Food in Russia: what's hot in a cold country

Pearl Barley Porridge (super-cheap, super-tasty)


seems like I disappeared again for no reason. Sorry for that.

Today I tell you how to cook another porridge (or каша, “kasha”). It’s not a really popular dish now, but the recipe is quite old and authentic. I came across it in a book by William Pokhlyobkin, famous Russian culinary writer. It immediately got my attention because it was such an uncommon method to cook barley. I gave it a shot and wasn’t disappointed.

It takes quite some time to cook this porridge, but don’t worry, you won’t need to even stay in the kitchen. In fact, I mostly cook it at night so good hot porridge is ready when I wake up. (Yes, it’s a slow cooker recipe.)

Pearl barley is probably the cheapest cereal grain in Russia. It is commonly used cooked as a pilaf, not a porridge. Like a real “pilaf” with mushrooms, a side or instead of rice in soups.


Pearl barley cooked with veggies, pilaf-style

And pretty much nobody eats it sweetened. (Although there is a growing tendency to experiment with barley, like using it cold in salads, cooking until mushy using the method for risotto etc. – but it’s not very common.)

But this recipe is really different. Soaking the grains before made them tastier while slow cooking in milk softens them even more. Instead of “hard bullet-like grains” (as Pokhlyobkin says) you get pudding-like consistency and mild barley flavor.


Barley porridge with honey, great for the winter

Here are my step-by-step instructions:

  1. Take ½ cup dry pearl barley, wash it well and change water 2-4 times.
  2. Add 1 cup water and let it soak for 8-10 hours. I usually do it around and afternoon to have my porridge next day in the morning.
  3. Drain all water and put it in slow cooker with 2 cups milk (use whole or at least 2% milk). I use another device similar to slow cooker where you can set cooking temperature and time manually. I set it for 80 degrees C and 8-10 hours (the night).

Basically that’s it! Cooking milk on low for long time results in so called “baked milk” which is very popular in Russia yet I don’t know if other cuisines have something like this. It turns light brown and caramel-like while the whole porridge looks like rice pudding but with distinct flavor.

You can season this porridge as you like, with salt or sugar/honey, and Pokhlyobkin advised to serve it with some butter. Ingredients are so cheap and simple, it’s hard to believe it can be so good.

You’ll have 2 average portions from these ingredients. Feel free to adjust amount however you like, just keep the same proportions: 1 part pearl barley – 2 parts water for soaking – 4 parts milk for cooking.

Lastly, it’s quite interesting that similar way of cooking pearl barley is used by Finnes. Indeed, barley is popular there too, and even Pokhlyobkin himself said that in Russian cuisine tradition of soaking pearl barley is forgotten, yet Finnes and Karelians have it right.

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This entry was posted on December 20, 2013 by in Russian Recipes and tagged , , , .
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