Rose harissa adds a subtle floral and not-so-subtle spicy hit to this pearl barley pilaf. Add salty olives, sweet pan-roasted tomatoes, parsley leaves, lemon zest and leafy greens, and you have a one-pan-wonder that is fiery, salty, sweet and fresh.
Enjoy this vegan barley dish as a side or a main meal, or serve as part of a mezze spread. It also makes a delicious base for make-ahead work lunches!
If you are unfamiliar with rose harissa paste, go check out how to make rose harissa paste for more harissa information. There are instructions to make your own harissa paste, but you can, of course, also use the shop-bought ones.
If you can’t find rose harissa, you can turn any harissa paste or harissa paste substitute into rose harissa with a splash of rose water or rose petals.
Related Post: How to make rose harissa paste
What is barley pilaf?
Pilaf is traditionally a rice dish, though some regions use wheat. It involves cooking grains in stock with spices and vegetables or meat. The goal is typically to achieve cooked grains that do not stick.
This version is not traditional. But barley is my all-time favourite grain. I often use it as a white rice substitute when I want something more substantial and nutritious.
It is also downright delicious with a nutty, earthy flavour and chewy texture. And the grains do not stick – perfect for foolproof pilaf. Bonus? This one-pan meal is super easy to cook with very little washing up.
You can serve it alongside some roast veggies or chicken if you are feeding a crowd. The leftovers are delicious as a packed work lunch.
How to make pearl barley pilaf
This pearl barley pilaf gets a serious flavour boost with the rose harissa paste. And the combination of salty olives, sweet tomatoes, fresh parsley and lemon zest is the perfect friend to the spicy and floral harissa. Baby spinach plays a nutritious supporting role as leafy greens often do. You can use kale or another green leafy veg. Or omit it in favour of a side of roast broccoli.
Change the flavour of this barley side dish depending on what you have available.
- Add odds and ends lurking at the back of your fridge – or some cooked veggie leftovers.
- Sprinkle with toasted nuts and seeds or any herbs that need to be used up.
The steps remain the same. Cook your raw veggies, add your pearl barley and vegetable stock, finish it off with a few cooked veggies and sprinkle with more fresh flavours!
Step 1: Cook the raw ingredients
Start by gathering your ingredients and place a large frying pan (for which you have a lid) on medium-high heat.
Then add the olive oil and chopped onion and cook until the onions are soft and golden, stirring occasionally. It should take about 8 minutes. Turn down the heat if your onions are browning too quickly.
Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two until fragrant. Don’t let the garlic burn.
This is where I stir in the harissa paste and the tomatoes. But you can add mushrooms or any raw veg you have lurking in your fridge. Pearl barley pilaf is a great way to use up those odds and ends.
Step 2: Add the uncooked pearl barley and stock
Add the uncooked barley to the pan and mix it well with the harissa and onion – or whatever veggie mix you have going on. Toast together for a few minutes before adding the stock and a teaspoon of salt.
Turn the heat up high. Once it reaches a simmer, place the lid on the pan and lower the heat. Leave to simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Remove the lid and turn up the heat again for a brisk simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated and the barley is cooked but still retains a nice toothsome bite – about 10 minutes.
Add a splash of boiling water if the pan dries out too quickly.
Step 3: Stir in cooked veggies and leafy greens
Next, stir in the last of the veggies. This can be pops of flavour (like olives), leafy greens that just needs to be wilted, or any ready-cooked leftover veggies (think cooked broccoli, cauliflower or pumpkin).
Remove the pan from the heat and stir through chopped fresh herbs, lemon juice and a good grind of black pepper, reserving some herbs to scatter over the plated dish. Taste and adjust the seasoning if required.
Serve the pilaf straight out of the pan or spoon it into a shallow serving bowl. Scatter with lemon zest and the remaining chopped parsley.
Pearl barley pilaf with harissa – Tips & Substitutions
Can I use plain harissa instead of rose harissa?
You sure can! But an easy substitute is to add a splash of rose water to shop-bought harissa paste. Or omit the rose water if you don’t want the floral notes. If you can’t find any harissa paste, try one of these harissa substitutes.
Where to buy harissa paste?
Belazu makes my favourite harissa paste. Yotam Ottolenghi also recommends this product, so you know you can’t go wrong!
They are a UK-based company. But luckily, you can buy their harissa paste on Amazon in the US too.
You can also make your own rose harissa paste at home: How to make rose harissa paste
I don’t have vegetable stock. What can I use instead?
You can use any mild stock you have on hand. You can even use water. Just double the quantities of garlic and onion at the start of the recipe.
What can I add to bulk up the recipe?
If you are feeding a hungry crowd, you can easily bulk up this recipe by adding cooked pulses, like chickpeas, beans or lentils. If you use pulses from a tin, simply drain them, and stir through for 5 minutes at the end of cooking while the cooking liquid is still reducing.
Use this pilaf as an opportunity to use up odds and ends in the fridge. Mix leftover veggies in at the end of cooking – think leftover grilled broccoli or cauliflower. Or add the last few pieces of jarred artichokes or red peppers lurking in the fridge.
Sprinkle with fresh herbs or toasted nuts and seeds before serving. Some feta cheese is also a welcome addition.
Can I use leftover cooked barley to make pilaf?
Yes, you can. It’s a great way to use leftover cooked barley (or other cooked grains).
Replace the 1 ⅓ cups of uncooked barley with 4 cups of cooked barley. Add the barley without the stock in step two and heat the barley through. Add a splash of water to loosen the mixture, if necessary. Then jump to the last step.
Related Post: How to Cook Barley (Instant Pot or Stovetop)
How to serve this barley pilaf
This vegan pearl barley pilaf serves four people as a main when served alongside a simple green salad or Arabic chopped salad. And you can double the recipe to feed a crowd if you have a large enough pan/pot.
It is also an excellent base for grain bowls and packed work lunches. Make a large batch of harissa barley pilaf and divide it into portions and refrigerate or freeze it individually. Then, every morning before work, top the bowl with last night’s leftover veg or another handful of fresh leafy greens, some avocado, yoghurt and a scattering of walnuts.
Barley Pilaf with Rose Harissa, Tomatoes, Olives and Baby Spinach
- A large pan (or pot) with fitted lid.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled, bashed and sliced
- 3 tablespoons rose harissa, see notes
- 2 cups (400 grams) cherry or rosa tomatoes
- 1⅓ cups (300 grams) uncooked pearl barley
- 2 cups light vegetable stock
- ½ cup (100 grams) kalamata olives (about 25 olives), destoned and torn in half
- ¾ cup (15 grams) parsley, roughly chopped
- 3 cups (100 grams) baby spinach
- 1 lemon, juice and zest
- Place a large frying pan, for which you have a lid, on medium-high heat. Once hot, add the olive oil and the onion. Cook until the onions start to turn soft and golden, stirring occasionally. It should take about 8 minutes. Turn down the heat if your onions are browning too quickly. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two until fragrant. Take care not to let the garlic burn.
- Stir the harissa paste into the onion mixture and add the tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes start to burst – about 3 minutes. Put the uncooked barley into the pan and mix it well with the harissa and onion mix. Allow it to toast for a minute –stirring often – before you add the stock and a teaspoon of salt. Turn the heat up high. Once it reaches a simmer, place the lid on the pan and lower the heat. Leave to simmer gently for 15 minutes.
- Remove the lid and turn up the heat for a brisk simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated and the barley is cooked but still retains a nice bite – about 10 minutes. Add a splash of boiling water if the pan dries out too quickly.
- Stir in the olives. Add the baby spinach and stir through. Remove from the heat and stir through most of the chopped parsley, lemon juice and a good grind of black pepper, reserving some parsley to scatter over the plated dish. Taste and adjust the seasoning if required. Serve the pilaf straight out of the pan or spoon it into a bowl. Scatter with the remaining parsley and lemon zest.
- I prefer unpitted olives as I believe they taste better than the pitted ones. To use, I break the olives open by hand and tear the olive flesh into two halves.
- You will need a large pan with a fitted lid for this recipe. If you don’t have one, you can use a deep pot. But reducing the sauce may take longer. The larger the surface area of your pan, the faster the liquid will evaporate.
MADE THIS RECIPE?
I would love to see! Tag @non_guilty_pleasures on Instagram and use the hashtag #nonguiltypleasuresrecipe
This looks delicious! I have leftover cooked barley, can I use it in this recipe?
Hi Ella! Thank you for pointing this out. You can definitely use leftover cooked barley. Add the barley without the stock in step two and cook long enough to heat it through. Add a splash of water to loosen the mixture. Then jump to step four. I will update the post to include this.