How to Cook Barley (Pearl Barley Salad)
Why We Love This Barley Recipe
Interested in cooking with barley? Today we’re offering a tutorial on How to Perfectly Cook Barley, as well as what to do with it.
Although you can mix cooked barley into all sorts of dishes, I especially love a hearty barley salad made with salty feta cheese, bell pepper, and dill, then kissed with a fresh orange vinaigrette. This pearl barley salad holds up well for up to a week, so it’s a great make-ahead for meal prep and parties!
What Is Barley?
Barley is considered an ancient grain, and is in fact one of the very first grains known to have been farmed by modern man. Although it originated around Eurasia and Northern Africa at least 10,000 years ago, it was quick to become popular and is now found in diets around the world.
It is a rustic yet fluffy grain with a mild nutty flavor. It’s delicious cooked into soups and stews, but also served in hot and cold salads! Barley has a similar chewy texture to brown rice but it’s larger and more filling, in my opinion.
And perhaps most impressive of all: There are several health benefits to consuming whole grains like barley, including lowered blood cholesterol and more regulated blood sugar. So not only is it tasty, high-fiber, and nourishing, pearl barley is quite good for you, too.
Types of Barley
You can find barley in several forms…
Hulled Barley is the most rustic, nutrient-rich option, which is only minimally processed making it a whole-grain superfood. (Only the outer husk has been removed.)
Pearl Barley is the most commonly found variety. It has a smooth glossy appearance, due to the husks being fully polished off. It cooks slightly faster than the Hulled variety, making it a great option for most cooks.
Barley Grits and Barley Flour are also common options. Here the barley is ground into a coarse or fine grain to use in grit-style porridge or in baked goods.
Rolled Barley Flakes and Quick Barely are varieties where the barley grains have been processed like oats, either rolled to flatten them out, or partially cooked, to make the cooking process faster. The grains do not look as fluffy and separated after cooking, but they still taste great!
Hulled Barley Vs Pearl Barley
Pearl Barley and Hulled Barley are slightly different in appearance, with Hulled having a darker more earthy color. They can be cooked and used the same way. However, hulled barley usually takes 5-10 minutes longer to cook than Pearl.
The difference between Hulled Barley and Pearl Barley is in the processing. Hulled Barley has only had the outer hull removed from the grains, which are indigestible. Pearl Barley, on the other hand, has had both the outer husks and bran layers removed, so it is slightly more refined. Both are healthy options, yet Hulled Barley is considered higher in fiber and nutrients.
For Cooked Barley
- Dried barley – pearl or hulled barley
For Pearl Barley Salad
- Cooked barley – per our foolproof method here
- Feta cheese – cubed
- Bell pepper – seeded and chopped
- Green onions – chopped
- Almonds – sliced and toasted
- Dried cherries – or cranberries
- Fresh dill – chopped
To Make the Dressing
- Orange – zested and juiced
- Olive oil – or other neutral-flavored oil, like avocado oil
- Honey – fluid (AKA not close to solid)
- Garlic – minced
- Salt and pepper – to taste
How to Cook Barley
Set a large saucepan over high heat on the stovetop. Add 6 cups of water and ½ teaspoon of salt to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil.
Once the water is boiling, stir in the barley. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and allow the barley to simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, until soft and fluffy. (If using Hulled Barley it may take up to 60 minutes to cook.)
The barley should absorb all the water, but if for some reason there’s a little liquid left in the pot, drain the barley in a colander.
If using the grains in barley salad, allow them to cool for several minutes to room temperature, then fluff it with a fork before proceeding. You can even make the barley ahead, up to a day before you plan to prepare the salad!
How to Make the Best Pearl Barley Salad Recipe
Place 4 cups of cooled cooked barley in a large salad bowl.
Chop the feta cheese, and all fresh produce. Add to the bowl.
Place all remaining salad ingredients in the bowl.
Get the Complete (Printable) Pearl Barley Salad Recipe Below. Enjoy!
To make the dressing: In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice, 1-2 teaspoons of fresh orange zest, plus the olive oil, honey, and garlic. Whisk well, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the dressing over the barley salad.
Toss well to make sure all ingredients are coated. Then taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed.
Cover and chill the salad until ready to serve.
This hearty, healthy, and delicious salad is a fabulous side dish! Bring it to picnics and potlucks for an exciting option on the table.
Pearl barley salad is also great as a refreshing side for simple weeknight meals. It pairs well with lots of Mediterranean-inspired mains, from satisfying vegetarian to meaty main dishes. We love to enjoy the bright and tangy flavors alongside Mediterranean Burgers, Beef Kafta Kabobs, Zesty Greek Chicken, Chicken Souvlaki, or Sweet Potato Falafel (with homemade Tzatziki Sauce!)
Because it is easy to make ahead, the salad works perfectly into your weekly lunch meal plan. Add a generous serving to your lunchbox along with a yummy Veggie Hummus Wrap, Chicken Shawarma Wrap or Beef Shawarma, or a classic Lamb Gyro.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, this ancient grain does contain gluten.
Although you can rinse it prior to cooking, it is not necessary to do so. Some recipes call for rinsed barley in order to remove any debris or excess starch. This might lead to slightly fluffier cooked barley, but again, rinsing is not a must.
Definitely, and it is delicious! Chilled cooked barley has even more great toothsome bite, and is wonderfully refreshing and hearty.
Serve barley as a simple side dish like rice, couscous, or quinoa.
It’s also a nutritious ancient grain to use in other recipes, like Beef Barley Soup and Light Creamy Chicken Barley Kale Soup. You can also use cooked barley in Grain Bowls!
Store cooked and cooled pearl barley in an airtight container and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
Likewise, once assembled the salad will keep well in the fridge for up to a week.
Yes, you can! For Instant Pot Barley, place 1 cup of dried barley in the pressure cooker with 2 1/2 cups of water or vegetable broth. Add a pinch of salt. Lock the lid into place and set it on high pressure for 23 minutes (25 for hulled barley.) Perform a quick release. When it’s safe to open the pot, fluff the barley and store for later use.
Sure, you can. Although I would not freeze the prepared barley salad, simple cooked barley freezes very well. Allow the barley to cool completely. Then place it in an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Looking for More Delicious Salad Recipes? Be Sure to Also Try:
- Wild Rice Salad with Blueberries and Herbs
- Chunky Mediterranean Salad
- Quinoa Salad with Green Chile Dressing
- Farro Salad with Kale and Artichokes
- Lentil Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette
How to Cook Barley (Pearl Barley Salad)
For Pearl Barley Salad –
- Set a large sauce pot over high heat. Add 6 cups of water and ½ teaspoon of salt to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil.
- Once the water is boiling, stir in the barley. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and allow the barley to simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, until soft and fluffy. (If using hulled barley, the cooking time will be closer to 55-60 minutes.)
- The barley should absorb all the water, but if for some reason there’s a little left in the pot, drain the barley in a colander. If using in barley salad, allow it to cool for several minutes before proceeding.
- For Pearl Barley Salad: Place 4 cups of cooled cooked barley in a large salad bowl.
- Chop the feta cheese, and all fresh produce. Place all salad ingredients in the bowl.
- In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice, 1-2 teaspoons of fresh orange zest, plus the olive oil, honey, and garlic. Whisk well, then add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the dressing over the barley salad. Toss well to make sure all ingredients are coated. Then taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed.
- Cover and chill the salad until ready to serve.