley, stirring until well coated. Add wine or water and cook until liquid has almost evaporated, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover pan and simmer for 45 to 55 minutes or until barley is tender, stirring vigorously halfway through for 15 seconds. Stir in salmon and then add spinach; cover pan and simmer until spinach is barely wilted, about 5 minutes. Gently stir in cheese and lemon juice. Makes 4 servings.


Tester's notes: An easy version of a favourite comfort food, the starch in the barley combines with the broth for a smooth, creamy, slightly soupy finish. This rich dish could also be served in smaller portions as a first course.

Barley Tabbouleh


250 ml (1 cup) pot or pearl barley

500 ml (2 cups) water

250 ml (1 cup) chopped fresh parsley

125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped fresh mint

125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped green or red onion

1 small cucumber, coarsely chopped

60 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil

60 ml (1/4 cup) fresh lemon juice

2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon

4 ml (3/4 tsp) salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 plum tomatoes, chopped

Fresh mint leaves, for garnish


In a saucepan over high heat, combine barley and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cover pan and cook for 40 minutes, then chill. In a large bowl, combine chilled barley, parsley, and mint. Add onion and cucumber. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper; pour over barley mixture and mix well, then refrigerate. Shortly before serving, stir in tomatoes. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.


Tester's notes: I love how the chewy barley complements the crispness of the chopped vegetables. If there's any leftover water at the end of the cooking process, drain the barley before refrigerating. Make sure to leave plenty of time -- a couple of hours, at least -- for proper chilling.


Barley Granola of Grains, Nuts and Fruit


500 ml (2 cups) barley flakes

500 ml (2 cups) quick-cooking rolled oats

125 ml (1/2 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut

125 ml (1/2 cup) walnut pieces

125 ml (1/2 cup) pecan pieces

60 ml (1/4 cup) raw sunflower seeds

60 ml (1/4 cup) raw sesame seeds

5 ml (1 tsp) ground cinnamon

150 ml (2/3 cup) liquid honey

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) raisins or dried cranberries


Preheat the oven to 150 C (300 F). Lightly grease 2 baking sheets. In a large bowl, combine barley flakes, rolled oats, coconut, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and cinnamon. In a small bowl, combine honey and vanilla. Pour over dry mixture and toss thoroughly. Spread granola on prepared baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring halfway through so mixture browns evenly. Remove trays from oven. Stir in raisins or cranberries and let granola cool completely. Once granola is cooled, remove from sheets and store in an airtight container. Makes 8 serving (250 ml or 1 cup each).


Tester's notes: I'd never made granola before, but with a recipe that's as easy and healthy as this, I'll definitely do it again. It takes some steady stirring with a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the honey through the dry ingredients. Make sure to check on the granola a few times near the end of baking time to avoid scorching.

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