8

I am making a cottage pie (mince with mashed potatoes on top) recipe that requires 100g of pearl barley, and 600ml of stock. Right now, I can't get either pearl barley or husked barley.

The first step is place the barley, stock and salt into a small pan and boil for 25 mins, and it gets about another 1hr of cooking after that.

I was hoping lentils would be a good alternative, I have red, green and black, but what would that do to the amount of liquid and that first cooking step?

I found the recipe online: https://foodism.co.uk/recipes/yeo-valley-beef-barley-cottage-pie/

9
  • 5
    I’d personally be inclined to stick with another grain. Wheat berries, groats, etc. You might check if your cereal/breakfast aisle of the supermarket has cracked wheat cereal, or something else similar. Bulgar or pinhead oats might also work, but they’ll be smaller. You can also skip the precooking on bulgar, or brown rice, I would think.
    – Joe
    Sep 17 at 11:55
  • 2
    Part of the problem is that some varieties of lentils just turn to complete mush when overcooked. I don’t cook them as often as I should, but I seem to remember red being one of the problem ones. (Or maybe I’ve just overlooked them more than the others)
    – Joe
    Sep 17 at 11:57
  • 2
    @Joe, we really are in old mother hubbard land here right now, the shops and supermarkets are focussing on the top seller lines, which aren't grains and and dried pulses they are crisps and chocolate. So I listed everything available, well I do have mung beans.
    – WendyG
    Sep 17 at 12:12
  • 4
    @rumtscho (and Joe) my lentil replacement for mince is a mixture of red and Puy or "lentilles vert" (the small green ones). The red provide body to the sauce while the Puy provide texture.
    – Chris H
    Sep 17 at 12:19
  • 2
    Whereabouts are you? Around Bristol and Cardiff there are a few gaps on the shelves in the major supermarkets but I haven't had trouble getting my first choice or a close substitute in recent weeks.
    – Chris H
    Sep 17 at 12:26
4

The reason to include the barley is to bulk up the filling and use less meat:

all the flavours of a proper beef stew, while the barley reduces the amount of beef needed while still retaining all the flavour

If you want to stay close to the recipe (and it's up to you whether you want to or not), you probably want to use something that retains a bit of a bite and doesn't disintegrate into your sauce. Instead of barley, most whole grains should work, from wheat berries to rice, and I would pick wholegrain rice over white, given the choice. Considering that you need only 100g, you could - if you are really determined - ask your local bakery for a cup of whole grains, they might have wheat or spelt berries for some of their breads, or check an organic store if your local supermarket is too limited.

Lentils are always mushier, because they have a soft center in a thicker skin. Once that breaks, the lentil is prone to disintegrate. You can mitigate that a bit if you cook them with salt (contrary to the often-repeated advice to avoid salt). Flavor-wise, lentils are a common choice as meat substitute, so while you wouldn't be that close to the original, the results should still be good. Choose a type of lentils that is used for salads - so black and green (verte de puy) sound good. They will darken your sauce a bit, but that's fine considering the given ingredients. Do not precook them, if you are going to simmer them quite a while in the sauce as per the recipe - or if you do, only very briefly, five to ten minutes perhaps. You may want to adjust the lentils-to-liquid ratio though. The rule of thumb is one part lentils to two parts of water, while barley needs between 2.5 and 3.5 parts, so 150g lentils plus 550g water should give you roughly the same consistency as 100g barley + 350ml (absorbed) +250ml (leftover for the sauce) water. But that's just a ballpark number, cooking time and evaporation will influence this, so use common (cooking) sense and aim for the usual cottage pie filling consistency.

2
  • 2
    I also really like chickpeas for bulking up meals and reducing the amount of meat in them. Although I don't know if the size of them works in this application.
    – stanri
    Sep 17 at 21:42
  • @stanri most chickpeas are a bit too big to camouflage among beef mince - chana dal might work if OP can find them, they tend to be smaller in size Sep 28 at 12:17
10

Cottage pie is essentially a ground beef stew with mashed potato on top, and barley is a completely optional ingredient in beef stew, so you could leave it out and not worry about replacing it, there's already plenty of starch from the potato topping. I make beef stew relatively often and I like barley in it, but if I run out I just leave it out and it doesn't make that much difference.

The big issue with a substitution is flavor - barley isn't flavorless but it isn't what I might call strong either, it tends to absorb flavor from the liquid around it. Lentils have a comparatively strong flavor, as do many other grains and pulses. Rice is the closest easy to find substitution and it won't effect your flavor profile. If you do decide to use lentils I'd suggest making a test dish to get the timings right and make sure you actually like the taste of the result.

4

It seems that the pie is made with properly pre-cooked barley. 15 minutes should be enough for it to get well hydrated, even if the texture can be still a bit al dente at this point. This actually makes it easier on you, since it means you don't have to do complicated adjustments.

All you need to do is to choose your substitution, choosing an appropriate cooking method that doesn't produce excess water, or in the worst case, drain the water after cooked, and stop your method while the substitute is still slightly harder than you'd eat it. Then add it to the pie just like you would do with the barley, without any adjustments to other ingredients or liquids.

The last paragraph is deliberately vague, because the choice of liquid amount and cooking method will depend on what you choose to use as your substitute. As said in comments, lentils are not a very close substitute, and you can certainly do better. Most grains, and some pseudograins like buckwheat, will get you closer to the original (the smaller pseudograins like amaranth will simply lack the bite of the larger ones). If you do use lentils, green will be the best choice, especially if unpeeled.

2
  • 1
    There are a few kinds of black lentils, some would work well, as would green. Red wouldn't. This would be quite a change but an acceptable one. I'd prefer it over bulghur, though brown or wild rice would be good grains, or the wheat grains sold for adding to home made bread.
    – Chris H
    Sep 17 at 12:22
  • 2
    Careful - the recipe precooks the barley for 25 minutes and then continues to simmer it in the sauce. - But for "softer" substitutes, I'd also go with undercooking in step 1, lest it turns to mush.
    – Stephie
    Sep 17 at 12:22
2

I would suggest using small pasta such as fregula. This will similarly soak up the flavour, have a roughly similar texture, and cook in the stew. You can probably use the same weight.

If fregula is unavailable, consider smashing up some other dried pasta (e.g. spirals).

1

You could consider oats, similar texture or just omit either. It just seems like filler anyway. You already have the potatoes for carbs. This just seems like a starched filled redundancy.

1

Farro is a grain I like to use a lot that is somewhat similar in consistently to barley. And the cooking time / process is similar. So it would be a good replacement.

1
  • This is similar tot the wheat grains already suggested (perhaps in a comment), but not quite the same. It could work.
    – Chris H
    Sep 28 at 12:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.