lamb stew with purple prairie barley

Have I ever told you that I try to cook with one unfamiliar ingredient a week? Probably not. It’s not because I don’t love ya—it’s just that sometimes I fail miserably at cooking with said ingredient and it’s not a blog-worthy post. I’m not even going tell you what I’ve tried to concoct because it will either make you laugh (at me), cry (of shame) or never read this blog again (because you’ll think I’m weird).

Last week, I gave purple barley a go for the first time. Purple prairie barley, to be exact—I would never touch the stuff if it came from a plain, a basin, or a mesa. Come on. Even I have standards.

What resulted was a fresh and hearty stew that will easily have a permanent home in my recipe box.

To make it you’ll need a few carrots, one onion, garlic, a few sprigs of fresh oregano and a little salt and pepper.

Lamb. It’s the star of the show in this dish, so make it quality meat. I picked up two pounds of stew meat from the butcher.

The first time my parents tried to serve us lamb as kids I was livid. I decided to step up on my animal-rights soapbox and refused to eat the stuff. I believe a children’s picture book entitled Little Lamb was also strategically placed on the kitchen counter by my ten-year-old hands.

I don’t know what got into me. It was very temporary.

And here’s my experimental ingredient: purple prairie barley. I ran across it at the grocery while searching for new grains to try. It’s purple! What’s not to love?

You’ll want to start by browning the lamb in a little oil. Make sure to season it with salt and pepper first.

While the meat is browning, chop your veggies. Then transfer the meat to a plate, brown the garlic, and cook the onions and carrots for a few minutes. Remove the veggies, de-glaze the pan with a little red wine, and then pile all of the ingredients (including a little chicken, beef, or better yet, lamb stock) into the pot. Simmer for about 2 hours.

15 minutes before you’re ready to serve, finish by adjusting the seasonings and stirring in the fresh oregano.

Mmmmm. Tender, slow-cooked lamb….

…teeny, tiny punchy grains of barley…

…and a whole lotta I gotta get this in my belly NOW. I wish photos had smell-o-vision so I could impart to you the incredible scent of this stew.

I love the contrast between the tender meat and the crunchy little grains. The purple barley was much nuttier and more flavorful than I expected—no mushy, overcooked kernels here. The broth lent a hearty, rich flavor with notes of garlic and wine.

Try this soon. It’s different! It’s delicious! It’s experimental! And it worked! My toe hurts! And I can’t stop using exclamations!


Lamb Stew with Purple Prairie Barley

  • 2 pounds lamb stew meat cut into 1″ chunks
  • 2 cups uncooked purple prairie barley (found on the grain aisle of most hippie grocers)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups chicken, beef or lamb stock
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
  • 2 tablespoons oil, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat one tablespoon oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and lightly brown on all sides, about 5-6 minutes total. Transfer meat to a plate.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and saute the garlic for 1 minute. Add the carrots and onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until onion begins to become tender. Remove vegetables from pan.

Pour the red wine into the pan and de-glaze by stirring rapidly to incorporate all of the browned bits. Pour in the stock and add the vegetables, lamb and barley. Bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring twice during cooking. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add oregano and simmer for 15 minutes more*. Serve garnished with fresh oregano and a slice of crusty bread.

Serves 6.

*If you’d like a thicker broth, simmer stew uncovered for the last 15-30 minutes of cooking or add a 1:1 flour and water mixture in small increments, stirring well after each addition.

You’re pretty awesome.


  1. Looks yummy…..Now all it needs is some mash potato!

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