Barley Side Dish with Mushrooms and Leeks

This barley side dish recipe is a healthy, meatless side dish. This recipe comes together quickly, is tasty and uses a grain that you can feel good about.

Healthy Barley Side Dish with Mushrooms and Leeks - Get the recipe from


In previous years I thought everyone talked about health in January because getting healthy was part of their New Year’s Resolution. This year I know the real reason that we focus on healthy foods in January.

The reason: Do you remember when I told you about that Irish Whiskey Cake? How about the Chocolate Cake with Candy Cane Stripes? The Layered Ice Box Cookies? The Coffee Float with Raspberry Ice Cream? The Peppermint Hot Chocolate Float? And how about all those New Year’s Champagne Cocktails? Well see, the thing is, I actually consumed ALL that stuff in the past month. Yes, all of it.

I think it’s a coincidence that we start eating healthier at the time when we make our New Year’s Resolutions. If it wasn’t the start of a new year, that if the new year began on February 1st instead of January 1st, I bet we would all still wake up at the end of December and decide to swear off wine, chocolate and butter for a month or so. It’s not about the new year, new beginnings and all that hope for change. It’s about all that over-indulgence and about noticing that the jeans we slipped into on November 30th are making red marks across our rounded bellies on December 31st.

So here’s what I’m doing. I’m not making a New Year’s Resolution to be healthy from now on. I’m just recognizing that I overdid it in the last month and it’s time to take it easy for a bit.

And I’m easing into it by starting with a food that is pure comfort despite its healthiness: Barley. I adore barley. It takes me back to my childhood kitchen and to my parents’ restaurants where there was often a big pot of soup full of barley and veggies on the stove.

But barley shouldn’t be relegated to soupdom forever. Barley makes a fantastic side dish. You can use barley the way you use rice by serving it plain beside some fish or under a stir fry and, as with rice, you can also add some flavors to it while it cooks to make a Barley Pilaf. Unlike white rice though, barley is super-healthy. It’s a whole grain packed with fiber and nutrients.

Now, I’ll admit that barley does have a long cooking time (similar to brown rice) but there is a product called Quick-Cooking Barley that is really delicious and takes only 15-ish minutes to cook. This recipe calls for the quick-cooking variety so that this barley side dish recipe can be made on any busy weeknight.

Two brands of Quick-Cooking Barley to look for on your grocery store shelves: Quaker and Mother’s Natural.

Oh, and if you enjoy this barley side dish, you should also check out my recipe for Greek TabouliIt uses bulgur, another healthy and delicious grain.

Greek Tabouli Recipe

I hope you enjoy this barley side dish recipe.

Barley Side Dish with Mushrooms and Leeks

This is a simple weeknight side dish that is healthy, hearty, tasty and easy. If you've never cooked with leeks before, you'll get a little lesson about how to chop them and clean them below. If this is your first time cooking with leeks, you might want to do step #2 first so that you have your leeks ready before you start the recipe.


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 ounces of sliced button or cremini mushrooms
  • 3 medium-sized leeks
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 11 oz (311g, about 2 cups) qick-cooking barley (that's one typical boxful)*
  • 2 cups unsalted chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar


  1. Warm the olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms. Stir to coat them in oil and then leave them alone for a minute or so until the undersides start to brown. Stir. Cook for 3-5 more minutes until they're lightly browned all over, stirring once or twice.
  2. Meanwhile, grab a leek and locate the hairy end (the root end). Trim off the roots by cutting about ¼" off of the bottom of the leek. Then make a long cut through the leak from where the hairy end was up to where the coarse green leaves begin. At this point you've cut the cylindrical base of the leek in half lengthwise. Give the leek a quarter turn on your board and make another long cut from ex-hairy end to coarse green leaves, thus quartering the cylinder. Grasp the leek by the coarse green leaves just past where your two long cuts end. Starting at the ex-hairy end, chop the leek up by making cuts that are ¼" apart perpendicular to the two long cuts you previously made. Keep chopping up the length of the quartered cylinder until you get to those coarse green leaves. Discard the leaves and put the chopped leek into a big bowl. Repeat the cutting and chopping of leeks with the other two leeks gathering all the chopped leeks into the large bowl.
  3. Put the bowl in the sink and fill it with lotsof col water. Swish the leeks around. Any dirt that was trapped inside the leeks' layers will fall out and sink tot he bottom of the bowl.Scoop out the leeks and discard the dirty water. Sometimes I do this rinsing process twice if the leeks were particularly dirty. (Lately the leeks have been super-clean and I've even gotten away with just rinsing them in a colander instead of using the bowl method.)
  4. Add the chopped leeks to the mushrooms along with ¼ teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir. Cook for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally until the leeks are softened a bit.
  5. Add the barley, the chicken broth, the water and the bay leaf along with ½ teaspoon more of salt. Stir. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until the barley is tender. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes (all of the liquid should be absorbed at this point). Drizzle in the cider vinegar, fluff the barley with a fork and serve.

*Quick-cooking barley is sold in a box. In my current grocery store it is right near the normal barley, which is near the rice. In my grocery store in Toronto I think I remember it being near the boxes of tabbouleh. That was about 3 feet away from the barley, so close by, but not right next to it. There are two brands that I know of. There are links to both below this recipe so you can go see what the boxes look like.




Easy and quick Barley Side Dish with Leeks and Mushrooms by @cookthestory

Now tell me, what are your favorite dishes to make when you’re trying to get healthier?


15 Responses to “Barley Side Dish with Mushrooms and Leeks”

  1. Shaina — January 6, 2013 @ 6:14 pm (#)

    mushroom and leeks…love that combination! and barley is delicious in soup, so it’s gotta be just as good used in a side dish as well! this sounds great.

    whenever i’m trying to bounce back after a big junk-food binge, i go for a really colorful salad or a light broth based soup loaded with veggies.

    Happy New Year!

    • Christine Pittman — January 7, 2013 @ 1:02 pm (#)

      Shaina, I agree! Salad and brothy soups are the best after the heavy holiday food. You just reminded me how much I like doing an asian noodle soup with a spicy broth and lots of veggies. I’m putting it on my meal plan for the week right now!

  2. Suzanne — January 6, 2013 @ 9:21 am (#)

    I love mushrooms, and I love leeks, Haven’t given barley too much of a try, but this recipe may change that. I make lots of salads when I’m trying to eat healthier.

    • Christine Pittman — January 7, 2013 @ 1:03 pm (#)

      Suzanne, If you do try out barley, in this recipe or in another, let me know what you think. I love the stuff but am not sure if it has universal appeal or if I just love it because I grew up having it in such comforting soups.

  3. Marlene — January 4, 2013 @ 11:22 am (#)

    I have never made anything with leeks before. And this might be the recipe that sends me to the store for leeks. Yes, January starts the healthy season, especially after all those baked goods we all made during the holiday season. Two months of baking. I am with you on the healthy recipes. Thanks for sharing on Foodie Friends Friday.
    Your co host from Nosh My Way,

    • Christine Pittman — January 7, 2013 @ 1:04 pm (#)

      I was happy to participate in Foodie Friends Friday. Can’t wait for the next one! If you do try out leeks, in this recipe or another one, let me know what you think. They are such a nice change from onions as the undertone of a recipe. Milder and, I don’t know, maybe meatier in flavor.


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