Barley, like most food, tastes good with salt. Parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, some pepper and a little bit of onion make it even better. Grain based dishes like this are generally considered salads, but I like to think of them more as healthy starch options when composing meals.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, when I was a child, a well balanced meal required a protein component, one or maybe two vegetable based dishes and a starch. I'm not sure when I last heard the word "starch" used in conversation, but it basically refers to something made of grains with a high concentration of carbohydrates. Bread, pasta, rice, and even potatoes (though they are a vegetable) count.
Today many people forgo this carb heavy portion of meals, but it's a hard habit to break. At my house, dinner wouldn't be dinner without squirreling away a good deal of energy in the form of potatoes, rice, pasta or bread.
Or as a whole grain salad. Farro, quinoa, millet, dried corn, barley, rice of many colors and all sorts of other grains can be made into updated versions of the starch course of my childhood. These grains are healthier because they include their outer coating and inner germ, which are made of protein, nutrients and fiber. When grains are refined this outer coating and germ are removed, as in white rice and white flour, leaving only the endosperm, which is made mostly of starchy carbohydrates.
Sadly, like the brown rice of the 1990s, whole grains are not always popular at the table. Generally viewed as bad tasting hippy holdovers from the days of nut loaves and tofu mayonnaise, they are looked over, passed up, and often sit forlornly, still filling their bowls, at the end of a meal.
I have to agree that sometimes whole grains don't taste very good. But the truth of the matter is, however, that well prepared whole grains can be quite delicious. I have found, in my more than forty years of research eating food, that "healthy" is often misinterpreted as "leave off the salt and fat." Which, of course, also leaves off the flavor. So treat your whole grains just as you would white rice, mashed potatoes and pasta: salt them, butter them, oil them, spice them, dress them up and then you and all of your friends at the table will love them, too.
Herbed Barley Salad (adapted from Dinner a Love Story p. 245):
This takes 5 minutes of prep, 50 minutes of cooking time.
It serves 4.
1 cup pearled barley
3 Tablespoons olive oil
handful of chopped herbs (parsley, chives, thyme)
3 scallions or 1 small shallot, chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Sort the barley and rinse it well (otherwise it can be slimy after cooking). Bring it to boil with 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer until the barley is firm but cooked through, that should take 30-50 minutes.
Drain the barley, then toss with the herbs, all of the olive oil, scallions or shallot, parmesan and a squeeze of lemon. Add salt and pepper, then taste. Add lemon, salt and pepper again until the salad tastes good.