Orange-Glazed Carrots With Ramp Barley and Spinach Recipe

Tender, plump grains of barley stir fried with ramps and orange-glazed carrots.

Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Why This Recipe Works

  • Par-boiling the barley and then letting it cool in its cooking liquid creates grains that are plump and properly hydrated, but not blown out and gummy.

With the exception of rice and perhaps oats, I used to have a hard time getting behind whole cooked grains as anything other than soup filler. Wheat berries? Get 'em out of my face. Farro? I'd prefer them toasted and popped into Sugar Smacks, please. The reality, as it so often turns out, was that I actually just had a hard time getting behind poorly cooked whole grains.

Trouble with whole grains is that they don't soften the same way that, say, white rice does. They jump almost immediately from being rubbery and hard to blown out and mushy. In certain contexts, say, a good Short Rib and Barley Stew, I don't mind that blown out texture. I enjoy the softness of overly-hydrated barley grains in soup. On their own? That's a different story.

The best way I've discovered to get grains with perfectly tender but not-overcooked texture is to par-boil them in a pot of water until nearly done, then let them cool down in the liquid. As the water cools, the grains continue to hydrate, but they don't continue to cook, leaving them plump, but intact.

Want to get a bit more flavor into them? Try treating them a bit like fried rice. Drain the cooked grains, let 'em dry out a bit, then stir-fry them with a few flavorful ingredients. In this case, we're in the middle of ramp season, so I went with a handful of the sliced bulbs and leaves. The ramps flavor the oil (or butter, or whatever fat you cook them in), which in turn coats the grains, packing them with flavor. A handful of baby spinach leaves are a bright and tasty addition to the mix.

To top it off? I'm a huge fan of the sweet baby carrots that start showing up in early spring. The easiest way to cook them is to throw them in a pan with a bit of salt and sugar and a pat of butter and throw them over a burner. As the water reduces, the carrots cook, and if all goes well, they end up completely tender just as the liquid reduces to a saucy glaze which not only coats the 'rots, but gives you some flavorful juice to soak into your barley. A dash of orange juice and zest in the glazing liquid adds brightness to the mix, while a handful of toasted almonds adds crunch and completes the dish.

This is one of my favorite vegetarian meals in recent memory, and the stir-fried barley technique is one that I'll definitely be making extensive use of in the future.

May 2012

Recipe Details

Orange-Glazed Carrots With Ramp Barley and Spinach Recipe

Active 30 mins
Total 60 mins
Serves 4 servings

Tender, plump grains of barley stir fried with ramps and orange-glazed carrots.


  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch segments on a bias
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed juice and 1 teaspoon zest from 1 orange
  • about 10 ramps, cleaned, trimmed, and finely sliced (about 2 cups sliced ramps, see note)
  • 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for serving


  1. Add barley to a medium saucepan. Cover with 6 cups of water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until barley is just tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

  2. While barley cooks, place carrots in a large saucepan or skillet. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, sugar, 1 tablespoon butter, and orange juice and zest. Add enough water cover by 1/2-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a rapid simmer and cook, shaking pan occasionally, until carrots are completely tender and liquid has reduced to a saucy glaze, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and remove from heat.

  3. Drain barley well. Heat remaining tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high until foaming subsides. Add ramps and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant and lightly tenderized, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add spinach and 2 tablespoons water. Cook, stirring constantly until spinach is wilted. Add barley and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  4. To serve, transfer barley to a large plate. Reheat carrots, adding a tablespoon of water if sauce has broken and swirling until it comes together. Season carrots to taste with salt and pepper. Add parsley and toss to combine. Pour carrots and sauce over barley. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.


If ramps are unavailable, substitute with 4 sliced scallions and 2 minced cloves garlic.

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