Easy dinner recipes: Hearty barley-based stew, salad and risotto

An ancient grain used as far back as the Stone Age, barley doesn't just shine in cereals and breads. This hardy grain is perfect for lending depth to soups, stews and salads. Check out these ideas.

Lentil and barley stew: Craving something for cooler weather? This hearty lentil and barley stew comes together in under an hour using 10 simple ingredients plus seasoning, including onion, celery, carrot, dried rosemary, pearled barley and lentils. Add a little tang, garnishing the finished dish with crumbled goat cheese and olives. 

Mediterranean barley salad: For a Mediterranean barley salad, toss cooked barley with capers, olives, pine nuts and green onions. Brighten the flavors with fresh oregano and a simple dressing of lemon juice, mustard, vinegar and olive oil. Best of all, the salad can be made ahead of time; the recipe comes together in a little over an hour, and the flavor only improves with time.

QUICK & EASY: 99 terrific recipes in about an hour or less

Toasted barley risotto with broccoli: Using barley instead of traditional rice gives this dish nice nutty undertones and rich flavor. Start to finish, the recipe comes together in only 30 minutes

You can find the recipes below.

And for more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

RECIPES: 99 easy dinner ideas in about an hour or less

LENTIL AND BARLEY STEW

Total time: 50 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: This recipe is adapted from a 1971 edition of "The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook" by Jean Hewitt. I serve it with little bowls of crumbled goat feta cheese and olives on the side.

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 onion)

1/2 cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)

2 1/2 cups peeled chopped fresh or canned tomatoes

2 cups water

1/2 cup lentils

1/3 cup pearled barley

Salt and black pepper to taste

1/8 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1. In a large heavy saucepan heated over medium-high heat, add the butter and olive oil and saute onion until tender, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add celery and cook until softened, 5 minutes longer.

2. Add the tomatoes, water, lentils, barley, one-half teaspoon salt, one-fourth teaspoon pepper and the rosemary. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the barley and lentils are almost tender.

3. Add carrots and cook five minutes longer, or until the barley and lentils are tender.

Each serving: 286 calories; 9 grams protein; 35 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams fiber; 13 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 6 grams sugar; 321 mg sodium.

MEDITERRANEAN BARLEY SALAD

Total time: 1 hour and 10 minutes plus chilling time for the salad

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: Adapted from "The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics" by Jessica Porter. Umeboshi (plum) vinegar can be found at certain well-stocked and Asian markets.

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Pinch plus 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar plus 1 tablespoon umeboshi vinegar

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1/4 cup olive oil

5 cups water

2 cups pearl or hulled barley

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried and crumbled

1/3 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives

1/3 cup drained capers

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

1/4 cup finely chopped green onions

1. To make the dressing, combine the lemon juice, mustard, pinch sea salt, vinegar, shallot and olive oil in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. To prepare the salad, bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the barley with the remaining salt and bay leaves. Simmer until the barley is tender and all of the water is absorbed, 45 minutes to 1 hour total cooking time. Remove from heat and cool.

3. Place the barley in a large bowl, and stir in the dressing and oregano. Cover and chill for about 2 hours or until ready to serve. Before serving, gently stir in the olives, capers, pine nuts and green onions.

Each of 8 servings: 311 calories; 6 grams protein; 42 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fiber; 14 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 561 mg. sodium.

TOASTED BARLEY RISOTTO WITH BROCCOLI

Total time: 30 minutes

Serves 2 to 4

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup pearl barley

2 large shallots, minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 cups trimmed broccoli florets, separated into small buds

2 teaspoons butter

Salt, pepper

1. Bring the broth to a boil, then decrease heat so it simmers and stays hot.

2. Heat the oil in 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add barley. Cook, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add shallots and garlic. Cook until just starting to soften, about 2 minutes.

3. Add 1/2 cup broth. Simmer, uncovered, stirring often with wooden spoon, until most -- but not all -- of the broth is absorbed. Continue adding 1/2 cup broth and cooking in this manner until barley is tender, about 20 minutes total. Toward the end of cooking, add the last broth cautiously to avoid having excess liquid when barley is done. Risotto should be creamy but not runny. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated. Gently reheat over low heat until hot, stirring constantly and adding hot broth or water as needed.)

4. To serve, stir the broccoli and butter into the hot risotto; cover and set aside until the broccoli is just starting to get tender, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Each of 4 servings: 268 calories; 693 mg sodium; 5 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 45 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 8.36 grams fiber.

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