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Heart-healthy barley pilaf with asparagus

Heart-healthy barley pilaf with asparagus

Did you know that pearl barley has 2-3 times the fibre as brown rice? (Including more cholesterol and blood sugar friendly soluble fibre.) Plus it has a heartier, chewy texture. As we saw in last week’s post, it’s one of the more affordable grains. Grown in Canada too.

Do you need more barley in your life or what?

But besides soup, what can you do with it?

One option is to cook it in water just like rice. I do that if we’re having it with something saucy and flavourful. (Like this Kickin’ Chicken.)

But if you want barley to deliver a bit more pizzazz on it’s own, a pilaf is a great option! With pilafs, the grain is usually toasted first and cooked in a flavourful liquid like chicken stock or white wine. Pilafs often also include vegetables like onions, carrots, or peas.

Pilafs are versatile: You can toss in just about any vegetable you have on hand. I went with asparagus because it’s in season, but this would also be good with broccoli, kale, bell peppers, mushrooms… whatever you like.

Add the vegetables earlier if they need to cook more (like mushrooms) or later as I did with the asparagus, if you want them just steamed a bit.

(I had celery in an earlier version of this, which you can see in the photo below, but I took it out to keep things simple.)

Pair with your protein of choice and ideally a few more veggies or a salad. This goes nicely with chicken or fish, or you can fold in some frozen edamame for a great plant-based combo.

A few words about the ingredients:

Pearl barley – Surprisingly, not actually a whole grain! But barley is unique in that there is fibre throughout the grain, unlike wheat and rice where most of it is in the protective outer shell or “bran”. So when the bran is removed from pearl barley, we still get lots of fibre (and other nutrients). “Pot barley” has a little of the bran left, but you get just a little more fibre. “Hulled barley” has the bran intact, but it’s still not that much more fibre, and it takes much longer to cook. So pearl barley it is. (Note: Barley is not gluten-free, if you need that.)

Heart-healthy barley pilaf with asparagusReduced-sodium vegetable base – the one I use is this Better Than Bouillon. (I have no affiliation with them.) If sodium is a priority for you, look for the words “50% less sodium” on the jar. Bring your reading glasses because they’re TINY.

This ingredient adds 350 mg sodium to the recipe, so if you substitute, just look for something similar. (A Knorr vegetable cube is 1780mg in comparison. Hellooooooo sodium.)

You can also add pre-made liquid broth or stock if you have that. Just cut back accordingly on the water.

White wine – this is also nice with wine (in the dish!) if you have some on hand. Just use 1/2 cup or so, and cut back on the water to compensate.

Salt?! – This might be a surprise in a heart-healthy recipe, but there’s no need to eliminate salt entirely. A little goes a long way towards bringing up the flavour of the other ingredients. It adds just under 100mg of sodium per cup.

You can leave it out if you’re pairing this with higher sodium protein food – say rotisserie chicken from the deli. There’s still a bit in the vegetable base. But if you leave it in, don’t worry, it’s not much. This is still much lower in sodium than flavoured rice from a package or a restaurant.

Asparagus – I keep the cooking time very short so it stays bright green and crisp. It will cook a bit more by the time it gets to the table.

As always, let me know what you think! Your heart-healthy cooking insights are always welcome in our Sweet Spot Heart-Healthy Cooking Club.

barley asparagus pilaf

Barley pilaf with asparagus

Versatile, fibre-rich, heart-healthy side dish. If asparagus isn’t in season (or your favourite), substitute whatever vegetables you like.

Prep Time 20 mins

Cook Time 20 mins

Total Time 40 mins

Barley base

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tsp reduced-sodium vegetable base
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Finishing touches

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Chop the onion and add to the pot.

    2 tbsp olive oil, 1 medium onion

  • Peel and chop the carrots and garlic. Add them to the pot as you go.

    2 medium carrots, 1 clove garlic

  • Add the thyme and stir to incorporate.

    1 tsp dried thyme

  • Rinse the barley in a strainer and and add to the pot. Toast for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    1 cup pearl barley

  • Add the water, vegetable base, and salt.

    3 cups water, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp reduced-sodium vegetable base

  • Turn the heat to high. When the water boils vigorously, reduce the heat to low, cover, and boil gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • Meanwhile, clean and trim the asparagus. Chop into bite-sized pieces. Grate the parmesan cheese.

    1 bunch asparagus, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

  • Test the barley after 20 minutes. It should be soft but still chewy. Cook for 5 minutes more if you like it more tender.

  • When the barley is done to your liking, add the asparagus and stir to incorporate. Cook covered for 1 minute and then remove from the heat and remove the lid.

  • Add lemon juice and pepper. Top with parmesan cheese.

    2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly ground pepper to taste

Some people prefer less liquid for this, and the amount your barley absorbs may vary. If you like, you can start with 2.5 cups and add more as needed.
Nutrition, per cup: 210 calories, 6g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 33g carbohydrates, 8g fibre, 4g sugar (0g added/free sugar), 3g cholesterol, 231mg sodium, 7g protein.

Keyword asparagus, barley