Cheesy Barley with Peas


Cheesy barley with Green Chicken Nuggets

Since I started working on my series of whole grain recipes this Summer, I’ve been searching for a barley recipe that seemed fairly simple and family friendly. The main obstacle with barley, it seems, is that it takes a long time to cook making it difficult to prepare for a family dinner. The idea of barley risotto appealed to me because, unlike regular risotto, it seemed to be fairly hands-off and doesn’t require constant stirring. However, most of the barley risotto recipes I found included ingredients that don’t necessarily appeal to children, such as strongly flavored cheeses or herbs. The recipe below is a combination of several barley risotto recipes with a child-friendly twist of my own. I substituted cheddar cheese for the more pungent (and expensive) cheeses that were often recommended. I also added a handful of frozen peas at the end of cooking because they are nutritious, cheap and easy to keep on hand. The cooking time may seem very long for this recipe, but the risotto method of cooking (gradually adding hot broth) gives the barley a wonderfuly creamy texture.

So why make barley risotto instead of just using rice? Two reasons: First, it takes less stirring and care than rice, second, barley provides significantly more fiber and protein than the white arborio rice normally used in risotto. Cheesy barley with peas is a delicious way to serve up some  nutrient-rich whole grains. I served it with Green Chicken Nuggets for a healthier take on chicken nuggets with mac n’ cheese.

Cheesy Barley with Peas

Makes 4 servings


4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (about 2 cans)

4 cups water

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup pearl barley

1/2 cup frozen peas

2 Tablespoons fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus extra for garnish

Kosher salt, to taste

1. In a large saucepan, bring the broth and water to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low to keep the broth at a low simmer.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the barley and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

3. Ladle about 2 cups of the hot broth into the barley pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth is almost absorbed, about 10 minutes. Continue to add a couple ladles full of broth to the barley every 10 minutes or so until the barley develops a creamy consistency; this will take about 40 minutes and may not require all of the broth. The barley will never get as soft as rice; the individual grains will retain a firm texture but a creamy sauce should form around them.

4. Once the barley is cooked to a creamy consistency, add the frozen peas and continue to cook 2 minutes, or until the peas are warmed through. Remove barley from the heat and stir in the basil and cheese. Season with  salt, if needed (I found that the chicken broth and cheese added plenty of salt on their own). Serve immediately, garnished with a little extra shredded cheese, if desired.