Baked Green Barley and Kale with Lemon Tahini Sauce

Flavorful, textural and colorful—baked green barley and kale with lemon tahini sauce has it going on. Green? Yes! Wait ‘til you taste its savory goodness. Wait ‘til those lovely green barley pearls roll all around in your mouth—can food be this fun to eat? OK—don’t wait, dive in, this dish surprises.

Baked Green Barley and Kale

A bright puree of pungent-sweet kale gets stirred into chewy-soft barley nuggets, to paint them emerald green. Lace that combo with golden umami mushrooms and garlic lemon zest essence. Give it time in the oven for crunch around the edges. The final flourish—a splash of sprightly sauce of creamy tahini and lemon.

Truth be told, the lemon tahini sauce is probably gilding the green lily. But I couldn’t resist, so here you have it—the versatile tahini sauce, bright with vitamin C.

A cookbook with kitchen notes is like a diary, and random notes pepper more than a few cookbooks in this house. Pencil scribbles say that I first made green barley and kale 8 years ago. I wrote, “Wow! Wild!” I could have easily written, “Definitely a repeater.”

browned mushrooms for Baked Green Barley and Kale

This is my adaptation of the green barley and kale gratin in Deborah Madison’s classic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I’ve added mushrooms to the mix, plus lemon, garlic, and parsley. Instead of butter, my version calls for olive oil, and vegetable stock instead of milk.

When the green-barley-mushroom-garlic-lemon wonderfulness goes in the oven, whip up the lemon sauce and toss a crisp green salad. Ta-da! Green barley and kale with lemon tahini sauce for dinner!

Baked Green Barley and Kale

Recipe details:

  • Lemon zest, fresh garlic, and minced parsley, the three together, are the classic seasoning known as gremolata. You’ll love the punch gremolata flavors give to barley and kale.
  • Use your favorite purchased vegetable broth or make your own. My go-to vegetable broth comes from this quality powdered vegetable broth.
  • Sharp white cheddar pairs nicely with kale and we almost always have some on hand. The original recipe calls for Gruyère or provolone.
  • For a completely plant-based vegan dish, take away the cheese, instead stirring in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

barley, kale, mushrooms etc. ready for Baked Green Barley and Kale

  • Bake green barley and kale as one casserole or in individual molds or 4 to 6 ounce ramekins. (I used coffee cups!)
  • Check out the green color before baking. Vivid, huh? When baked, the color comes out darker green. It’s still striking.

Green Barley and Kale in cups ready to bake

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** This recipe is an update of one I posted in September 2009, and migrated over from my old blog. The photo below the recipe is from that post.

Baked Green Barley and Kale with Lemon Tahini Sauce

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

Serving Size: About 1/2 cup.

Baked Green Barley and Kale with Lemon Tahini Sauce

This bright green dish is addicting. So much so that Robbie and I call it dinner for 2. (When we make it in a casserole dish, we just keep spooning it onto our plates until it's gone!) Serve with a large salad.


  • Barley and kale:
  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon Real Salt
  • 1 large bunch kale, stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups hot vegetable broth
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • Real Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated white Cheddar cheese
  • Parsley or lemon slices, for garnish
  • Sauce:
  • ½ cup tahini
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Pinch cayenne pepper


  1. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add the barley and salt; reduce the heat and cook, uncovered, until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain. Meanwhile, cook the kale in boiling salted water until it is tender, 6 to 10 minutes. Drain, saving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. In a food processor, puree the drained kale with the water until smooth.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat six individual molds lightly with oil.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium-high flame. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown and there is no liquid left in the skillet, about 10 minutes. Remove six browned mushroom slices from the pan and place one slice in the bottom of each cup.
  4. Over medium flame, stir the flour into the browned mushrooms, and cook a few minutes to make a roux. Slowly add the vegetable broth, whisking until the liquid thickens a bit. Stir in the garlic, lemon zest and parsley.
  5. Mix the barley, pureed kale and the cheese into the mushroom sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture into the cups. (see note) Bake about 30 minutes, or until the edges are just browned.
  6. While the barley cups bake, prepare the sauce:
  7. Whisk tahini with the hot water until smooth. Whisk in lemon juice, garlic, salt and cayenne. Taste, and add more seasoning if needed.
  8. Out of the oven, let the ramekins cool 5 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges and invert onto plates. Serve with the sauce, garnished with parsley leaves or thin lemon slices.


You don't have to use individual molds. Make it easier by baking your green barley and kale in one baking dish.

Stripping kale stems for Green Barley and Kale

Red Russian Kale, stripping leaves from stems

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