Think, Eat, Be Healthy

Barley Pilaf Recipe

barley pilaf

Hulled, not pearled, barley pilaf is a great alternative to rice and a good way to add more healthy whole grain to a diet.

About this recipe

The definition of pilaf is: rice cooked in a seasoned broth, usually a meat stock, and often with added vegetables. This pilaf differs from the traditional version in several ways. This recipe uses barley instead of rice and coconut milk instead of chicken or beef broth. There is also dried fruit in addition to vegetables.

Barley is interchangeable with rice in most recipes. The cooking times and amounts of liquid needed are identical. It is important to use hulled barley rather than pearled barley; it is the barley equivalent of brown instead of white rice – more of the natural nutrients are left intact on the grains and there is much more fiber. Un-hulled barley can be used but the cooking time is much longer to get the grains tender.

Barley pilaf is a high-fiber whole grain dish for every healthy whole food diet. Barley does have a small amount of gluten and it is a grain. This recipe is vegan as written, but feel free to use chicken, beef or other meat broth for the liquid if desired. This is a savory dish, slightly tart from the fruit and aromatic from the fresh rosemary.

Barley pilaf

Barley pilaf just before adding the water to the pan.


1 cup hulled barley                                                                                  1/4 cup dried tart cherries

1/4 cup dried unsweetened cranberries                                              1/4 cup diced red onion

1/4 cup diced yellow bell pepper                                                           1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper                                          1/4 cup coconut milk

1 1/4 cup water                                                                                        1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

barley pilaf recipe

The finished barley pilaf recipe before serving.


1. In a small saucepan with a fitted lid, heat the coconut oil over medium heat and lightly sautee the diced onion, diced pepper and fresh rosemary.

2. Remove from the heat and add all the remaining ingredients. Stir together well.

3. Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil.

4. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, put the lid on the pot and check after 25 minutes. The barley should be tender and the liquid should be absorbed. If there is still liquid or if the barley is still hard, simmer another 10-15 minutes, adding more water if needed.

Barley pilaf

Barley pilaf served with pork rib roast and beans with collards.


Barley is not as starchy as rice so sticking or overcooking is not common. Even when fully cooked, barley will retain more “tooth” and nuttiness than rice. Un-hulled barley will stay even more firm than hulled barley and has a slightly stronger flavor.

This recipe can be the basis for hundreds of variations. I also like barley cooked in chicken broth with peas, corn and pearl onions. To go with meatloaf, I might use beef or lamb stock for the liquid with onions and garlic caramelized in butter. Just let your imagination run wild.

Grains in general have gotten a lot of bad press lately. The gluten-free craze and paleo diets have both vilified grains. But all studies continue to show that people who eat the most whole grains live longer. I have a hard time arguing with that evidence. But the key here is “whole grain”: stay away from white rice, pearled barley and white wheat flour. There is protein and starch in the core of these grains but most of the nutrients, antioxidants, flavor and fiber are in the outer layers. The rule is whole grain for whole food health.

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