Beef Barley Bowls

Hot Autumn Days

Believe it or not, summer just began. At least for us. The warmest time along the northern California coast runs from September through mid-November. While people in other parts of the country are pulling sweaters out of closets in-bloomand beginning this year’s romance with braised and roasted foods, we are donning shorts, enjoying actual full days of sunshine and still up to our ears in monster zucchini. Our California lilac is even confused.

Despite the warm weather here, September still makes me long for fall foods. How to plunge into fall without heating up the kitchen? Hearty grain bowls are a perfect option for my warm NorCal autumn.

Go to the Recipes:

This is not a “healthy” grain bowl to stave off the munchies for a few hours in the afternoon. In an act of grain bowl heresy, there is not a leafy green to be found (and really, who needs more kale?). If you want healthy and light, google “grain bowl recipe” and you will be rewarded with 13,500 alternatives (literally). My goal is a dish that is big enough to satisfy a large carnivore’s appetite from dinner until breakfast the next day.

So this is my attempt to marry summer flavors (zucchini, peppers and grilled steak) with winter comfort foods (fennel, barley and beef).

Grilling the vegetables and meat keeps the dish fresh and summer flavored. I cooked the barley with some beef broth to add more flavor and heft to the grain. I first made two different vinaigrettes for the dish to see which captured my summer-in-autumn mood better.

I preferred the tangy red wine vinaigrette, My husband (MontaraManDan, the aforementioned large carnivore) preferred the soy vinaigrette with its earthier flavors. The next day I decided that chimichurri sauce was an even better option. It’s lush, smooth and bright. I included the recipe links for all three. Don’t want to bother making your own? Buy a bottle of your favorite flavor at the nearest food emporium.


It’s just meat and veg on the grill. What could go wrong? Right?
I could pretend that this meal flowed directly from my head to a perfectly presented Michelin star worthy feast, but let’s leave perfection for Facebook, m’kay? The first time I made this a bunch of things went wrong:

  • I used beef stock for all the barley liquid. Tasted a little too much like Campbell’s soup. I’m still torn as to whether I should have used chicken broth instead of beef stock.
  • I added salt to the barley while cooking. Combined with the salt in the sauce and the beef stock it was a bit salt-lickish. Still edible, but not right.
  • I neglected to remove the membrane from one half of the skirt steak. Really, really chewy! I may use a better quality steak, like ribeye next time and avoid the cheap meat hassle altogether.
  • I sliced the fennel without leaving the root and intact. Half of it went into the flames.
  • I sliced the meat very thin, but left the pieces pretty long. I also plated the large-ish veggies directly from the grill. Knives don’t go with bowls. Really! Luckily a hospital visit was not required. Unfortunately we were awkwardly sawing at chunks of stuff in a bowl.

Try not to do these things.



Beef and Barley Bowls

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Grain Bowls for Hot Autumn Days

For the steak:

  • 1 lb skirt steak (membrane removed) or flank steak
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the Barley:

  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbsp finely diced shallot from one small shallot>
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1½ cups beef stock
  • 1½ cups water
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the vegetables:

  • 1 medium zucchini, thickly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 fennel bulb, cut into quarters or sixths, leaving root intact on each piece
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and quartered into flat planks
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ hot-house (english) cucumber, diced
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced


  1. Marinate the steak. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Marinate the steak in the juice/oil mixture for 1 hour. Bring it to room temperature during the last ½ hour.
  2. Cook the barley. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until just translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the barley and stir to coat the grains, 1-2 minutes.  Add beef stock, water and black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 30-40 minutes until the barley is soft, but still chewy. Drain any liquid that is left after the barley is fully cooked. Fluff to separate the grains.
  3. While the barley is cooking assemble your chosen sauce. 
  4. Grill the veggies and steak. Prepare grill and heat to medium high. Brush veggies with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Veggies and meat will go on the grill at the same time and you can just pull things off as they are ready.
    • Grill zucchini, fennel and red pepper until just tender, turning occasionally (about 8-12 minutes total). The red pepper will finish first, so you will need to pull it off early, the fennel will finish last.
    • Grill steak 3-4 minutes per side until it reaches an internal temperature of 130º – 140º for medium rare. It is best to not overcook this cut of meat as it gets quite chewy if it is cooked above medium. Move steak to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest 5 minutes while the bowls are being assembled.
  5. Assemble. Cut vegetables into bite size portions. Spoon barley into individual serving bowls. Top with sections of zucchini, red pepper, fennel, and raw cucumber. Slice beef against the grain into thin strips (it should be the thickness of fajita meat) and then cut each strip into bite-size portions. Add steak to the bowls. Sprinkle scallions over the top. Serve your chosen dressing on the side.


Red Wine Vinaigrette

  • Servings: 3-4
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Red Wine Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped dill
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped oregano
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients in a mason jar or other small closed container. Shake vigorously until the dressing is emulsified (that is until the oil and vinegar no longer separate), about 1-2 minutes. Alternatively, you can put it all in a blender and puree until the sauce comes together.


Soy Vinaigrette

  • Servings: 3-4
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A tangy soy flavored sauce that works for both salads and grain bowls.

  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp finely minced shallot from one small shallot
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp miso paste
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients for the soy vinaigrette in a mason jar or other small closed container. Shake vigorously until the dressing is emulsified (that is until the oil and lemon juice no longer separate), about 1-2 minutes. Alternatively, you can put it all in a blender and puree until the sauce comes together.


Chimichurri Sauce

  • Servings: 3-4
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An Argentinian sauce that works for both steaks and grain bowls.

From Food and Wine

  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced (2 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tbsp oregano leaves, chopped
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

This recipe from Food and Wine is a delicious chimichurri option. To use it as a grain bowl sauce, I suggest you emulsify all the ingredients, versus leaving the oil separate as in a classic chimichurri. Just put everything in a blender and puree until the sauce comes together.

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