Barley Bonanza

_DSC0361Ready for a change in your diet? Don’t worry, I’m not talking low-carb, all-raw or juice-only. No, i’m talking about broadening your menu by taking small steps towards including lesser known ingredients. How about adding barley to your array of whole grains served at your dinner table. Think it’s too exotic? Wait until you learn more about what makes this little grain so powerful and versatile. Come and cook with us!

First some fun facts. My research showed that barley is at the root of the English measurement system. In 1324, Edward II of England described an inch as equal to “three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end, lengthwise”. If this is true, I can’t say. What I know is that barley has been around for millennia. According to Walt Newman, co-author of Barley for Food and Health, it has been discovered in settlements dating back 23,000 years and in Roman gladiator’s bone fragments indicating that most of these strong fighters were vegetarians who ate a diet almost exclusively of barley and beans. It clearly has been a staple ever since. Well, maybe not exactly a staple here in the US.

Which is too bad, as barley is a cereal powerhouse boasting the highest amount of fiber, more than any other whole grain. Hulled barley has as much as 17% fiber, compared to rice with 3.5%, corn with 7% and oats with 10%. Barley is also rich in insoluble fiber, which absorbs water during the digestion process and thus helps prevent constipation. The list of what makes it great goes on, as it’s particular high in soluble beta-glucan fiber which reduces cholesterol, helps control blood sugar, and improves immune system function. And if that is not enough, barley is also rich in antioxidants, vitamins and trace minerals essential to our health.

Barley’s flavor can be described as sweet, earthy and nutty. It goes well in soups, salads and a morning meal, as an alternative to oats. What’s not to like? As it turns out, most of the barley eaten in the US is actually pearl barley, which is missing some or all of its bran layer so that the grains cook more quickly. While this makes it easier when you’re in a rush, it comes at the cost of diminished nutritional return, as a lot, but not all, the goodies are in the outer layer. Add to this, that barley contains gluten, so it is a definite no-no for anyone with celiac.

After all my praise, I’m afraid to admit that my featured recipe of the week actually uses pearl barley. But it is too delicious to pass, and still has more nutrition than rice or pasta. And if you have hulled cooked barley at hand, you can add that instead of cooking the pearl barley from scratch. One thing to note is that this dish – as many barely dishes – tastes even better the next day, so feel free to make a double batch. You won’t regret it. Come and cook with us!

Mushroom and Barley One-Pot Dish

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Upgrade Your Mornings with a Pumpkin Spice Latte

_DSC0226 2Have you noticed that as soon as the days start to get shorter, pumpkins pop up all over town. In every form, color and at almost every meal. Mind you, I love pumpkins but I also wouldn’t have dreamed to go as far as drinking it in the morning. Well, things can change and I am proudly proclaiming that I, too, have joined the army of PSL fans. Not the commercial version featured in the full-page ads of major national newspapers, but the one made at home. Delicious and definitely full of fall-evoking flavors. Come and cook with us. Continue reading

From A to Za’atar!

IMG_8132My mom has always loved the ocean. Lucky for us, as it meant that we spent at least a few weeks a year enjoying time on the beach. We travelled all over the Mediterranean sea, primarily Italy, Greece and Turkey. Growing up in the mountains, this was a special treat. I still remember a dinner we had in Cefalú, a small fishing village along the northern coast of the island of Sicily. Sizzling on the grill were delicious lamb sausages that had a particularly interesting flavor that really spoke to me. It was tangy, aromatic and full of a complexity foreign to the Italian and Tyrolean cuisine I grew up with. I immediately fell in love with that unique taste but only much later realized that it was za’atar. To this day, sweet childhood memories return whenever I eat this spice mixture. Let me introduce you to the lovely flavor that is za’atar. Come and cook with us! Continue reading

Mighty Melanzane

_DSC0145 2Whenever Doug, my husband, returns from a trip, I like to welcome him back with a dish I know he likes. He usually wants “something with lots of vegetables”, probably to make up for the steaks and burgers he has on the road. One of his absolute favorites is melanzane alla parmigiana, a typical Italian dish featuring eggplant. Come and cook with us! Continue reading

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