Dish for a Cold Winter Evening

Rena's Basch's Veggie Barley Bake

Rena’s Basch’s Veggie Barley Bake

Veggie Barley Bake: A Rena Basch Recipe

Once upon a time, my friend Beth–a charming book club hostess–served this dish for dinner on a cold winter evening, and I went nuts for it.  I think of barley as a wonderful hearty and healthy grain, but it’s rarely served except as part of a beef barley soup. Barley has a rich nutlike flavor and an appealing chewy, pasta-like consistency. It’s quite versatile; you can use it as a breakfast cereal, as a substitute for rice in pilafs and risottos, in cold salads, and in hot soups and stews. Or in this casserole-like dish.

Beth said she loves serving this dish which she found in a very old, dog-eared cookbook; the kids eat it, it’s healthy with barley and lots of veggies, but it tastes like lasagna. What’s not to love about that? You can use whatever combination of veggies suits your fancy or your leftovers. You just need approximately 10 cups of chopped vegetables in all. If you have bits of different vegetables leftover in the refrigerator or freezer, this recipe is perfect for cleaning them up.

As I mentioned I went a little nuts for this dish, and have made many variations. Here are some versions:

  • The Book Club Selection: green beans and sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed, no need to pre-cook)
  • Locavorious This & That: As many of you know, I own and operate a locally grown frozen produce CSA, so I’m always trying to help folks use the frozen vegetables that come as part of their share. Some recipes call for a cup of this, or a cup of that. This recipe can use up all those leftover cups of this and that. For example: 16 oz frozen summer squash, (or ~ 4 cups fresh), ½ bag of frozen broccoli florets, ½ bag frozen green beans, a handful of red peppers and some leftover snap peas or shelled peas.
  • Another favorite: 16 oz frozen cauliflower florets (or ~ 4 cups fresh), 2 cups blanched greens such as kale or chard, and sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed) or more carrots

The Veggie Barley Bake Formula

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 average carrots, sliced
  • 9 – 10 cups chopped frozen or fresh vegetables
  • 3/4 cup barley
  • 15 oz frozen stewed tomatoes, thawed + ½ cup water *or* 1 1/2 cups tomato broth *or* 15 oz can of diced tomatoes plus a little water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat oil in large heavy skillet and sauté garlic and onion until softened, 3 -5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and sauté, stirring a few times, for 5 minutes. If using all fresh vegetables, may want to add a little cooking time here, maybe 3 extra minutes. Add barley, tomatoes/tomato broth, and seasonings; bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Transfer contents of the skillet to a shallow 4 quart casserole; stir in 1 cup of the cheese. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Veggies and barley should be tender. If not, cover and cook longer. Top casserole with remaining cup of shredded cheese if desired and return to oven uncovered for about 10 minutes.

More reasons to love barley: It’s good for you! It’s tasty! It’s full of fiber and nutrients! It can be used to make beer! Nice place to read up on barley’s health benefits is here.