Snow keeps falling and I am cooking warm, cozy soups and braises. These are dishes that cook slowly on the stovetop or oven, release delicious aromas throughout my home and help to keep it warm. I am selecting dishes to help me use forgotten ingredients lurking in corners of my pantry and freezer. I am a fancier of unusual whole grains and tend to accrue a large supply that I store in the freezer. Black barley has been hiding out in the freezer for many months.
I started by doing some research. I have never cooked or eaten black barley. It looks very similar to purple barley which I have used. Purple barley is very glutinous and would not have been a good choice for the soup I had in mind. I thought there was a good chance black barley might be glutinous as well. Black barley is an heirloom variety of grain believed to have originated in Ethiopia. It has changed little throughout history and because of its low yield is not widely grown as a commercial crop. It is a close relative of purple barley and is naturally without a hull. It is a 100% whole grain so has its bran layer intact. It takes about 40 minutes to cook. When done its mahogany color darkens and it develops a slight sheen. It has great nutty flavor and would also be good in pilafs or salad as well as soup. It keeps well once cooked.
I started this simple soup with equal parts chopped onion and celery, sprigs of thyme and bay leaves. Once seasoned with salt and pepper and sautéd until translucent, in went the barley and water. I let the soup simmer until the vegetables were very tender and the starch from the barley thickened the soup a bit.
The next part of making this soup was the most interesting part. Inspired by a recipe from Camino, a restaurant in Oakland,CA I made a lemon chili relish. I removed the seeds and stems from a couple of dried chilies, then tore the chilies into small random sized flakes. I used Guajillo chiles which are relatively mild. They were what I had on hand. I toasted the flakes in a small dry sauce pot then add about 3/4 cup of oil, two cloves of chopped garic and the peel one pretty big rinsed and chopped preserved lemon. I let it cook slowly until the garlic was golden and the preserved lemon was beginning to soften. The lemoned softened more as the oil cooled. I didn’t want to overcook the garlic. This was delicious, slightly spicy with the tart lemon!
I served the soup garnished with a dollop of relish topped with a salad of dressed escarole. The tartness of preserved lemon and crunchy bitterness of the escarole provided a bright and welcome contrast to the natural earthy and nutty flavors of barley.