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Under-utilized Grains: Pearl Barley and Cracked Wheat (Bulgur)

The other night I had the good fortune to have a pack of Pearl Barley on hand.To me, barley was always a key ingredient in the one soup my mother made: vegetables and a lamb shank. Otherwise...I'd hardly been exposed to  the grain -- but of late have had my interest sparked as it is popular both in the Greek Islands and Scandinavia for bread making.

So I pressure cooker-ed a barley stew similar to THIS-- although I made a few adjustments to accommodate the instrument: less stock and more barley. And I used minced lamb.

It was absolutely delicious! The following day we fought over leftovers.

Barley cooking isn't rocket science. It's a cheap, readily available grain that stews up easily. Add more liquid and you get soup.Aside from its own nutty taste, it will take up the flavor of the sauce it is cooked in.

I tackled barley because I am also familiar with bulgur -- cracked wheat. In Turkish cuisine pilafs are either made from rice or bulgur. While the grains may be easily interchanged the bulgur dishes cook much quicker -- and like barley, the taste is enriched by the flavour of the grain.

Bulgur--cracked wheat -- is the stuff you make tabbouleh from: the tomato, parsley salad that is a standard mezze.There are a couple of grain sizes but large grain suits pilaf.

You can buy bulgur -- or cracked wheat -- in quantity at Indian grocers.

Cooked up the bulgur pilaf menu is rich and various.Here's some samples:LINK.

If you can cook rice in a pot on a stove you can cook bulgur.In both cases all you need to do is adjust your fluid amount to accommodate the grain's absorption and the veg or meat you add to the dish. Usually, Turkish pilafs do not use stock.

These are, of course, substantial dishes but they are designed as daily fare.

While recipes both for rice and bulgur pilafs call for so much of this and that ingredient, once you become confident in allocating the ratios you can pilaf with the best of them. Like the Koreans I always soak for 30 minutes -- then wash and rinse my rice ----and my bulgur for 5 -- and when I add the grains to the pot I let my index finger decide how much fluid I'll use by stirring the mix to feel the tension of the current and judge volume as a factor of height between my knuckles.

The Korean 'rule of thumb/index' is one knuckle of water above the rice.(But that's cooking rice in water only. When you add veg they'll sweat in the heat and increase the fluid volume. Thus the wonder of pilaf flavours.)

Once you add the rice, steam boil for 5 minutes then turn off the heat and let the pot sit on the cook plate for another 20. But bulgur will cook faster.

My favorite pilaf --almost my favorite meal -- is  rice pilaf with mussels.

Just saying.

As well as this and that in the pot --vino, garlic, onions --: gotta have dill.

I always celebrate pilafs -- and my barley dish was really a pilaf -- because I find options like risottos so time consuming and fiddly. And demanding of a special rice -- Arborio. I prefer one pot laziness as does the house washer upper.

Another grain I experiment with is polenta: boiled cornmeal. More cumbersome than these others to work with and more demanding as you have to keep stirring it. You can get (very) quick cooking polenta in some delicatessens  but it sure makes a great substitute for wheat   based pasta recipes. Whole grain and better for you. Cooled and firmed up, you can also use it as a pizza base. You can also grill pre-cooked polenta.

As for substitution --remember that barley contains gluten -- unlike polenta -- and all grains aren't equal:

Barley and bulgur are both ancient Mediterranean grains. Bulgur is wheat that has been cracked to cook more quickly, and to achieve a finer texture. Barley is a healthy, nutty, inexpensive grain that isn't used as commonly as wheat, despite its virtues. Substituting barley for bulgur in recipes may change the way a dish is prepared, and will also change its flavor. Despite these changes, barley does work well in many recipes that typically use bulgur, such as tabouli and kibbe.LINK.

As for the 'ancient' grains now available -- I'm always shocked at the price:

Quinoa, on the market for more than a decade, has become widely accepted, with consumers embracing its high protein and fiber content and ease of preparation. Amaranth, freekeh and teff are three gaining in popularity among health-conscious and foodie circles, while newcomers like sorghum and kaniwa (a cousin of quinoa) are set for a breakthrough.LINK

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Quinoa is grown in Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia mostly. Nice enough flavour BUT: the amount of water wasted in its preparation rule it out at my place.

I didn't mention couscous --steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina -- that is favored in North Africa.

Goes great with tagines.

However, I only deploy couscous when I've catered large dinners as its preparation can be so easy and quick. A tagine (or tagines) and couscous will feed the multitude.

But if you are familiar with couscous you may like to branch out and try its cousin, bulgur. In the Levant, there is a wide range of kibbeh dishes -- minced meat combined with bulgur before cooking or bulgur used to make a shell to enclose tasty mixtures.Bulgur is also used in stuffings.

Barley grain is cheap  but when it has  been through the pearling process is not so cheap  compared to the cost of the grain . Buying a pearling machine would be a good investment.

Lamb and barley soup - it's Scotch Broth mate!  Thus, the use of lamb mince, especially in a pressure cooker, is a sin.  

I haven't done bulgur so at this point I shall remove my tongue from my cheek.  I'll need to give it a crack.  Could need to ask for help on that account.

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