Creamy mushroom barley pilaf

By | July 31, 2012

This recipe and story first appeared in the June 18, 2012 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine.

It began with a flour sifter. The kind you’d find at any Israeli grocery.

Growing up in America, I never thought twice about flour. If I needed some for baking, I simply measured it out of the bag and added it to my mixing bowl. There is a variety of halachic opinions on whether flour in America needs to be sifted, and if so, how that should be done. (Check with your rav.) But here in Israel, it’s unanimous: Flour gets sifted.

Checking food for bugs takes on an entirely new meaning when you build your home in Israel. It isn’t just the produce – it’s the rice, lentils, dried beans, peas, and chickpeas, barley, bulgar, popcorn kernels, nuts, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds (that one’s especially fun). And don’t even get me started on the raisins – I still get mine from family members’ trips to and from North America.

When it comes to flour, there are a few ways to do it: Sifting by hand with an inexpensive plastic sifter, springing for the electronic sifting machine, or purchasing bags of vacuum-sealed, pre-sifted flour. As newlyweds, my husband and I went for the cheapest option.

And so, along with the clothes-drying rack and the sponja stick, we bought a common flour sifter. For the uninitiated, the typical Israeli housewife’s sifter is a lightweight, round tool about 10 inches in diameter. The bottom is a fine mesh sieve, and the sides are raised to contain the flour as it passes through the sieve into a bowl placed underneath. At our local grocery store, it cost 30 shekels (about $8). I chose the one with the pink rim, of course.

Several flour-sifting sessions and one soap-and-water washing later, I was less enthusiastic about this sifter of ours. Dish-washing was supposed to make things clean, and here it had turned our sifter into a terrible gluey mess.

My husband scrubbed it viciously, then tried again with stronger brushes and soaps. We laid it out to dry in the sun for days at a time and even tried cleaning it with a toothbrush and then a toothpick. Nothing worked. It simply refused to be cleaned.

When erev Pesach came, I made an executive decision – the sifter had to go. And so it did.

A few days after yom tov, we heard something that we considered nothing less than revolutionary: Apparently, if you buy flour straight from the mill and put it in the refrigerator immediately, it does not need to be sifted because there was no chance for an infestation to develop.

This was less expensive than buying pre-sifted flour but achieved the same result without the use of a sifter – amazing! What was equally as amazing was the phone call we received just hours after learning this.

Our rav, who lived in our neighborhood and knew that we had been struggling with the sifting issue, called just to tell us that straight-from-the-mill flour was being sold out of a truck just one block from our apartment. We thanked him profusely and sped down the street, where we giddily purchased a giant 5-kilo (35-cup) sack of whole wheat flour. (We would have bought a lifetime supply had we not been planning to move that summer.)

As we worked our way through that sack, we got wind of the fact that most people clean their sifters by banging, not with soap and water. This reminded me of the way Israeli women are famous for beating their rugs before Pesach, so it made sense right away. I’ve since joined the ranks of bangers, regularly smacking my new sifter (with a white rim this time) outside our caravan.

It’s funny how problems that consume you can sometimes be solved quite simply. When we scraped the bottom of our flour sack, we went right back to buying regular flour at the regular grocery store, then sifting it in our regular sifter. I’ve become an absolute expert at sifter-banging, and each time I do it, I feel just a touch more Israeli.

Whole wheat flour is definitely the whole grain that I use most often. I put it in our challah, pizza dough, muffins, cookies, and even brownies. My favorite whole grain, though, is probably barley.

Barley is traditionally used in cholent, but I love adding it to lentil and vegetable soups and using it as the base of delicious salads and side dishes. This creamy mushroom barley pilaf is a simple recipe that doesn’t require an oven – always a bonus in the warm weather.

It gives you the flavor and creaminess of a good bowl of mushroom barley soup, all without making you break into a sweat. You’ll also find that the soy sauce adds so much flavor that no further seasoning is needed. This pilaf is terrific by itself, but with the mushrooms, scallions, and soy sauce, it would also make a nice addition to an Asian-themed meal.

Best of all, no sifting necessary.


Miriam @ Overtime Cook on August 1, 2012 at 3:35 am.

This looks delicious Tali! Y’know, when I was younger my absolute favorite soup was mushroom barley, so this is making me super nostalgic!


Rochie on August 1, 2012 at 4:12 am.

I love how your site is such a wonderful mix of interesting, great recipes and lovely snapshots of your life. I am living my aliyah dream vicariously through you.


Tali Simon on August 1, 2012 at 10:13 am.

Thanks for that, Rochie. As I’m sure you’d agree, all the sifting in the world is worth it. :)


Elana Kutscher on August 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm.

Wow, do I know what you mean about sifting. When I first got married I used the regular circular sifter, but I bake a lot, so my arms were really getting tired! I ended up treating myself to a 200 NIS electric sifter – best investment EVER! Now I can sift without the vigorous arm exercise.
Btw, recipe looks great too.


Esther on July 12, 2013 at 1:49 am.

This looks good..any way to make this non-dairy?


Tali Simon on July 12, 2013 at 6:59 am.

If you’re looking for a pareve creamy grain + mushroom dish, try a mushroom risotto. I don’t have a risotto recipe on the blog yet, but there are tons out there.


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