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Beef and Barley (slow cooker meal)

In the winter months I crave warm food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I do not cook a lot of red meat for my family, and I am always trying to use different whole grains, so I figured lets use both at once.  To round out this trifecta of “don’t use often,” I made this entire meal in my slow cooking crock pot.


As a side note, I enjoy promoting whole grains that are (for the most part) less frequently used.  We see pasta and rice on the dinner table all the time.  I think it is time that we all branched out.  What is stopping us from doing that, you ask?  Simple.  We don’t know what to do with said whole grains.  How to prepare them?  What do they work well with?  Will my kids eat them?

I was skimming Yummly (my new favorite recipe app) and I found recipes for beef and barley.  While I rarely make barley (see reasons above), I love the nutty sweet flavor that it adds to food.  I had a bag of barley at home, so all that I needed was the beef.  The rest of the food I already had in my fridge.  As mentioned in previous posts, I rarely measure food when I cook, and I make things different ALL the time (rarely making the same dish twice), so this is my best guess at measurements.  Ok pressure is off and here we go:

Beef and Barley (Crock pot meal)

  • 2 packages ~ 2 lbs of chopped beef for stews (I like the all natural stew meat from Trader Joes) *
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups dry barley (rinsed)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3-5 organic carrots (I used the multicolored variety), sliced
  • 3-4 celery ribs (“sticks”), sliced
  • 1/2 package of chopped butternut squash (~1-2 cups)
  • 1 organic sweet potato (peeled or not), chopped
  • 1-2 cup haricot verts (or green beans), sliced
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes (I’m a fan of San Marzano), 28 oz**
  • 1 packet of dry onion soup mix
  • optional: 4-6 oz of something sweet (i.e. whole cranberry sauce, apricot preserves, fig jam, french dressing, etc)***
  • ~ 2 cups of water, split


Put all ingredients (except just 1 cup of water, and save 2nd cup for later as needed) in a crock pot and mix it up.

beef and barley raw
Beef and Barley stew, raw

Set slow cooker to low heat, and cook for ~ 6 hours.  Half way through cooking, you may want to add the second cup of water to hydrate the stew in case it looks too dry.  The barley will require and absorb a good amount of water.  The images will give you a good sense of how much water/moisture you will need.


beef and barley cooked
Beef and Barley stew, cooked


The was a winner in my house.  Even though my kids still like food “not touching,” the flavor was so good that once my kids started to eat, they didn’t even notice.  Hearty, flavorful, and a balanced meal.

Emma’s cooking hacks:

* When cooking meat in stews, I select those with a higher fat content.  Beef should be a little marbleized (which is why it may say “stew”).  If you cook with chicken, consider selecting skin on, and you can take it off when eating.  Otherwise the meat is at risk of drying out.

** I really like diced tomatoes because it doesn’t add seasoning or salt or sugar that you don’t need. That being said, when I made this stew I didn’t have a 28 oz can.  You can mix diced tomatoes, tomato paste, ketchup, marinara sauce, etc to give you an equivalent of about 28 oz.  (Consider that more concentrated versions can be less than 28 oz and just add water to the pot).  I would not recommend using only marinara sauce or ketchup, as it will be too sweet and salty.

*** Flavor depends on whether you prefer the stew sweet or not.  I like to add some sweet to balance out the salty flavor.  I appreciate the balance, whereas some really like a onion soup and tomato base only.  It’s up to personal preference.  Canned whole cranberry sauce is my favorite addition, but on this day I didn’t have, so I used a little bit of apple butter.  Not my favorite choice because it had a distinct apple flavor, but it still worked.

One last note, these vegetables that I added worked really well.  Other vegetables I would happily add would be hearty kale, green cabbage, Brussels spouts, parsnip, etc (and in that order).

Get creative.  Get cooking.  And enjoy.

~ Emma