Before 70 C.E.—the year of the destruction of the Second Temple—Jews
associated Passover not with matzah, but with barley, as the holiday was
celebrated as a pilgrimage festival at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Newly harvested barley could not be eaten until the first sheaves of grain were
offered as a tithe to the Temple in Jerusalem on the second day of Pesach, which
was then known as Hag Ha-Aviv
(the holiday of spring). As Leviticus
23:10-11 states, “When you enter the land that I am giving to you and you reap
its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest. He
shall elevate the sheaf before the Lord for acceptance on your behalf.” Barley
then served as the mainstay of the Jews’ diet because of the plant’s
adaptability in Israel’s different climates and its resistance to dry desert
heat. With God’s blessing, new barley crops would survive bad weather and
thrive, averting famine in the land.
Ironically, the rabbis later categorized barley as one of the five
chametz grains (along with wheat, spelt, rye, and oats) that were not
kosher for Pesach!
This spring, after Passover, enjoy the following barley recipes. However, if
you decide to cook this chametz during Pesach instead, know that you’re
siding with the biblical rather than the rabbinic tradition.
Eat in good health!
Spring Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon
This recipe is more nutritious than typical risotto and has that same risotto
consistency, plus the natural starch in the barley grain adds creaminess to the
dish. The use of saffron mimics the classic Risotto Milanese, which some connect
to the Venetian Jewish community.
2 3⁄4 cups vegetable broth or water and 1 vegetable bouillon cube
teaspoon saffron threads, slightly crumbled
stalks, tough ends removed
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
onion, diced into 1⁄4 inch dice
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1⁄2 cup white wine, Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
15 grindings of black pepper, or
Finely grated zest from 1⁄2 lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
cup grated fresh Parrano or Parmesan cheese
1⁄4 cup toasted, slivered
almonds (1 Tablespoon removed for garnish)
- Combine the broth and the crushed saffron threads in a 1-quart pot and bring
to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, cut the asparagus stalks on a diagonal into 1⁄2-inch pieces,
reserving 11⁄2 inches
of the tip.
- When the liquid is simmering, drop in the asparagus stalk pieces and blanch
for 2 minutes, until they’re bright green and slightly tender. Using a slotted
spoon, transfer them to a small glass bowl. Add the tips to the broth and cook
for 1 minute, then remove from the broth and set aside.
- Keep the broth warm over low heat while you prepare the barley.
- Heat a 3-quart saucepan over high heat for 10 seconds. Add the extra virgin
olive oil and heat for another 10 seconds. Mix in the onion and garlic and
reduce the heat to medium. Sauté the mixture for about 4 minutes, until the
onions and garlic are slightly golden.
- Add the barley and stir to coat.
- Pour in the wine, stirring constantly until it is absorbed.
- Add all of the simmering broth, stir, then cover and reduce the heat to low.
Stirring the mixture every 5 minutes or so to prevent sticking and burning, cook
for 30–35 minutes, until the barley is tender. If all of the liquid has been
absorbed and the barley appears too hard and/or dry, add another 1⁄4 cup of
water and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the salt, pepper, and lemon zest until
- Gently stir the grated cheese into the mixture. When it is evenly
distributed and melted, add the almonds and the reserved asparagus pieces minus
5 asparagus tips.
- Immediately serve the barley risotto in a dish garnished with the reserved
Tablespoon of almonds and the 5 asparagus tips. Serves 4 as an entrée or 6-8 as
a side dish.
- If you want an even richer consistency to any hot barley dish, add 1–2
Tablespoons of unsalted butter to the hot barley mixture before serving.
Summer Barley Salad
One summer I created this recipe combining herbs in my garden with store
produce. To make the salad more substantial, I used pearled barley as a chewy
base. The herb Mexican mint marigold tastes like tarragon and pairs well with
tarragon vinegar. If these ingredients are not available, you can substitute
basil and sweet balsamic vinegar.
2 cups of water or low salt vegetable broth
1⁄2 cup pearled barley
1⁄2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 medium cucumbers
1 medium zucchini
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove of
garlic, finely minced
1–2 Tablespoons tarragon vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh tarragon, Mexican mint marigold, or basil
Finely grated zest of 1⁄4 lemon
Pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper to taste
Watercress or arugula for garnish
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and stir in the barley. Simmer, partially
covered, for 25 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside in a medium bowl.
- Toss the barley with the olive oil.
- Peel, seed, and cut cucumbers into 1⁄4-inch dice.
- Cut the squash and the zucchini into 1⁄4-inch dice. Blanch for 2 minutes in
boiling salted water. Drain and run under cold water. Drain again.
- Trim 1 inch off the green ends of the scallions, then cut into 1⁄4-inch
- Mix the mayonnaise in a small bowl to make a smooth sauce. Add the remaining
dressing ingredients, stirring to combine.
- Mix the barley, squash, zucchini, and scallions in a bowl with the dressing.
- Pour the mixture into a serving bowl. Garnish with watercress or arugula
leaves and serve.
- Blanching vegetables for a short period of time not only softens them
slightly, but brings out their natural sweetness and color.
Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, is the
author of the new URJ Press book, Entree to Judaism. She also teaches at her own cooking
school, writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet, and serves as a
culinary scholar-in-residence throughout the U.S.
For answers to your cooking questions, email AskTina@urj,org