Turmeric Barley with Caramelized Onions

Turmeric Barley with Caramelized Onions

The sweet smell of caramelized onions and the enticing sizzle of beef instantly draw my husband and kids into the kitchen. One of my favorite family dinners is turmeric barley with caramelized onions, sirloin steak, and spinach.

This bright and aromatic dish is surprisingly healthy; the grains and vegetables contain important vitamins and so much fiber. As a bonus, it’s simple to make and looks amazing on a plate. This one always gets the kids eating their vegetables.

This dish only uses two pans and is quite easy to cook. You’ll need about an hour of prep and cook time, but most of the work is just stirring and enjoying the delicious smells in the kitchen.

This is the perfect kind of thing to work on while the kids tell you about their day at school; they can even help you prep the vegetables and add the spinach as the last step. You can also whip up a fun dessert while everything is simmering, although that does kind of defeat the purpose of a healthy family dinner.

That Spicy Golden Color:

This dish simply wouldn’t be the same without the warm, golden color and delicious flavor of turmeric. This spice is used as a base for nearly every stage of the cooking process.

Don’t skimp on it when you’re boiling the grain; it’s responsible for the hearty taste and that beautiful shade of yellow. Sprinkle a dash on the steak while it’s frying for additional flavor.

Even if you think you haven’t tried this spice before, you’ll definitely recognize the taste – it’s been used in global cuisine for thousands of years. Try adding a little to your favorite savory dishes. Beans, grains, meats, and vegetables could all benefit from a bit of golden magic.

Turmeric isn’t just delicious; it’s also really good for you. The yellow color comes from a substance called curcumin. Curcumin can reduce swelling, work as an antioxidant, and even lower your cholesterol. There are plenty of reasons to sprinkle this spice in all of your favorite dishes.

With that in mind, remember that all spices can be too much if used in excess quantities. Use common sense and taste the food as you work, especially if it’s your first time making this dish. Too much or too little will completely change the flavor that you’re working with, and you can’t always fix it later on.

Making the Grain:

Barley is a delicious and healthy vegetable, but it’s also very texture dependent. If you cook it right, it’s chewy, filling, and amazingly tasty. If you cook it wrong, it can be tough and slimy. When kids are complaining about this grain, they might actually be complaining about an undercooked or overcooked texture.

My kids love eating this dish for dinner, and that’s because I take a little extra time to cook it right. Before you waste any of your expensive ingredients, try making a few practice pots of this new grain. It serves as the base for the entire meal. When you have soft, tender grain combined with perfectly seared steak, you know you’ve made a winner.

Intelligent cooking starts at the grocery store. Barley comes in both hulled and pearled varieties. The hulled version is a whole grain; it has more nutrition and a richer taste. The pearled version has less fiber, but it’s also so much softer and sweeter. Try both and decide which one you like better. It’s all about what makes the kids happy.

The Pearled version, which is what I used in my recipe, takes a little bit longer to cook, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your recipe. One cup of uncooked grain makes about three cups of cooked grain.

Start by rinsing the grain before you put it in the pan. Make sure your broth is already boiling. You also don’t want to add too much liquid; like with rice, this will result in a soggy pile of grain that no one wants to eat. The perfect amount of broth will boil away and leave you with a fluffy base for your meal.

Honestly, just cook this grain like a different type of rice. Your climate and the heat of your stove will result in slightly different textures.

Watch carefully at the end of your cook time and use a fork to check the texture. Once it feels almost fluffy, cover it, take it off the heat, and steam it for a few minutes. You’ll need to put it back on the heat when you add the meat and wilt the spinach on top.

This grain is more durable than rice, but it can still be finicky. You can buy it in bulk, so don’t be afraid to throw away a few batches until you’re sure you’ve got it right.

If it’s too chewy, add more water. If it’s too slimy, add less water or cook it for less time. If it keeps getting sticky, switch to the hulled variety; the pearled kind releases starch and can create a sort of gravy-like effect. Some people like this, it’s up to you.

Substitution Ideas:

In my opinion, this dish is perfect as it is. But for one reason or another, you might want to substitute a few elements.

Chicken is an excellent substitute if you’re looking to skip the red meat. You can also use chicken broth instead of beef broth during the initial steps.

For the vegetarians out there, tofu isn’t a bad option, but make sure that you cook it really well. The grain already has a squishy texture, so go for something a little tougher for your tofu. You might prefer to do more veggies instead.

Rice and quinoa are a fun grain to substitute. They fit really well with this spice palette. Rice is not as good for you, but it will calm a picky eater. Remember that rice and quinoa do not need to be boiled as long and might require a different amount of broth. The rice will also need a few minutes to steam to reach perfect fluffiness before you mix in the beef and onions.

Onions and spinach make this dish what it is. They have plenty of vitamins and quite honestly are fine on their own. If you really want to add more vegetables, consider carrot shreds to match that golden color or mushrooms to fit the savory beef palette.

Kale might be a fun substitute for spinach, but the texture is very different, so cook it a little longer. Be wary of adding vegetables like broccoli or asparagus; these will overwhelm the dish and turn it into something completely different.

Really, this dish is perfectly balanced without any substitutions. Try it the original way before you start making changes; you might have found a new family favorite.

Video Tutorial:


  • Vegetable oil, 2 tablespoon
  • Barley, 1 cup
  • Onion, 1 yellow
  • Spinach, 2 cups
  • Beef (fillet, chuck, sirloin or any beef of your choice), 1.5 pounds
  • Turmeric, 2 teaspoons
  • Beef stock, 3 cups
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon


  1. In a medium sized pot add one tablespoon of vegetable oil
  2. Add one tablespoon of turmeric
  3. Add the beef stock
  4. Add salt
  5. Add the barley
  6. Let it cook on low to medium heat for about 30-40 minutes
  7. In a separate pot, cook the meat.
  8. When the meat is almost cooked, add one tablespoon of vegetable oil.
  9. Add onion
  10. Add turmeric
  11. Add salt
  12. Add spinach
  13. When everything is mixed and cooked, combine to the barley.

Enjoy 🙂

Tips and Tricks:

  • Caramelized onions take a while to cook. Experiment with when you add them to the meat to get the best consistency.
  • Add the spinach very last. Wilting only takes a few minutes. Again, experiment to find a texture you like.
  • Cut your steak into bite-sized pieces. It will cook more evenly and everyone can just dive right into their meal.
  • This dish has heavy and spicy flavors. If you have friends over, serve it with a glass of red wine. White wine just won’t do it justice.