Main Course/ Vegetarian

Parmesan Pearl Barley Grain Bowl

May 14, 2019 by Chef Molly
parmesan pearl barley grain bowl with asparagus and eggs

Have you tried pearl barley yet? It’s one of my favorite healthy grains to use in a grain bowl and is quite easy to cook. In this recipe, the barley forms a base topped with sautéed mushrooms and asparagus along with a soft-boiled egg. This recipe is a favorite weeknight staple of mine, because you can substitute whatever vegetables you might have in the crisper that day—and let’s face it, a runny egg makes almost everything better. It’s a win for my picky eaters too, because they can make their own bowl with whatever vegetables they want. To be honest, sometimes that is zero vegetables, but even then a good grain plus an egg is not a parenting dinner fail.

What is Pearl Barley?

Ok, let’s back up. With pearl barley, the husk and outer bran layers of barley have been removed, so it is less nutritious than hulled barley (the other common form of barley). Hulled barley has only had the husk removed, so it is higher in fiber. However, hulled barley can take over an hour to cook, which is way too long for a busy cook at the end of the day. Pearl barley cooks much faster, in 30-40 minutes. And, it’s still quite nutritious and has more fiber than white, brown, or wild rice.

pot of pearl barley with parmesan cheese

Where Should I Buy Pearl Barley?

You can find pearl barley in the rice section of many grocery stores. Personally, I prefer to buy it from the bulk bin section of Whole Foods or MOM’s Organic Market. The bulk bins are frequently refilled, so you know you are getting fresh grains—plus, less packaging waste!

Recipe Tips

  • Soft-boiling eggs is one of my ways to cook eggs, and it’s dead easy. Just bring a small, deep saucepan of water to a boil. (You need enough water to cover your eggs by an inch or so.) When the water is boiling, submerge your eggs and cook for 7 minutes—you want them to cook just at a gentle boil, so turn down the heat if the water is bubbling wildly and the eggs are banging around in your pan. Remove with a slotted spoon, then rinse under cold water until you can peel them. They peel easier when they are still warm. If you like your eggs to have a firmer yolk, add a couple of minutes to the cooking time. You can also substitute a poached egg or a fried egg—whatever you prefer!
  • The best thing about grain bowls are how easy they are to make. Once you have the basic formula down: grain + veggies + egg + sauce, you can switch almost everything around. Quinoa bowls are a particular favorite of mine when I’m low on time, because quinoa cooks quite quickly.

Ingredient Tips

  • As I mentioned above, this recipe is extremely versatile. You can substitute all sorts of vegetables for the asparagus and mushrooms: broccoli, cauliflower, sweet peppers, carrots, spinach, etc. And you can always roast them in the oven rather than sauté them on the stovetop.
sautéed asparagus and mushrooms
  • Speaking of asparagus, do you know the trick for trimming them? Just take a stalk and bend it near to the thick end. The tough, woody bottom of the stalk will snap off, and you’re left with the tender part to chop up for your meal. You can trim asparagus with a knife as well (about 1/2 to an inch off the bottom depending on how thick they are), but snapping asparagus is just more fun. And an easy job for little helping hands!
  • I call for freshly grated parmesan cheese in this recipe. Of course you can use the pre-grated kind, but freshly grated parmesan melts much better into the barley without clumping. My favorite technique is to use my microplane to grate parmesan cheese. This one is my preferred style, and can also be used to zest lemons or limes perfectly.

If you’re looking for other easy meals for healthy eating, check out my Creamy Orzo Chicken with Red Peppers and Mushrooms and Chef Molly’s Brown Rice Jambalaya.

Parmesan Pearl Barley Grain Bowl

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By Molly Madigan Pisula Serves: 4
Prep Time: 10 min Cooking Time: 40 min

This parmesan pearl barley grain bowl is served with sautéed asparagus and mushrooms, and served with a soft-boiled egg. Sriracha mayo puts it over the top!


  • 1 c. pearl barley
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2 T. butter, divided
  • 1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 3/4 oz.)
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. asparagus
  • 8 oz white button mushrooms
  • 2 T. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 t. sriracha hot sauce (or more, to taste)
  • 4 eggs



Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. While the water is heating, rinse the barley in a fine-mesh sieve. When water is boiling, add the barley and the salt. Turn the heat down to medium-high.


Bring to a boil again, but pay attention to it. Barley has a habit of foaming over when it cooks. Turn down the heat if it does. When the barley reaches a boil, turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for around 25 minutes. Test a piece—you want it to be soft and a little chewy. If it’s not done, continue to simmer for another 10-15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes. You can add more water if all the water is absorbed and the pan is dry. When the barley is done, strain it into a colander and then return it to the pan (you may not need to drain it if all the water has cooked out).


Stir in 1 T. butter and parmesan cheese and 1/4 t. pepper.


While barley is cooking, trim ends of asparagus and cut into 1-2 inch chunks. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel, and cut off any dirty stems. Then cut mushrooms into halves or quarters depending on their size.


Make sriracha mayo by combining the mayonnaise and sriracha in a small bowl. Taste, and add more sriracha if you like more heat.


Heat a large 12-inch skillet over medium high heat, then add 1 T. butter. When butter has melted, add mushrooms and cook until they release most of their liquid and begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Add asparagus and cook another 8-10 minutes until mushrooms are very browned and the asparagus is bright green and tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Bring a small, deep saucepan of water to a boil. You need enough water to submerge your eggs. When water is boiling, submerge your eggs and cook for 7 minutes. Turn down the heat if the water starts to boil wildly. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon, then rinse under cold water until they are cool enough to peel.


Put a scoop of barley into your bowl, then top with vegetables, a soft-boiled egg, and a drizzle of sriracha mayo.

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