Heritage Barley (Better than Rice) Pilaf!

If I could credit only one dish with getting Thampy to give up rice, this is it. It’s known as “Better Than Rice Pilaf” around our house. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner—and we do!




6 cups water

2 cups whole grain barley, well-rinsed and drained (I like Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Barley)


4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

3 cloves

2 cardamom pods

2-inch cinnamon stick 

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper


Sauté vegetables:

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (divided)

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, rough chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, rough chopped

½ teaspoon salt (divided)

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (divided)


1 tablespoon truffle oil (optional)


Crowning flavor: 

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon New Indian Gremolata

1 tablespoon Go Nuts! or toasted pistachio

1 teaspoon Magic Finishing Spice


Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add barley, garlic, seeds, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Stir occasionally. Cook to desired consistency (al dente). Barley is very forgiving—just add water as needed.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add fennel slices in a single layer and cook undisturbed for one minute. Turn over when lightly browned and brown the other side. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Remove from heat and set aside on a platter.

In the same sauté pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and add red and yellow bell peppers. Cook undisturbed over high heat for one to two minutes until lightly charred. Season with remaining
¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Remove from heat and set aside on a platter.

Toss cooked barley with sautéed fennel and bell peppers. 

Check seasoning and drizzle with truffle oil, if you’re feeling decadent! 

Crowning flavor: Top with New Indian Gremolata and Go Nuts! or toasted pistachio. A sprinkle of Magic Finishing Spice adds another flavor boost!



Barley is a whole grain with very high fiber, vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content. Eating barley can improve your digestion and heart health, and it lowers your risk of diabetes. It has fewer calories than brown rice or quinoa.

Disappearing Leftovers: Finely slice ¼ onion, 1 clove of garlic, and ¼ cup of cabbage. Sauté in sesame oil for a couple of minutes and add leftover barley. Top with a fried egg for a great breakfast. Heritage Barley Pilaf also freezes well..

Pairs well with fish, meat, dal, and/or a salad. Company coming? Start with Nawabi Tuna Kebab Burger. End with mango slices or seasonal berries on a puddle of cardamom-scented Mango Lassi.