Slow Cooker Herbed Beans and Barley

The weather has been doing its transitional season flip flop around here. One week it’s summer, one week it’s fall with a little scent of winter in the mornings. And with the change of seasons comes the change of activities that makes the challenge of family dining a very real one. While I limit my kids to one after school activity, because there are two of them, we are still on a wacky schedule for two of the five weekend nights. Monday Ms. Picky Pants does gymnastics from 5-6 and Tuesdays my increasingly gigantic son plays T-Ball from 6-7. These times bookend our usual dinner time.

Because there’s no way my gentle giant of a boy could make it through T-Ball without dinner, we simply eat early on those days. Monday is more challenging as there’s no way we could eat in time for a 5 o’clock practice. And so, given these complications AND the drop in temperature, there is no better time than now to bring the slow cooker out of the corner cabinet and keep it in semi-permanent residence on the counter. Preparing the meal the night before, or in the morning and letting it cook all day allows us to eat at whatever time and frees me up during the crucial times for chauffeuring and cheering responsibilities (I especially like the cheering part).

Our favorite new slow cooker recipe was an improvisation of mine, a pantry wonder that is sure to become a regular in our house. I’ve used kidney beans because I had them on hand, and because I think they’re so good looking (that’s weird, isn’t it). I imagine just about any bean would work here, although this one time I’d steer you away from lentils as they do tend to mushify a bit and the pearl barley is already providing a creaminess that benefits from a little more substance in the bean department. White beans, black beans, chickpeas would all be great. This dish was so simple and satisfying. The gentle giant just LOVED it.

Slow Cooker Herbed Beans & Barley

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  • olive oil for the pan
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or mashed
  • 3 c kidney beans (soaked overnight or quick soaked*)
  • 1 1/2 c pearl barley
  • 5 c veggie broth
  • 1-2 t thyme
  • 2 t red wine vinegar
  • 2 T Bragg’s or soy sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Warm olive oil in pan on stove. Add onions and celery. Sauté until onions are nearly translucent. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute or so. Place sautéed veggies in crock pot with all the other ingredients. Turn on low. Cook for 5-6 hours. Yes, that’s it. Stir, season to taste, and serve on a bed of deep greens. Spicy fans may enjoy a little hot sauce. I like it both ways. Delish.

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* Quick soaking beans requires bringing the beans to a boil, allowing them to really boil for 2 minutes, and then leaving them in the hot water for an hour, then rinse and use for cooking. They will not be tender as they are not fully cooked yet, but will not be little rocks anymore.

Great Grains: Barley and Breakfast

In my post on Cauliflower Steaks, I alluded to making a side of barley to fill up any spaces that might be left by cauliflower steaks (there really weren’t any), and as a failsafe if the kids stonewalled and took the “required taste amount only” position on the main dish. So here I am, returning to the barley, to explain to you why it is ever so lovely to have a container of leftover barley in the fridge.

I am a firm believer in grain variety. It would be very easy for my husband to eat rice every night, and I could probably have quinoa every day without complaint; however, I think a little variety does a body, and a palate, good. One of my favorite grains is super hearty, and super versatile, barley. I bought pearl barley (more about the varieties of barley here, and am curious about other, less processed versions of the grain. Although pearl barley IS slightly processed, the polishing of the grain is reported to leave it largely nutritionally intact. Cooked pearl barley is larger than rice, and soft while not being mushy. It’s a great base for foods, traditionally used in soups, and would be great in a risotto (barsotto?).

I cooked my barley in water with a little salt in a 3 H2O to 1 barley ratio (I started with 2 c dry barley and we had PLENTY). Took about an hour, so it is not quick, but it doesn’t require any effort, so it’s a great candidate for a weekend cook to set up some grain dishes for the week. As an alternative, you could cook it in a slow cooker, which is what I think I’ll do next time.

Regardless of how you choose to cook your barley, be sure to make enough for leftovers, as barley for breakfast is a delight. It’s warm and hearty, filling and nutritious, and it is not gloppy. While I love oatmeal, there are those who’ve expressed to me that the questionable texture of oatmeal and porridge is distasteful – barley may just be answer to these hot breakfast lovers. Barley is not gloppy and is a perfect vehicle for many of the same kinds of additions that can make a steamy bowl of oatmeal so very delicious. I’ll demonstrate with three options I’ve enjoyed this week.

Barley Breakfast 1
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 Tradition Takes Hold: My first barley breakfast was pretty traditional in porridge terms. I added some raisins, some cinnamon, some nuts, and a little shredded coconut (I am decadent, I know).  Someone who is accustomed to a sweet breakfast could add a splash of maple syrup, although I found that the raisins and cinnamon did a nice job of convincing my palate that we were in the sweet enough zone. I also added a splash of almond milk.  Warm, filling, energizing, comforting, and delicious.  Everything a great winter breakfast bowl should be.
Barley Breakfast 2

IMG_8681A Little Lemon Lift:  For my second barley breakfast, I remembered Bigg Sis’ superb soaked oats, which feature a heavy dose of lemon zest.  While I was skeptical about this move when she first described them, I was delighted to find that the zest convinced my senses that it was simply a bowl of grains I was eating, but there was some sort of pastry situation in front of me.  I’m still not sure how that works, but it still works, and so this breakfast included raisins, walnuts, lemon zest, and a splash of almond milk.  Fantastic, and a light refreshing feel that brought a little ray of sun into the winter kitchen.

Barley Breakfast 3

IMG_8693 Gettin’ a Little Exotic:  For my final barley experiment of the week, I turned to another container of leftovers in the fridge.  last night I roasted some sweet potatoes (1 inch cubes, 450 degrees, olive oil and a little salt for about 20 minutes) and then sprinkled them with lime juice and cilantro.  They were stunning, if I do say so myself.  Know what else?  They were a great addition to breakfast.  I used some barley and the potatoes, warmed them and then added raisins, some banana, walnuts, a splash of coconut milk and a squeeze of lime.  If it hadn’t been 12 degrees here at the time, I would have sworn I was somewhere slightly tropical.  Delish!

So there you have it. Three lovely bowls of barley for YOUR breakfast enjoyment. All low in refined sugar, all cheaper than boxed cereal, and all super yum. If you’re looking for a place to start YOUR path to healthier eating, may I suggest you start right at the beginning of your day. Check out our other breakfast options and pull up a chair!

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