Roman gladiators were dubbed “hordearii”, Latin for “those who eat barley”, as it was believed that their energy levels would spike if they ate barley bread just before battle. Barley is known to have been grown for human consumption as early as 8,000 B.C. “Baere”, the Old English word for barley stems from farina, the Latin word for flour. In Roman times, bread was typically made with barley flour, rather than milder wheat flour, which is commonly used today.
Barley has prepared using a variety of interesting culinary methods. Haq, an ale-like beverage brewed from white or red barley is mentioned as far back as ancient Egyptian literature. Paximadia, a Greek barley biscuit similar to the Italian biscotti (they are both baked twice) was customarily soaked in broth to soften and enjoy. First domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, barley was often cooked into porridge. Tea made from roasted barley has been brewed for centuries in parts of Asia, and more recently it has been marketed as a popular non-caffeinated substitute for coffee. Popular in Italy, orzoro or caffe’ d’orzo is offered at almost every restaurant as a coffee counterpart. Its flavor is deep and nutty, lighter yet similar to decaffeinated coffee. Tsampo, the national food of Tibet is a paste of roasted barley flour stirred with butter and tea. Barley was a vital crop in Europe and individual grains were even used as a form of measurement. It is said that in the early 1300s England’s King Edward I declared that three barleycorns would serve as one inch.
The recent rise in health awareness has brought barley back into favor. It is full of nutrients and still touted to boost one’s energy. A satisfying and protein-rich grain, barley is heart healthy and easy to prepare. It can be used in salads or to make a creamy porridge-like dish much like you would make a risotto. But the most common use or barley in the United States is for the traditional Mushroom or Beef and Barley Soup which is easily made. The following is a favorite Boyer family recipe.
Beef & Barley Soup
Ingredients: 4 cups of water, 3 cups of beef stock, ½ cup of barley, ½ lb of diced beef, ½ cup diced onion, ½ cup diced celery,½ cup diced carrots,½ cup frozen peas,½ cup teaspoon fresh basil, 1 can (14oz) of diced tomatoes ,1 bay leaf,2 cloves of minced garlic, Salt and Pepper
Directions: In a Dutch oven or large sauce pan, brown the meat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is tender. Drain. Stir in celery, carrots, tomatoes, and barley. Add water and stock and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer for 45 minutes. Add peas and cook another 10 minutes. If soup gets too thick during cooking or while standing, add water.