Barley is one of my favorite types of grains. I think pearl barley overall is widely under-used; what else is as affordable, interesting, wholesome and filling, and provides as lovely a texture? If anything, it takes a little longer to cook than most other grains (around 30 minutes if boiling and 45 minutes risotto style), but the end result justifies the longer cooking time by far, at least in my book.
We go through quite a bit of it, primarily for risottos which I think, if you do it the right way, come out as good or better (well certainly different) from traditional aborio rice risottos. I also use barley in gratins and instead of pasta in macaroni-and-cheese style dishes (hence barley, cheesy béchamel sauce and some type of vegetable and perhaps meat addition.) It's great in every way and perfect to have on hand in the pantry.
But one way I haven't really used barley that much in, is soups. And why haven't I? It makes so much sense, right? A while back I read an article in the NY Times dining section about making interesting vegan soups, and one technique the cook used in order to produce a creamy factor was to add barley and then blend part of the soup. The barley would then lend a creamy/full texture to the dish without the use of any dairy products.
This has since really intrigued me; blending cooked barley - it sounded just kind of weird, almost like blending rice (never heard of it!), but promising nonetheless.
So the other day I had some leftover red chili sauce after making enchiladas, and fully cooked frozen chickpeas and I decided to make something out of it. Enter the usual suspects: onion, carrots and celery in combination with this chili sauce and about half a cup of uncooked barley in relation to four cups of cooked chickpeas and I had one great soup on my hands. I blended part of the soup, and it was just perfect.
Barley as a part of a soup like this adds almost a meaty texture; chewy and hearty. It was rich, fulfilling and we had seconds and even thirds. Immediately I came to thinking, why haven't I added barley to vegetarian chilis and a variety of soups and stews earlier? The result is so perfect and you certainly get a texture and overall richness which I don't quite know how to accomplish otherwise.