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Easy dinner recipes: Soup, salad and stew ideas for barley lovers

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You don't just have to be a cereal or beer fan -- or a natural foods junkie -- to love barley. This ancient grain has long been used in a variety of ways, and it's perfect for adding substance and heft to a variety of recipes, from breads to soups and stews, as well as salads. Check out these ideas:

Cucumber and yogurt soup with barley: For a soup at once filling and refreshing, you can't beat this recipe, which combines cool cucumbers and yogurt with fresh garlic, mint and dill, along with pearl barley and crunchy walnuts. The soup comes together in about 45 minutes, with flavors that only improve as it chills.

Mediterranean barley salad: This hearty salad combines barley, oregano, olives, capers, pine nuts and green onions tossed with a bright lemon vinaigrette.

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

Lentil and barley stew: For those chilly nights, you can't beat a rich bowl of hot lentil and barley stew. This simple recipe comes together in under an hour, and is perfect served with crumbled feta and olives.

You can find all of 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.

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

CUCUMBER AND YOGURT SOUP WITH BARLEY

Serves 6. 45 minutes, plus cooling and chilling times

1 cup pearl barley

3 cups water

Salt

1 pound small cucumbers

4 cups yogurt

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 3 tablespoons finely diced, seeded jalapeño pepper

1/3 cup finely diced red onion

1 tablespoon chopped mint, divided

3 tablespoons chopped dill, divided

1 to 1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Paprika

1. Cook the barley: Toast it in a dry 1-quart saucepan over medium heat until it smells browned. Remove the pan from the heat to avoid spattering and add the water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer until tender, about 35 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature.

2. If the cucumbers have been waxed, peel them. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and scrape the center with a spoon to remove the seeds. Grate the cucumber into a large bowl and add the garlic, jalapeño, red onion, 2 teaspoons mint and 2 tablespoons dill. Add the yogurt and cooked barley, season aggressively with salt, and chill for a couple of hours.

3. To serve, add just enough milk to thin to the consistency of heavy cream (the cucumber will release some liquid, and the barley will absorb some, so the amount might vary). Add more salt to taste. Divide the soup among 6 chilled soup bowls. Top with the remaining 1 teaspoon mint, 2 teaspoons dill, a sprinkling of chopped walnuts and a dash of paprika.

EACH OF 6 SERVINGS

Calories 323

Protein 15 grams

Carbohydrates 45 grams

Fiber 6 grams

Fat 10 grams

Saturated fat 3 grams

Cholesterol 15 mgp

Sugar 16 grams

Sodium 142 mg

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 Whole Foods 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.

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 sauté 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. 

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