All right, it’s official. I am so over winter. Although I can sense the days getting longer and the sky brightening ever so slightly, I just feel schlumpy. Is that a word? No. But I think you’re picking up what I’m putting down.

When the world is cold and dark, I want comforting foods that stick to my ribs and fill me with warmth. I’ve been on a creamy polenta kick lately, enjoying lots of the Life-Changing Loaf of Bread, rich curries, and coconut soup. One ingredient that really epitomizes hearty, winter food for me, is barley. Adding barley to a soup enhances the flavour and adds a rich creaminess to any broth. This is how I was introduced to barley in fact, but recently I’ve been cooking it whole and using it as a base for winter salads with add-ins like roasted veggies, toasted nuts, and even soft-boiled eggs. I find that it is really filling without that being heavy – something that is important to me even on the darkest days.

Barley comes is commercially available in a few varieties, as hulled whole grains, scotch barley, and pearled, of which most of us are familiar. The process of pearling barley is quite similar to the process used to remove the bran of grains like rice, turning brown rice into white rice. However, barley can be sold lightly pearled or completely pearled, which changes the taste, texture and overall cooking time of the grain. Of course the more pearled the grains of barley are, the less nutritious they are as so many trace elements are contained in the bran which is stripped during this process. It is for this reason that I encourage you to seek out hulled, whole grain barley (sometimes sold as “hulless” or dehulled” barley), scotch barley (in between hulled and pearled) or pearled barley that has only been lightly processed (sold as “lightly pearled” barley – see photo above). Steer clear of medium to fine pearled barley that is very light in colour with little of the brown bran still in tact.

Barley is a fiber superstar. In fact, one cup of barley provides the body with 13.6 grams of fiber – that’s over half of your daily recommended intake (the same amount of brown rice by comparison, contains only 3.5 grams of fiber). Barley is also known for its high selenium content – an essential trace mineral that is lacking in many of our diets. Not only is selenium needed for thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense, and immune function, but there are now clear links between selenium and cancer prevention. Selenium has been shown to stimulate DNA repair in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, as well as induce apoptosis – our cells’ mechanism for self-destruction when they are abnormal, worn-out, or damaged. [1]

This dish was inspired by the last of the citrus I found at the market and the realization that I hadn’t yet taken advantage of blood oranges this winter. Blood oranges are one of my favorite fruits. They are sweet like navel or Valencia oranges, but with an unmistakable tang, somewhere between a lemon and a raspberry. Their deep pigment is due to their anthocyanin content, a powerful antioxidant that is also responsible for the colour of cherries, black bean and ah-ha! Red cabbage too. It’s safe to say that this dish is full of fiber and life-giving nutrients, mighty enough to get you through this last stretch of frosty winter days.

Blood-orange Braised Cabbage on Barley
Serves 3-4

1 cup / 200g lightly pearled or hulled barley
2 – 2 ½ cups water or broth
¼ tsp. sea salt

1 small head red cabbage (approx. 500g /1 lb.)
2 medium onions
4 cloves garlic
knob of coconut oil or ghee
½ tsp. sea salt
5 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
½ Tbsp mustard seeds
2 whole star anise
black pepper
1 cup blood orange juice (from 3-4 oranges, any orange would be fine)
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 blood orange, segmented for garnish
olive oil to garnish
flat-leaf parsley (or mint), for garnish if desired

1. In a measuring cup, measure out 1 cup of barley, cover with water and rub grains together to wash. Drain and repeat until water is almost clear. Drain and place in a small saucepan with 2 cups water or broth and salt. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook until tender, about 40-50 minutes (if the liquid evaporates before the barley is cooked, add another half cup water). Remove from heat, let sit for a few minutes, then fluff with a fork.
2. While the barley is cooking, prepare all the vegetables. Slice the cabbage into thin ribbons, slice onions, mince garlic. Juice oranges, and segment one for garnish, set aside.
3. Heat a knob of coconut oil or ghee in a large stockpot. Add mustard seeds. When mustard seeds begin to pop, add fennel seeds, bay leaves, star anise, and a few grinds of black pepper. Let cook for about a minute. Add onions, stir to coat and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, and cabbage, stir to coat and let sit on medium heat for a couple minutes to caramelize the vegetables.
4. Next add the apple cider vinegar and stir – this will deglaze the bottom of the pot. Pour in the orange juice, stir well. With the pot covered, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and let cook for 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is cooked to your liking (I prefer mine al dente, tender but with a slight crispness still left).
5. Section a blood orange for garnish, set aside. Roughly chop parsley.
6. To serve, place a helping of barley on each plate, followed by the braised cabbage, a few segments of blood orange, parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy warm, or folded together as a salad in the warmer months.

I hope all of you out there in the Northern Hemisphere are still hanging in! We’re close now.

Love and sunshine,
Sarah B


Source: [1] 

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