Pearl Barley Salad

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When you live in a country like Ireland where pearl barley often appears only in the national dish of Irish stew, you forget what a versatile grain it can be. It’s easy to cook, the Chinese think it’s good for the kidneys and it has a toothsome texture that appeals to all ages. And if you want to eat a healthy grain that’s on sale in most convenience stores (unlike quinoa or Amaranth), pearl barley could be your best friend.


300g pearl barley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the dressing:
30ml extra-virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, cut into small dice
1/4 cucumber, peeled and cut into small dice
1 red chilli, seeds removed, chopped finely
1/4 bunch of fresh mint, chopped finely
1/4 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped finely


1. Place the pearl barley in a large saucepan, cover with 600mls of cold water, bring to the boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Add a good pinch of salt and cover the pan with a lid. Cook over a gentle bubbling heat for 35-40 minutes or until the barley is al dente, that is soft enough to eat but holding its shape and not collapsing. Check it throughout the cooking time to make sure the water doesn’t disappear – if you need to, add more boiling water. (It will depend on how large your saucepan is – the larger the surface area, the more the water will evaporate.)

2. Mix the dressing ingredients together, adding more lemon juice or a little vinegar if you need to sharpen it and season. Drain the pearl barley and toss with the dressing. Toss through the red onion, red pepper, cucumber, chilli and fresh herbs. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Leave the salad to come to room temperature before serving so it can absorb the flavours.

Did you know…. pearl barley has been polished to remove the husk so though it is healthy for you, it has been refined. The whiter the pearl barley grain, the more husk, and therefore goodness has been removed. Choose pearl barley that looks like it has been on holiday and got a tan, and you’ll make a healthier dish.

Quick Pearl Barley Pilaf Recipe

Fry a chopped garlic clove in olive oil until fragrant. Add the cooked pearl barley, any toasted nuts, any chopped fresh herbs and a few spoons of salad dressing. Toss and serve with meat or fish, stews, tagines or use it to fill toasted pita breads with grilled chicken and minty yoghurt.


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