Think, Read, Cook

Because no single way of eating works for everybody.

Barley, the Vampire Grain


It comes… to suck your blood!

Okay, not your blood – though it’s better for your blood sugar than wheat is. If you can tolerate grains, barley isn’t a bad occasional addition to your diet, since it hasn’t quite been cross-bred beyond all recognition the way wheat has. Barley has only been bred for a few variations, and is one of the first known grains grown as a crop. And of course it’s used to make my country’s National Beverage, beer.  🙂

So why do I call it the Vampire Grain?

I’ll tell you why: because it sucks every last ounce of freaking flavour out of my soups and stews.

For years I’ve been trying to make beef barley soup, especially since my husband is so fond of it. I’ve tried recipe after recipe. They’re all basically the same: simmer the uncooked barley in the broth, along with the beef and onions and carrots and celery and herbs and spices. I did all that. I even added extra onions, and garlic, and herbs and spices. I added hot sauce, chili peppers, fresh herbs, dried herbs, smoked paprika… I put in everything but pepper-spray!

And they all turned out so bland as to be nearly tasteless.

Then one day – the day I made a pot-roast with a handful of barley in the broth, and the roast came out almost flavourless – I realized where all these recipes were steering me wrong.

It was the barley. Putting uncooked barley into simmered dishes cooks the barley, all right; but the barley, in turn, sucks up the flavours of the ingredients, and neutralizes them for its own nefarious purposes.

And unlike ordinary vampires, it’s not afraid of garlic.

So here is the solution. If you’re making a dish that needs barley – say, beef barley soup – cook the barley separately. It doesn’t matter much whether you cook it in water or soup stock. It’ll just taste like cooked barley, which is to say, like not much of anything; it enhances the soup with its chewy texture, and that’s its purpose. The rest of your soup will taste like ingredients. Delicious, flavourful ingredients.

And you will have defeated Dracubarley, the Flavour-Sucking Undead.

Beef Barley Soup that Keeps the Vampires Away


1 or 2 Tablespoons oil (I use coconut oil)

1 large onion, diced

1 Tablespoon chopped garlic (if desired)

2 or 3 carrots, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

2 potatoes, diced

8 cups beef stock or broth

1 or 2 teaspoons dried (or 1 or 2 Tablespoons fresh) herbs of your choice, if desired (thyme and basil go well in this recipe)

salt and pepper, to taste

several dashes hot sauce, to taste, if desired

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

2 Tablespoons ketchup

1 large lump of cooked beef, diced to desired size

1/3 cup uncooked barley

2/3 cup peas, cooked (they taste better when added cooked, at the end, than when simmered with the other vegetables)


1.  Cook barley in water or beef stock until desired tenderness is reached. At the same time, cook peas in water until done.

2.  While barley and peas are cooking, heat oil in large pot. Sauté onions, garlic and celery in oil over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add carrots and sauté a few minutes more.

3.  Add potatoes, beef stock, herbs, salt, pepper, hot sauce, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until carrots and potatoes are tender.

4.  Stir in ketchup, beef, cooked barley, and cooked peas. Heat until thoroughly warm. Serve and enjoy.


23 comments on “Barley, the Vampire Grain

  1. Kate O
    April 5, 2013

    I love barley. I’ll cook up a potful, stash it in the fridge, and warm up bowls of it for a quick breakfast. It’s true about the whole blood sugar thing — I don’t get hungry until lunch, which can be six hours later. But I get you on the cardboard taste (or lack of it). Definitely calls for major adulteration.

    • thinkreadcook
      April 5, 2013

      I love the texture. I kind of wish there were a vegetable with the exact same texture, but without the flavour-sucking quality of barley, so I could cut it up and put it in my soups! 🙂

      • judy
        April 7, 2013

        You are right of course. Too much is never too much with garlic. Strangely enough i didn’t get this msg via email. I saw it by coming here to see if i did have a reply and lo and behold i did.

      • thinkreadcook
        April 7, 2013

        Weird. I don’t understand that… but technology does play its tricks on us!

  2. judy
    April 5, 2013

    I’m sorry. Another question. How many cloves of delicious garlic is in a tablespoon?

    • thinkreadcook
      April 5, 2013

      I’d say it’s between 3 and 4, depending on their size. But really, it’s hard to have too much garlic! 🙂

  3. foods for the soul
    April 5, 2013

    What a great idea! I stopped using barley because I wasn’t happy with the tastes of the dishes I was serving, but I’ll have to pick some up at the store now that I know your secret.

    • thinkreadcook
      April 5, 2013

      Let me know how it goes. Nice blog you have there, by the way! 🙂

      • foods for the soul
        April 6, 2013

        I will. And thank you! It’s just my little corner of the internet, but it keeps me busy and out of trouble! ;]

  4. MyMagicPill
    April 6, 2013

    Mmmmm love barley! Although Dracubarley is a much more intriguing name….

    • thinkreadcook
      April 7, 2013

      🙂 I suppose it could also be Nosferatubarley, or Barlestat!

      • MyMagicPill
        April 7, 2013

        either are fantastic!

  5. judy
    April 7, 2013

    I’ve just joined the adults and got a horrid galaxy lll. Nothing’s going right since. Daily emails i get from a friend are . Not aarribing. Typing is shit. I like my old sony ericcson
    I can’t find the little faces so people would see how unhappy i am. 70 next yt and my grandson had to teach me
    I hope you’re not a very serious person !!!

    • thinkreadcook
      April 7, 2013

      Nope – barely serious at all! 😀

      I liked my old Motorola Razr, but I’m getting used to my HTC Amaze. Mind you, I seem to use it for almost everything except phone calls! I also find that my emails arrive on my computer long before my phone picks them up.

      You have inspired me, by the way, to create a page for this blog with metric conversions. I had no idea people all over the world would be reading it, so I didn’t think of it before. Here we tend to do most things in metric, but most of us still cook in the Imperial system. Being right beside the US we have to know both, because they’re our biggest trade partners and they only use the Imperial system.

      • judy
        April 9, 2013

        Help. I’ve a lovely chicken roasting with whole garlics and mushrooms. Bought sugar snap peas? But don’t know how to cook them. Never even saw them before. Can i chuck them into the roast?

      • thinkreadcook
        April 9, 2013

        No… don’t put them into the roast. Either stir-fry them in the oil of your choice, over medium-high heat for four minutes or so (put some onions/ garlic in the pan for a minute or two first), or boil them for two or three minutes so they’re cooked but still crispy. Hope this helps!

  6. judy
    April 8, 2013

    Aha. One can learn something new everyday. I hardly use – well not at all really -my lap top because my cat is on my knee most of the time. He’s much more preferable. Annoys me about the emails through. I had no trouble with my old simple phone.

    • thinkreadcook
      April 8, 2013

      When I use my laptop I’m usually sitting up in bed, and my cat stretches out on my legs so he can warm his paws under the laptop. He is a true sybarite, like all of them. 🙂

      • judy
        April 8, 2013

        LOL. If i don’t let the old man on he sits on the coffee tsble looking int my eyes and meowing none stop and trying to climb on top of it that i just put it away. Don’t you get a back ache?

      • thinkreadcook
        April 8, 2013

        Sometimes I do… but he’s an old cat (17) and I hate to dislodge him until the backache is actually happening!

        By the way, I’ve just put up a Metric Conversion page, to make my recipes easier. Thanks for pointing out to me that it would be good to have. I didn’t really anticipate people in so many different countries would be reading this blog, so I didn’t think of it before. I appreciate your help! 🙂

      • judy
        April 8, 2013

        It wasn’t my idea for you to put in the metric system. My cat, lotto, is 18. Lately when he wants something he meows and screws up.his nose. He looks so sweet. He’s sooooo bossy. And always gets what he wants surprise surprise. How old was.yrs when you got him/her? Lotto was a 3 month old naughty ball of fur.

      • thinkreadcook
        April 8, 2013

        You didn’t literally say I should have Metric conversions, but you inspired me so it’s your idea too. 🙂 When I got my cat he was 2 months old; he and his littermates were strays and their mother had died. He’s extremely cute to this day. Let’s hope he and Lotto have many more happy years ahead!

      • judy
        April 8, 2013

        Lets hope.

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