Barley is far too often cast as a bland and boring grain – that is, until now. We’ve given this comforting fall grain it a makeover with five exciting recipes where barley is the star. The nutrient-rich grain has a firm texture and subtly nutty flavour, pairing well with savoury fall soups, stews and salads, but it can go beyond those recipe confines, too. From a magenta beet ‘barlotto’ to a sweet breakfast porridge and beyond, these recipes offer a glimpse into barley’s sassier side.

Beet Barley Risotto

Beet “Barlotto” (Barley Risotto)

Rice is swapped out for barley in this risotto-inspired meal made with earthy beets and Parmesan cheese.

Directions: In a medium saucepan, heat 1 L chicken or vegetable stock. Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp unsalted butter in a large high-sided skillet over medium. To butter, add 1 minced garlic clove and 1 finely chopped onion; cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 1 cup pearl barley, 1 cup grated raw beet (about 2 small) and 1/2 tsp salt. Add 1/3 cup white wine and cook while stirring until barley has absorbed all of the liquid, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and begin adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring the entire time. Keep adding more stock, 1/2 cup at a time, when previous addition is almost fully absorbed. Continue to cook until barley is tender, but still has some bite to it, about 30 to 40 minutes. To finish, stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Remove from heat and add to warmed serving plates or bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley and more Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve. Serves 6.

Creamy Mushroom Barley Soup 

This hearty soup made with mushrooms and barley is a bowl of pure comfort.

Directions: In a small bowl, soak 1 oz. dried mushrooms of choice in 1 cup recently boiled water for 45 minutes. Drain, reserving soaking water and roughly chop rehydrated mushrooms. In a large pot over medium heat, melt 3 Tbsp unsalted butter. Sauté 170 g sliced fresh cremini mushrooms, 1 diced onion, 1 diced carrot and 2 diced ribs celery. Stir in 3/4 cup pearl barley and rehydrated chopped mushrooms. Add in reserved mushroom rehydrating liquid along with 7 cups chicken or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender. To finish, stir in 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream (low-fat varieties will curdle), ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh dill. Serves 6.

barley porridge

Sweet Barley Porridge

Oats aren’t the only grain the can make great porridge. Barley turns into a delicious, subtly sweet breakfast cereal packed with nutrition and comfort food appeal.

Directions: In a medium saucepan, combine 1 L unsweetened almond milk, 3/4 cup pearl barley, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Heat over medium heat, stirring often until mixture comes to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed about 40 minutes. To finish, stir in 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup golden raisins. Scoop porridge into bowls and serve warm topped with chopped nuts and additional milk. Serves 6.

Autumn Barley Salad

This fall-inspired salad is packed with sweet potatoes, apple, fennel and chewy barley. It’s as good for a weekday lunch as it is tucked next to baked salmon for dinner on the weekend.

Directions: In a large bowl, gently mix to combine 1 cup cooked pearl barley, 1 roasted and diced sweet potato (slightly under-roast and chill for a tidier dice), 1 diced apple, 1 cup shaved fennel and 1/3 cup chopped walnuts. Gently mix in 1 Tbsp ground cumin, 2 Tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and crumbled feta. Serve. Serves 4.

barley tabbouleh

Barley Tabbouleh

Barley replaces bulgur wheat in this refreshing twist on the Middle Eastern salad.

Directions: In a large bowl, mix 1 cup cooked pearl barley with 1 bunch finely chopped fresh parsley and 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint. To the barley and herbs, add 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, 1/2 finely diced cucumber and 2 thinly sliced green onions. For the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk to combine 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp lemon juice and salt and pepper, taste. Add dressing to barley mixture, toss and serve. Serves 4.

Now that you’ve mastered barley, reinvigorate another blank canvas-grain with these fast and healthy quinoa recipes.