Barley pilaf is truly a simple dish – sauté a few vegetables, throw in barley and liquid, let it cook unattended, and you’ve got a tasty and unique side dish with only 10-15 minutes hands-on time.
I love the nutty, hearty flavor of barley and wish I would remember to cook with it more often. When we get in a rice-pasta-potato rut, I pull out this easy vegetable barley pilaf recipe for something different.
Barley pilaf makes a great side dish for any meat or seafood and is good hot or at room temperature, making it a good potluck recipe.
Plus, it works with lots of different vegetables you may have on hand – more than just the onions and peppers shown. I’ve made this with:
- diced carrots or turnips
- chopped kale added with the liquid
- chopped spinach stirred in at the end of cooking
I’m sure you could add in chopped broccoli, snap peas, and more at the end of the cooking. This recipe is a great base to add to and use up what you have!
This is such an easy side dish- in fact the only hard part is remembering to start it about an hour before serving.
But that’s why we plan a menu, right?
Is barley good for you?
While barley isn’t as common as rice or other grains, it really has a nice flavor and texture and is surprisingly healthy.
Barley’s nutrients include:
- B vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate and pantothenic acid
- Vitamin E
- Zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium
- Small amounts of copper, manganese and calcium
Plus, barley can help maintain weight since it is a low-glycemic grain, high in both soluble and insoluble fiber (soluble fiber helps the body metabolize fats, cholesterol and carbohydrates, and lowers blood cholesterol levels). It also contains phytochemicals that act as antioxidants to help protect against disease.
And this is interesting: in a four-week study in 28 healthy individuals, 60 grams of barley a day increased a beneficial type of bacteria in the gut that may help reduce inflammation and improve blood sugar balance. (source)
That’s good stuff! Just another reason we should be eating a varied diet, isn’t it?
Is barley a protein or a carb?
It is a carbohydrate, containing 22 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber, and 2 grams protein in a half cup cooked (a typical serving size).
Vegetable Barley Pilaf
Consider this recipe your “base” barley pilaf recipe. I would always include these core ingredients and then add more veggies, if desired:
- pearl or hulled barley (see differences below)
- broth, chicken or vegetable
- white wine (or more broth)
- sweet red pepper
- salt and pepper
What is the difference between hulled barley and pearl barley?
Hulled barley (or barley groats) only has the outer hull removed so it is more of the whole grain than pearl barley which has had the outer husk and bran layers removed.
Pearled barley is the easiest to find in stores and cooks in less time than hulled barley.
Hulled barley takes about 1 1/2 hours and pearled barley 40-50 minutes.
Do I have to rinse barley?
If it’s bought in bulk, you can do a brief rinse to wash away any debris, but it’s optional and shouldn’t be needed in packaged barley.
The hands-on time is simple and quick: sauté the onions, peppers, and garlic in butter until softened.
Add all the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and then forget about it while it cooks on low for 40-50 minutes.
Pretty easy, right?
Plus, you can also bring to a boil and place the pot (if it’s heat-proof) in the oven to cook along with something you have roasting.
It takes a couple minutes more that way, but is super convenient and will be ready when your roast chicken/pork/whatever is ready.
- Maple Mustard Baked Chicken
- Whole Rotisserie Slow Cooker or Instant Pot Chicken
- Sheet Pan Sausages with Peppers & Onions
Easy Vegetable Barley Pilaf
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1/2 large red sweet pepper chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ cups pearl barley can use hulled*
- 2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup white wine or more chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- fresh parsley for garnish optional
- Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, peppers, and garlic; cook for about 5 minutes until vegetables have softened.
- Add barley, salt and pepper, and cook for about a minute before pouring in broth and wine (if using).
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 45 to 50 minutes until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed.
- Garnish with parsley before serving.
- Sauté mushrooms along with onions.
- Add diced carrots, parsnips, or turnips along with onions.
- Add chopped kale with the liquid, before boiling.
- Stir in chopped spinach at the end of cooking.
Other Easy Sides to Try:
This recipe has been updated – it was originally published in March of 2011.
Simple Real Food Dinner Menus + Shopping Lists