Lentils and Barley

This is one of my all time favorite winter dinners. It’s hearty, nutritious, delicious, and super inexpensive. And it’s great with an egg on top.

I think I’ve always enjoyed lentils, but ever quite known how to cook them. They’re a great source of protein, fiber, and general nutrients, and at $1.99 for a 2 pound bag (which is like… 16 servings?), you can’t go wrong. I recently discovered the delights of barley–the mild nuttiness of the barley compliments the creaminess of the lentils quite nicely, if you ask me.

This takes about an hour (?) to cook, and it will make your house smell delightful. You can use rice instead of barley (or you can use any grain that takes about 30-60 minutes to cook when being simmered), and you can use a different color lentils if you want (but pink lentils cook in about 20 minutes and turn to mush, so I would steer away from mixing those with a grain when cooking them).

As with anything I cook, this “recipe” is extremely adaptable–mold it to fit your tastes, please.

Here’s what you “need” (I cooked a double batch here, but these are the amounts for 1 very big and satisfying serving):

1/2 cup of lentils (rinsed and picked through for debris, but I have never found debris, so I stopped looking for it… I’m a risk taker)
1/4 cup of barley (or other grain–brown rice is nice with this, but barley is better)
onion — let’s say 1/2 a cup? I just add however much I end up chopping up.
garlic, quantity adjusted to your tastes
ginger–however much you would like. of course.
spices (i used turmeric, chipotle, cumin, a bay leaf, salt, and pepper here. I’ll also sometimes use garam masala, a curry spice mix, or really whatever else i find in spice cupboard. It would work with sage/rosemary/thyme type flavors. or like. anything.)
2 1/4 cups of water — both lentils & barley have a 1:3 food to water ratio, so this is 3*(0.5 cups lentils)+3*(0.25 cups barley)= 2.25 cups water. make sense?

Before you start chopping, put your water on the stove (in a pot, if you please), and start the water boiling process. If you’re using a bay leaf, please add it now.

Meanwhile, chop up your onion, garlic, and ginger and measure out your lentils & barley.

confession: I only use wooden cutting boards when I'm cooking with the camera to share recipes with you all.

You can add the onion, garlic, ginger to the water whenever you’re done chopping it.

Then, once the water/onion, etc is boiling, add in your barley and lentils.

Bring it back to a boil…

…and then cover it, and turn the heat down low, letting this mixture simmer for, oh, about 45 minutes. Maybe 60 minutes. I don’t really know. A while.

I generally don’t add the spices until the barley and lentils are at least 90% cooked. Just taste the little nobules to figure out the percentage of cooked-ness — you’ll know. Here, I just wildly threw cumin, turmeric, chipotle, salt, and pepper on there. You can always add more spices if you want. And if you overdo it on the spices, mix in a little bit of plain yogurt (I like greek yogurt the best) at the end to cut some of the spiciness. Then cover the pot again, and keep it slowly bubbling away for a bit longer.

Another confession? I don’t know what turmeric actually tastes like — I just add it to stuff because it turns it orange and saying that I cook with turmeric makes me feel fancy.

Basically, at this point, it can be declared Cooked whenever you want. I usually leave it bubbling & uncovered for a little bit (read: 5-10 mins?) to cook off some of the liquid.

Okay, perfect.

Then, if you’re interested in adding an egg (and I don’t see why you wouldn’t be), cook one. I like poached eggs so so much, but they’re not exactly the easiest things to cook, so I’ve been using fried eggs recently instead.

I almost lit the camera wrist strap on fire when I took this picture (the camera was like. In the pan. and the strap was hanging below, far too close to the flame...)

Bam, toss the egg on top and enjoy.

I’ve never tried freezing this, mostly because whenever I cook it I want to eat it immediately, but I’m sure that it would freeze well. But don’t try to freeze the egg, okay?

Cost breakdown?

1 pound of barley = $2.19 = ~2 cups = 8 quarter-cup servings = $0.27
2 pounds lentils = $1.99 = 16 quarter-cup servings = $0.25 for half a cup
onion/garlic/ginger/spices? = ~$0.?? — let’s call it 50 cents, just to be generous. Very generous.
dozen eggs = $1.89 = $0.16 an egg

So this is all ~$1.18. Gorgeous.



11 Comments to “Lentils and Barley”

  1. I would love to see you on a cooking show…I like the free form cooking concept. Venturing to get some lentils and barley tonight…I also like that this is lactose free since Brandon is lactose intolerant

    • i like the term, “free-form cooking”

      i’ve been struggling to come up with a more PG term than “culinary bull shit artist” — i think this might just be it!


  2. Adria and I are trying this tonight for dinner, I will report back 🙂

    Glad I found your site today.

  3. I was shopping today and there were lentils and barley right on top of each other. I immediately remember this recipe and said – I’ve got to try it!!!

    It’s my weekend meal to try. Each weekend I’m trying to make a new recipe and expand my meal selection. I’m a bit leery of the egg, but I’m going to try it. I love eggs!!! Of course, I never imagined throwing it on top of something like this.

    I’ll be livin’ on the edge this weekend – woo hoo!!!!

    • Hi, Susan! Let me know what you think, especially about the egg! As you might know from poking around on here, I haven’t yet come across a food that I don’t think could be improved by adding an egg. 🙂

  4. It was definitely delicious. I think we went a little to light on the spices for our pallet but was definitely tasty, filling, and nutritionally friendly.

    • Hey, Avi! Thanks for checking out my site & being the first person to ever officially review one of my “recipes”! Glad you guys enjoyed it. And yeah — this dish can take a lot of spice.

  5. Sarah, do you think I can do this in the crockpot? Maybe 3 – 4 hours? I just tried lentil soup for the first time a few weeks ago and I really loved them. This looks great!

  6. I’m going to experiment with this in the next week or so, and I’ll let you know. P.S. – crock pots are the best things EVER and you should totally get one. My favorite part is setting things to cook overnight and waking up to a delicious, hot meal that smells amazing. I may or may not have eaten black bean soup for breakfast on more than one occasion because of this. 🙂

  7. Hi, I found your site yesterday. I was looking for a way to cook lentil and barley together properly, but by mishap came up with something better. My barley and yellow lentil were small grain. So I cooked barley first with some tarragon with ground salt-free seasoning although I would have preferred fresh herbs(but funds are tight) lol. So, I added the lentils after about 1/2hour which I then let cooked for another 20 minutes. Previously I thought I was going to use this concoction with my salads. Huh, big mistake or so I thought. The lentils turned to mush which affected the texture of the barley. Not nowing what to do, I let it cool and put the mixture(which didn’t taste bad mind you) in a sealed container and refrigerated it overnight. Took it out this morning and let it get room temperature. I then decided to try my hand at creating a veggie pattie by adding small dustings of veryfine cornmeal and corn starch to make it more binding, small chopped carrots, pumpkin seeds and ground sage. I cooked them on both sides in light-olive oil until golden brown. I softly toasted my corn tortilla, layed mixed green salad on it along with pattie then drizzled with asian-sesame dressing. Voila! An intial disappointment became a delicious, hearty but light addition to my recipe file and my heath regime. I thank you and your site for getting me started.

    I reside in Northeast Philadelphia, PA

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