I decided to go a bit Asian with my menu and cook with Job’s Tears—in Japanese “Hato Mugi.” Hato Mugi resembles barley and is sometimes called “Pearl” (not “pearled”) barley. But it is actually not related to the grain known as “barley.”
Hato Mugi is great for spring because it is said to be a cleansing grain. I am not into big, dramatic cleanses or fasts for spring but prefer to adjust my cooking, starting in early February, toward spring and toward not only lightening up the menu, but choosing foods that do help the body get rid of excess fats, dairy and other animal products that may have been consumed over the winter.
Hato Mugi is an ancient grain that has not been hybridized as far as I know and it is gluten-free.
It is purchased dried and should be soaked for as long as twelve hours to make cooking easier. Before you cook Hato Mugi, sort through the dried grains for any dirt or stones or whatever. Wash it quickly in cold water and then soak it in spring water until it has expanded and softened somewhat.
I am using some other mildly cleansing foods with this dish including kombu seaweed and shiitake mushrooms—both of these can help break down excess fat and dairy.
Hato Mugi has a rich, earthy flavor and I love to pair it with young spring vegetables such as leeks, scallions or dandelion greens.
Hato Mugi Spring Stew
- 6 inch piece of dried kombu seaweed
- 1 cup of Hato Mugi (Job’s Tears)
- several dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 cup of cooked black beans
- shoyu (soy sauce)
There’s a lot of soaking you’ll need to do in advance. Sort through the hato mugi removing any stones or other items that don’t belong (yes it does sometimes happen!) and then wash thoroughly in cold water. Soak the hato mugi in spring water for several hours. Overnight is fine.
Brush off the dried kombu and soak it in a medium-sized pot in a little spring water. The kombu will expand as it softens. When it has done that (takes maybe 10 minutes) then remove it from the pot leaving the soaking water there. Cut the kombu into bitesize pieces (any shape you like—squares, strips, etc.) and put the cut kombu back into the bottom of the pot.
The mushrooms also get soaked in spring water. I just grab a small bowl for that. When the mushrooms are soft enough to slice, remove any stem parts because they are tough and don’t soften in cooking. Then cut the shiitake up into bite size strips.
While things are soaking you can wash and dice a large carrot.
Next is the cooking method which is layering: the kombu is at the bottom along with the water you soaked it in, then add the shiitake mushrooms and you can use that soaking water too, then the hato mugi on top of that. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it all simmer with a lid on it. Cook it for about 30 minutes. You don’t stir it around, you leave it cooking in layers. If the water cooks away but the dish is not finished you can add a little more water.
Toward the end of cooking is when I like to add the carrots because in spring and summer I’m not looking for stewy soft vegetables. I like the carrots to keep their bright color and cook until just soft enough to fit in with the other ingredients..
I used a can of organic cooked black beans for this and added one cup at the end of the cooking time so the beans would heat up.
Once everything is done, season with some soy sauce and now you can stir it up to distribute the seasoning.
Garnish with some ginger, some parsley, slivers of scallion or whatever you wish. I did serve this with a side of fresh spring dandelion greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic and a side of salad.
Hearty and filling, yet not heavy.
Where to buy Hato Mugi?
I have seen hato mugi in Asian grocery stores but I can never tell for sure if it is organic. My primary requirement for food is that it is labeled organic which also encompasses the question of whether it is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). Organic includes being non-GMO.
My local natural food stores don’t carry hato mugi. If there is a store near you that has a really good selection of macrobiotic foods, you might find it there. Otherwise I highly recommend ordering online from Gold Mine Natural Foods. They have all the good healthy stuff that the commercial natural food stores are no longer willing to carry. This is because enough of us aren’t demanding the very highest quality and variety of foods and so they don’t use shelf space for it. But it doesn’t hurt to continually ask for things to be brought in and create a little ruckus over the fact that natural food stores (not naming names but you probably know which ones) are becoming more and more “homogenized” — to put it politely.
It’s easy to say, “They are only interested in making money.” Well, of course they are. It’s a business and they are supporting as much of the healthy choices as they can and still make a profit. But that’s the point. They are CHOICES as in, yours and mine. If we don’t choose healthy, there is no way the stores are going to be able to make money stocking healthy. Right?