Recipe: Barley with Shiitake Mushrooms & Sage

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Coco Morante)

Here’s a quick and easy side dish worthy of any fall table! Barley makes a satisfying and easy side dish, especially when seasoned with sage and studded with intensely flavorful shiitake mushrooms. A serious upgrade from the usual pot of steamed rice, it might just steal the spotlight from your main dish.

(Image credit: Coco Morante)

This dish comes together just as quickly as a pot of regular rice or quinoa. You just need to sauté the mushrooms while the barley does its thing on the back burner, and your side dish is ready.

The Best Way to Cook Barley

The grains are boiled rather than steamed. I use this fail-safe, forgiving method for barley, wheat berries, and other grains:

Cooking the barley in a generous amount of water, pasta-style, means you won’t risk them sticking to the bottom of the pan, or not cooking all the way through. Oh, and there’s no need to salt the cooking water, since the soy sauce from the mushrooms will season the grains thoroughly when you toss everything together.

(Image credit: Coco Morante)

Fresh shiitake mushrooms are one of my favorite fall ingredients. They’re so savory, with a soft chewiness and great affinity for garlic and sage. As the mushrooms brown, you’ll end up with lots of fond, a.k.a. tasty, toasty bits, sticking to the skillet. Not to worry — a splash of soy sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice go in at the very end, deglazing the pan. The barley grains are coated thoroughly, and not a speck of flavor is left in the pan.

Serve the barley alongside roast chicken and vegetables, or as the base of a grain bowl topped with tofu and greens. Omnivores and vegetarians alike will enjoy this versatile side.

(Image credit: Coco Morante)

Barley with Shiitake Mushrooms and Sage

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups (250 grams) pearled or quick-cooking barley
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped finely
5 medium sage leaves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
3 1/2 ounces (about a dozen medium-sized) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a medium (3-quart) saucepan, bring two quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add the barley and cook until cooked through and chewy, 15 to 30 minutes depending on the variety. When done, drain the barley into a colander in the sink and set aside.

While the barley is cooking, heat the olive oil and garlic in a medium or large (10- or 12-inch) stainless steel or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When bubbles begin form around the edges of the garlic (after about 1 minute), add the sage and mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms have begun to brown around the edges and golden-brown bits have begun to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat under the skillet, then add the soy sauce and lemon juice. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, stirring them into the mushrooms and sage.

Add the barley to the skillet and stir until the grains are coated and the mushrooms are distributed evenly throughout. Serve warm.

Recipe Notes

  • The chewy, savory pops of mushroom absolutely make this dish. If you’re unable to locate fresh shiitakes, substitute crimini, oyster, or white button mushrooms in their place.
  • For a gluten-free variation, substitute any GF grain for the barley (brown rice or quinoa would work well), and use tamari instead of soy sauce.
  • If you prefer, you can cook the barley in a rice cooker using a 2:1 ratio of water to grains, and set the cooker on its “brown rice” setting if it has one. Drain any remaining water at the end of cooking.