Barley is probably the oldest grain on the planet. It has a mild sweetness and, when cooked properly, a chewy but tender texture. Barley soup is standard dinner fare, but this grain is also an excellent candidate for a creamy risotto or a simple pilaf. Pearled barley is the most widely available—you'll find it in the supermarket—and the easiest to cook. It has been abraded many times to remove the tough outer husk, and this lightens it to a buff color. Some varieties are white because all the bran and fiber have been polished off, which means it's less nutritious. Brownish-gray whole-grain barley (also called hulled barley) is less widely available. You'll most likely find it in a specialty or natural-foods store.
1 cup raw = 3 to 4 cups cooked
Your best bet for finding fresh grains is to buy from a source with high turnover. Also, buy small quantities so the grains don?t hang around too long.
Soaking pearled barley in water for a few hours or overnight will shorten the cooking time but isn't required. Whole-grain barley, however, does require an overnight soak and may need longer cooking. Use 1 part barley to about 3 parts liquid. Bring the barley to a boil in salted water or broth, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender but toothy. Cooking time ranges from 30 to 60 minutes. For a creamier consistency, gradually add hot liquid in small increments, risotto-style, adding more as the grain absorbs the liquid and stirring all the while.
Stored in airtight containers in a dry, dark, cool place, most grains will keep for up to a year.