I didn’t grow up eating a lot of whole grains. Quite the contrary, I’m from the Wonder bread generation. The only whole grain at our table was the morning oatmeal porridge. But over the years I’ve come to love whole grains and I cook with them frequently. I’m particularly fond of barley and I enjoy its hardy flavor and texture as a side dish in place of rice or pasta. In this version of an old favorite recipe I’ve added chopped cabbage, toasted almonds, and fresh parsley along with the requisite mushrooms. The result is an all-inclusive side dish: grain and vegetable, with color, texture, and great flavor. It’s easy to adapt this recipe to include a protein of choice as well. Sauté two small boneless chicken breasts or pork chops and nestle them into the barley mixture after the first ten minutes of cooking. They should be done when the barley is tender. Remove the meat, stir in the cabbage and garnishes, then plate the barley with the sliced chicken or pork arranged artfully atop. Voila, dinner is served.
Barley Pilaf with Mushrooms and Cabbage
(makes 2 to 3 generous side-dish servings)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a 2-quart Dutch oven or similar sized flame-proof casserole, over medium-high heat add:
2 teaspoons olive oil
When the oil is hot add:
1/3 cup diced onion
Stir and cook the onion until the edges begin to brown, then add:
4 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped coarsely
Cook until the mushrooms begin to brown and their liquid is reduced.
Add to the pot:
1/2 cup medium pearled barley
Toast the barley briefly with the onions and mushrooms (about 30 seconds), then add:
1 1/2 cups light chicken stock or water.
Bring the mixture to a simmer and season with salt and a little pepper (you will need more salt if using water; don’t be shy, grains can be quite bland if not seasoned adequately). Cover with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven. Bake until the barley is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 35 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the cabbage and garnishes:
Place a wide skillet over medium heat and add another splash of olive oil. To the skillet add:
3 cups coarsely chopped savoy or green cabbage (about 1/2 a small, cored head of cabbage)
A pinch of salt
Toss the cabbage in the pan until lightly wilted but still crunchy and bright green in color. Set aside, off the heat. When the barley is tender, remove the casserole from the oven and stir through the sauteed cabbage. Add to the mixture:
2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Check for seasoning and adjust to your taste with additional salt and pepper. Transfer the barley casserole to a serving dish and sprinkle with:
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Serve immediately. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. The casserole reheats well in the microwave.