healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: beef, barley, and mushroom stew

This week's healthy slow-cooker recipe features barley, a yummy and healthy grain. I especially love the chewy texture.

Barley is one of the four oldest grains to be cultivated by humans.* Unfortunately, whole-grain barley is difficult to find. The more common pearl barley is not a whole grain. I haven't found a convenient place to buy whole-grain barley, so I reluctantly use the pearl version. It's just as tasty and contains fibre, but lacks the full-impact health benefits of whole grains.

I don't know if it's cultural predisposition, being raised on mushroom-barley soup as I was, but to me barley's natural partner is mushrooms. I prefer the cremini variety, but you could use any kind you like.

This recipe was adapted from my friend and cooking guru Matthew Bin. I got the barley idea from Matt, but I suspect this version would be too mushroomy for him.

2 lbs. beef cubes, preferably locally sourced and traditionally raised
1 large onion, chopped or run through food processor
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or food processor
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large rib of celery, chopped
16-20 cremini mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
1 cup barley
3 cups low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup of red wine
salt & pepper

Brown the beef on all sides, put in cooker, cover.

Soften the vegetables in olive oil, one type of vegetable at a time, or skip this step. Add vegetables to cooker.

Add broth and wine, season with thyme and S&P according to your preference.

Cook for about 4 hours on low.

Add barley, stir, cook for another 4 hours on low. If it's too thick, add more broth.

* The other three are wheat, rice, and millet. Corn and quinoa came much later in Mesoamerica and the Andes, respectively.

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