Hibiscus Barley Water

sorrel drink

It’s Wimbledon fortnight and here in SW9, I am feeling the excitement building in my nearby borough. I’ve been sneaking a peek when Andy Murray is playing because I’m not sure I can take more tears this year, but I know others are glued to the screen all day everyday. So it seemed appropriate to create a drink that would capture that British tradition of this time of year and accidentally make dinner at the same time…

Barley water is just that. It’s the water in which pearl barley has been cooked, strained off and flavoured with something sharp or citrussy to refresh on humid summer days. Reputed to be as excellent for one’s system as cranberry juice, it’s a healthy and cheap thing to make from scratch. I’ve flavoured mine with hibiscus or as it’s known in Jamaica, sorrel for a scarlet twist on the more classic lemon version.

It also means you have delicious nutty barley cooked and ready to eat. I’ve made a fresh salad, stuffed full of grilled courgette, scallion and fennel, studded with emerald green broad beans and salty capers before being dressed with mint and olive oil. Make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for a tasty lunch or dinner when you can’t leave Centre Court for long. It’s fabulous as it is or with cold chicken or grilled halloumi on the side.

Hibiscus Barley Water: makes two pints

  • 75g hibiscus or sorrel flowers (or 4 hibiscus herbal tea bags)
  • 1 pint boiling water
  • 75g pearl barley
  • 2 pints water
  • 4 tablespoons sugar (optional to taste)

Put the hibiscus flowers in a measuring jug and pour boiling water to make up a pint over them. Add the sugar if you like it less sharp. This is traditionally drunk at Christmas in Jamaica and it’s served sweet and slightly spiced like a non alcoholic mulled wine. I prefer it sharp and dry so only add a small amount of sugar. Allow the infusion to steep for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

Cover the barley with two pints of cold water and bring to the boil. It will absorb quite a lot of water so don’t panic as to why I’ve specified more than the recipe makes. Skim any foam from the surface and simmer for about 20 minutes or until cooked but slightly tender. Do not add any salt or pepper.

Drain the barley reserving the water. Allow it to cool in a jug or pan. Run some cold water over the cooked barley and drain well again. Drizzle with olive oil and add your vegetables and herbs. I sprinkled some parmesan and a few anchovies in but you can keep it veggie. Eat immediately or keep and allow the flavours to develop.

Pour the hibiscus through a sieve and throw the flowers away. Now mix it with the barley water in equal measures. You will end up with a very grown up cordial. It is the most beautiful colour and best drunk chilled. It is highly refreshing and makes a lovely change to most non alcoholic options around. Scale up the amounts if you want to make more. The cooked barley freezes and can be added into soups or stews in less balmy weather.

Just be careful you don’t knock a jug of this over in joy if Andy Murray wins next week. I imagine the colour doesn’t look quite as gorgeous on the cat or the carpet…

barley salad

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