Black barley with baby kale (and roasted mushrooms, potatoes & pecans)

Barley & kale

I know I shouldn’t go on about it, but it’s on my mind. My dog died a couple of months ago. I still miss her everyday. I still look for her each morning, where her bed used to be. I dream about her incessantly. I’ve dreamt of her as a puppy, I’ve dreamt that she’s lost or not well, and I can’t save her, I’ve dreamt that she never died at all. The strangest dream was probably the most like actual life. She died, and I missed her, and it felt so unaccountable. Why do the most literal dreams feel so odd? I don’t want another dog, I really don’t. But I miss canine companionship. Our house feels so human, somehow, without her. The other day Isaac said, “Mom, you can’t just go up and pet every dog you see!” And he’s probably right, but that’s what I’ve been doing, and trying not to think that Steenbeck would have gone crazy if I’d gone home smelling like another dog. So yesterday, when I went to get the boys from school, and I saw a tiny, dark, bundle of puppyhood…I attacked it. I dropped everything (literally! it’s lucky no little children were standing below me because my umbrella is quite pointy). I grabbed it. Oh, the soft, round little belly. The hot little body, the racing heart. The little puppy eyes and ears! The puppy smell!!!! She didn’t really want to be held by me – she wanted to be running around, with the kids her own age. But I wasn’t taking the hint. I couldn’t let her go. My boys looked at me with sideways, skeptical looks. “Who is that?” they asked? The little kids who actually owned the dog danced around me, looking anxious. “When is she going to give it back?” they asked their nanny. Never! I cried. But I did. I put her down. The little dog was sort of blacky brown. She had that short, dark fur that looks almost purple or blue in certain lights. In other words, she looked like black barley. You see? There is a connection. Barley would be a good name for a dog, wouldn’t it?

This black barley dish is almost like a risotto, but like a risotto made by a very lazy person that didn’t want to make a broth or stir it every minute of the day. The barley is cooked till it’s tender but toothsome (if that means al dente). And it makes its own creamy sort of sauce, just like a risotto. I warmed some butter and white wine and herbs in a big frying pan, and added the barley with its creamy broth. Then I added some water and let that cook down a bit. I found baby kale at the grocery store, and I was quite excited about it. It does have a kale taste, but not as assertively. It has a little bite. I cooked it for much less time than I usually cook kale – I tossed it into the barley broth towards the end, and cooked till it was nicely wilted. (You could easily use regular kale, cooked first, or baby spinach, which wouldn’t need to be cooked at all.) I also made roasted mushrooms and tiny crispy roasted potatoes, to toss on the dish. And I toasted some pecans. I like all of these tastes together – and they all go so well with sage, rosemary and thyme, which I used to flavor pretty much every element involved. I topped mine with some crumbled bleu cheese, too, which added a lovely creamy/salty element, but nobody else in my family did, cause they’re not fans of the bleu cheese. The whole thing added up to a very savory, meaty meal – the smell of barley and roasted mushrooms lingered in my house all evening. It’s a nice smell!

Here’s Rebecca Sugar with Sleepy Puppies. I think it’s lovely!

For the barley
olive oil
3/4 cup black barley (you can use pearl barley instead, but yin that scenario you’d only cook it about 20 minutes)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
pinch of rosemary, pinch of sage
salt, pepper, tamari

Warm the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the bay leaves, herbs, and garlic, and when they start to brown, add the barley. Stir until everything is coated and sizzly, then add four cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes. By the end, the water should be very much reduced, and should be thick and sort of creamy. Add 2 t of tamari and lots of freshly ground pepper. Cover and set aside until you’re good and ready for it!

Roasted mushrooms made this way.

4 medium-sized potatoes. Cut into 1/4 inch chunks, tossed with olive oil and a little rosemary and roasted at 425 for about 1/2 an hour to forty minutes, till they’re brown and crispy. Give them a stir every once in a while. You can roast the mushrooms and potatoes at the same time – two trays side by side. The mushrooms will probably be done first, so you can just take them out and let them sit till you’re ready for them.


2 T butter
1/3 cup white wine
1 t sage
1 t rosemary
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t red pepper flakes, or to taste.
3 or 4 cups baby kale – washed and roughly chopped (If you can’t find baby kale, use regular – but cook it in salted water for 10-12 minutes first)

In a large frying pan melt 2 T butter. Add sage, rosemary, and thyme. When it starts to turn brown, give it about one more minute, and the pour in 1/3 cup white wine. Let it bubble away for a minute or two, then add the barley and all of its creamy broth. Stir. Add about 1 cup of water, and stir and cook for a minute or two, till it’s hot through and slightly thickened. Add the baby kale. Stir well. Taste for salt and pepperCOok for 5-7 minutes, till the kale is wilted, but not till it’s completely limp. Pile the mixture in a shallow bowl. Top with handfuls of potatoes, spoonfuls of mushrooms, and a scattering of pecans. If you like, add some bleu cheese, or any other cheese you like.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s