Cook | Biblical offering, barley, is headliner of Omer recipes

We are in the Counting of the Omer, which marks the passage between Passover and Shavuot and between the barley and wheat harvests. Originally, an omer’s worth of barley would be brought to the Temple for a grain offering for each of the 49 days beginning on the second day of Pesach until the evening before Shavuot, thus connecting the Exodus with the receiving of the Torah. Now, we simply count the days of the Omer and offer blessings.

How much was an omer of barley? One estimate puts it at about 3.64 liters in volume, or almost a gallon. Barley was widely grown in the time of biblical Israel and is one of the “seven species” celebrated in the Torah.

Barley and Lentil “Mujadara” substitutes barley for rice in the popular Middle Eastern dish. The Barley-Citrus “Tabbouleh” uses the grain instead of bulgur or cracked wheat for this Israeli favorite. Both have other untraditional ingredients to amp up flavors.

For about 4 cups of cooked barley, rinse 1 cup raw, pearled barley and add 3 cups of water and  ¼ tsp. salt. Bring to a low boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook. Cook for 35-45 minutes until tender but not mushy. For about 2 cups of cooked lentils, rinse ½ cup unsoaked, dried lentils and add 1 cup water. Bring to a simmer, cover and keep at a low simmer until tender and not mushy. Timing will vary from about 20 to 40 minutes. Drain. Mix in ¼ tsp. of salt.


Barley and Lentil “Mujadara”

Serves 6-8

2 Tbs. olive oil

2 cups onions, very thinly sliced

2 tsp. minced garlic

2 tsp. minced fresh ginger

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

1 Tbs. ground cinnamon

1 Tbs. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

4 cups cooked pearled barley

4 cups cooked brown or green lentils

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1/2 cup chopped tomato

Heat oil over medium low heat in large frying pan or sauté pan. Add onions. Sauté for about 45 minutes until cooked down and caramelized (lower heat if needed to avoid burning), stirring occasionally. Raise heat to medium. Stir in garlic and ginger, and sauté until garlic is golden. Stir in red pepper flakes, cinnamon, cumin, salt and black pepper. Sauté for a minute. Remove a quarter of the onion mixture and reserve. Mix in cooked barley and lentils and stir in balsamic vinegar. Place on serving platter. Top with remaining onions, chopped cilantro and tomato. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Barley-Citrus “Tabbouleh”

Serves 4

1/2 large pink grapefruit (see note)

1 small orange

1 small tomato

2 cups cooked pearled barley, room temperature

1/2 cup chopped cucumber (in 1/4-inch pieces)

1/4 cup minced red onion (see note)

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped mint

2 Tbs. lemon juice (or more as needed)

3 Tbs. olive oil (or more as needed)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. cumin

1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional)

Peel, section and chop grapefruit and orange into ½-inch pieces, discarding white pith. Place in a large bowl along with any juices. Chop tomato into ¼-inch pieces and add to fruit. Stir in barley, cucumber, red onion, parsley and mint. In a separate small bowl, make dressing by mixing lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin. Stir. Taste, adjusting seasoning if needed. Mix with barley mixture. Add additional lemon juice and/or olive oil as needed. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Top with feta cheese.

Note: If making in advance, add onion and grapefruit right before serving.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Josie A.G. Shapiro. Faith blogs at Contact her at [email protected].

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].