Barley: the sexy grown-up grain!

In most supermarkets, next to the rice, a curious little bag of grains awaits you. If you’re unfamiliar with them, the contents may look like rolled oats at first. But, oats they are not. This is barley (mugi in Japanese) and you should absolutely be cooking with it.

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Rolled barley.

There are different kinds of barley, but you are most likely going to run into one main type: “pressed barley” or “rolled barley.” As with rolled oats, the kernels have been run through a roller and flattened. This reduces cook time significantly without destroying the nutritional integrity of the grain. And oh, what integrity! Let me sing barley’s praises to you:

Barley:

  • Has a lower glycemic index than rice, meaning it’s better for those with diabetes or insulin resistance problems. It stabilizes blood sugar, whereas other grains tend to spike it.
  • It’s higher in fiber than oats and wheat, meaning it digests slowly and make you feel fuller longer. It’s especially helpful as a weight-loss aid, since you’re less likely to eat if you feel satiated.
  • It’s high protein. In fact, it has twice the protein of wheat. Vegans and vegetarians, take note!
  • Some studies have shown that it reduces cholesterol and blood pressure. I’ll believe it, though I’m fairly sure you can still commission a study to prove gay marriage causes cancer if you know the right people.
  • TASTES F***ING AWESOME. Fluffy yet pleasantly chewy and substantial, barley is that bespectacled nerd whom you never notice until the day you find out he’s actually a superhero from the planet Krypton, has a 401(k), and totally respects women. Yeah, that’s barley.
  • Cheap. I bought an 800g bag for ¥368 at my local supermarket. That’s much cheaper than rice, by the way.
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Kyushu Pride: We can grow barley, too!

Barley can be mixed with rice to make mugi-gohan, a popular sight on many a school lunch tray in Japan. It can also be toasted and strained into a deliciously refreshing tea, mugicha. But it stands up well on its own, too: use it in soups, pastas, salads, stir fries, or plain with a little salt and pepper. The possibilities are innumerable!

And did I mention, you can make it in your rice cooker? Of course, you can also make it in a pan; just stir every now and then to avoid burning.

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Wholesome goodness in about 10 minutes. Ii nee!

What are your favorite ways to eat barley?

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Other People’s Recipes: Vegan Lemon Bars

Bakin’ with tofu, no longer just for trustafarians!

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While I’m not a big baker – save for one cookie I make every year around Christmas – I’m a fan of the blog Chocolate and Zucchini, run by a lovely French woman named Clotilde (one of those names that sounds exotically beautiful, but that I could never pull it off with my own spawn). Browsing through her archives the other day, I spotted a recipe for vegan lemon bars made with silken tofu and lemon juice. I’m always on the lookout for delicious, butter-free dishes, since butter is prohibitively expensive in Japan (unless you’re in Hokkaido, I suppose). I have a theory this is why macaroons have become so popular in Japan – it’s the one cookie without butter!

There were a few noteworthy modifications made. I’d recently been gifted the Worst Citrus Ever, so I grated some of its fresh peel right into the filling mix until it took on a pleasant smell and a yellow tinge. I also added some powdered yuzu, because why not, we’re in Japan! I hate measuring, so the zest was added “to taste.” I also added a pinch of nutmeg to the filling and reduced the sugar by about 25%, and it still came out sweet as hell. Finally, for about half the bars, I pressed a single raisin into the center of where each bar would be before baking. Dane (mah life partner) said the raisin bars were better than the plain ones.

Instead of coconut oil, I used regular canola oil for the crust. It’s a crumb crust, and Clotilde recommends that the crumbs be “pressed loosely” into the pan. I pressed them a bit more firmly. Even then, the crust was a bit thicker than I would have liked, though the texture was wonderful. In the future, I’ll probably reduce the sugar from the crust, too, and maybe add a bit of flax meal if I’m feeling saucy.

All in all, these bars were outstanding, easy, cheap, and vegan. One caveat: despite the presence of tofu, they abound with sugar and carbs . . . so cut those pieces small and make your coworkers happy with a lemon bar giveaway.

While mixing up the batch last night, I remarked to my neighbor, Kay, that I bake more in Japan than I ever did in the States, which is hilarious because I don’t have an oven.