Everything old is new again. Kids are gardening. Hipsters are canning. My sister is raising chickens in her back yard. Raw milk supposedly cures all ills (unless you get a bad batch). After half a century of kitchen tables loaded with boxed potatoes and white bread, whole grains are making star appearances in our meals.

Barley is the unsung hero of vital hearts and happy tummies everywhere. A bowl of barley speaks to my soul.

It never occurred to me that barley could be so much more than chewy round things floating in beef soup until one sentence in a dusty copy of Vilhelm Moberg's "The Emigrants" caught my eye.

"The child had eaten of the barley porridge."

Minnesotans of Scandinavian ancestry grew up eating rice pudding, yet barley pudding was the substance of celebration across Scandinavia before our Nordic relatives left the region. They were definitely on to something.

Barley is rich in fiber, vitamin B1, phosphorus, magnesium, niacin and loads of other nutritious ingredients, which means it is good for us. Personally, I am more concerned with its flavor and diversity.

Substitute barley for rice in any recipe, and add it to salads and hot dish. It takes longer to cook than rice, but the results are worth the extra cooking time. □

Patrice Johnson is a freelance writer from Roseville and a Nordic food cooking instructor.