Thursday, 6 September 2012
Old-fashioned Barley Water
I do love Singapore, but sometimes this love withers in the sun. Now that I'm finally back home in a country where the over-enthusiastic sun shines the whole year round and temperatures hardly dip below 30 degrees (air-conditioned malls not counted), I find myself actually wishing for a dose of grey London chill. It doesn't really help that I live on top of a hill, and that the bus stop is at the bottom of the hill, and that the driving school refuses to recognise my driving talent. It's no wonder I feel cross, bagged, sweaty, thirsty, hot, and very heaty.
No I didn't just mean to type hot twice. Heaty is a very different concept from hot. I think it's a very exclusively Asian concept, because I only meet with perplexed stares and confused frowns from non-Asian friends when I try to explain why I'm drinking a 'cooling' cup of hot tea in summer. The notion of cooling and heatiness is related to the balance of yin and yang. Growing up, I've always been taught to see food as medicine. We don't run straight to the doctor's when we've got a tickle in the throat, we drink some herbal tea instead, or maybe some pears double-boiled with almonds. These random nuggets of wisdom are so ingrained into our culture that even my local GP tells us to avoid 'damp-producing' oranges for phlegm-accompanied coughs, advice that probably will seem queer to those unacquainted with traditional Chinese 'hocus pocus'.
Barley water is an oldie but a goodie for a hot summer's day, or in Singapore's context, a hot day. It cools your internal 'fire', so it not only soothes a parched throat, but all heat-related signs, raging irritability and pimples included. I read that it's apparently a very old British tonic drink too, once prescribed for the ill and infirm, so I guess it doesn't matter which school of thought you subscribe to. You can change it up and add a squeeze of lemon for a zesty burst the English way, or add wintermelon for a traditional Chinese detoxifying treat. Or make both since it's so freaking simple.
OLD-FASHIONED BARLEY WATER
makes about 2l
1 cup barley*
2l water, more or less depending on how thick you want it
raw local honey or rock sugar, to taste
juice of 1 lemon AND/OR
handful of torn mint leaves OR
1/2 cup of candied wintermelon (reduce above sweetener) AND/OR
bundle of pandan leaves
*The pearl barley is most common, but there's also another grain called the "Chinese barley", or Job's tears, which I prefer (below, left). It gives a less glue-y barley water, and when cooked, reminds me of popcorn with a soft but nutty bite in the middle rather than a smooth chewiness. It's also gluten-free so it might be a better option for the gluten-sensitive.
1. Rinse barley. If using Chinese barley, soak for a couple of hours.
2. Bring water and barley (and candied wintermelon, if using) to a boil in a saucepan and then reduce the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, until the grains are cooked and softened. Add more water if needed.
3. Strain the liquid and add honey/ rock sugar and lemon/mint, to taste. Chuck into the fridge and enjoy for the next 3 days or so.
Tip: My mum discards the barley but I find it a pity. Save it for cheat risottos or stews or salads, or just leave it in the barley water to turn it into a tong sui (sweet soup dessert), in which case you can also add ingredients like jujube dates/ dried longans/ white fungus.
Such a humble tiny grain, so tiny it's not even pea-sized, but so wonderfully cooling and cleansing for the body. For those of you who may not have tried barley water before, it tastes kind of neutral, with the light flavour of those grains, and can be as creamy or mild, and as sharp or sweet, as you like it. I know it doesn't sound very exciting. I know barley's old-fashioned. But I'm old-fashioned. And this is the most refreshingly old-fashioned thing to let run down your throat when you're feeling the heat.