White Beans and Collard Greens with Creamy Barley

Get your beans and greens on! Feel like a poet and not know it while cooking up these vegetarian white beans and collard greens with cheesy, creamy barley.

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I discovered collard greens while living in North Carolina not too long ago. Actually, I always used to have trouble getting enough greens and had only recently warmed up to kale (also in this recipe as it appears in a lot of them). I figured that living in the south was the best time to try this iconic leaf packed with vitamin K.

Decorative bowl filled with carefully arranged collard greens
Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay

Cooking white beans and collard greens

If you’ve been following me much, you’ll know that I don’t like to cook my veggies long, and I especially follow this rule with greens. I prefer the bitterness over the sogginess, and you can cut the bitterness with the right spices anyway! In this recipe, that’s accomplished with garlic, thyme, lemon zest, and black pepper. Garlic, of course, is a common ingredient for sautéing with greens, but lemon zest is my new favorite seasoning. Actually, any zest’ll do it—I love to add it to my cranberry pecan granola too.

The white beans in this recipe are a nice complement to the greens, soaking up the spices and getting you some protein in the process. Barley is also packed with protein along with the butter and Parmesan for a hearty dose of whole grain goodness.


Barley is a super grain

Barley goes great with these white beans and collard greens, but I admit that I am still new to the barley camp. My previous experiences involved condensed soups in the days I didn’t do much real cooking. I was more famous for my cakes, cookies, and breads back then. That is, until I found out I was prediabetic and thus headed into my paleo days. In my bowl, those little oval grains were also the victims of sogginess and loss of flavor. Fortunately for me and the husb, the days of mainly processed foods are long gone, and I’m not afraid of whole grains anymore.

Hulled barley grains
Photo by luis rock from FreeImages

When you cook barley right, it’s chewy and nutty. It’s also full of fiber and has many other benefits that involve blood pressure regulation, bone and heart health, cancer prevention, anti-inflammatory properties, digestion, and weight management.


Tips on cooking barley

I used pearl barley because I wasn’t ready for the longer process involved for hulled barley, which needs to be soaked overnight and cooked longer. Hulled barley is supposed to be chewier, but I had no complaints. Barley does contain gluten, so I would suggest substituting buckwheat for a comparable nutritious powerhouse if you have such sensitivities. Check out my Mediterranean buckwheat salad recipe for tips on how to prepare buckwheat.

White beans and collard greens with creamy barley on two dinner plates
White beans and collard greens ready for eating!


I used butter and Parmesan to flavor my barley, but you could also leave all that out and season as you like it. As I mentioned, you can use buckwheat instead of barley, but don’t add butter and Parmesan. Farro would also be a great substitute and cooks up faster than barley, but it’s not gluten-free. Check out this recipe from Cookie and Kate if you’re interested in learning how to cook farro. Pine nuts would work instead of pecans, and you could get away with paprika if you don’t want the spice of cayenne pepper. For the white beans and collard greens, you could try chickpeas or pinto beans, but the texture will be different, and more kale or even chard.

Bad rhyme alert

I hope you enjoy these white beans and collard greens with creamy barley, and I promise it won’t be gnarly!


Meal prep options


Just a note

Enjoy buttery barley and slightly bitter greens.

Make this …

Vegetarian: It already is!
Paleo: Use bacon instead of beans, and use your favorite veggie noodles instead of barley.
Gluten-free: Use rice or buckwheat instead of barley.
Non-dairy: It already is!

Shopping list


collard greens
1 lemon

Canned goods

1 can white beans





Oils and spices

olive oil
dried thyme
ground cayenne pepper


pearl barley


small lidded pot
kitchen knife
cutting board
large skillet
wooden spoon
salad spinner

White Beans and Collard Greens with Creamy Barley

Serves: 2–3
Total time: 1 hour

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

Ingredients and Preparation

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup pecans: Chop
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic: Mince
  • 1 lemon: Zest and cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • pinch ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 bunch collard greens: Cut leaves from the center rib, discard the rib, and chop the leaves
  • 1 bunch kale: Cut leaves from the center rib, discard the rib, and chop the leaves
  • 1 can white beans: Drain and rinse


  1. Combine the water with the barley and 1 teaspoon of the salt in the pot, and heat on high. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered for 40 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter and Parmesan.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the skillet, and toast the pecans until aromatic (about 3–5 minutes). Remove the pecans from the skillet and set aside.
  3. Heat the olive oil in the skillet on medium heat. Add the garlic, thyme, lemon zest, and cayenne pepper. Sauté until the garlic is golden brown (about 1–2 minutes). Add the greens, kale, and remaining teaspoon of salt. Sauté until the greens and kale just begin to wilt (about 1–2 minutes). Fold in the beans and heat through (about 1 minute).
  4. Top the greens mixture with the toasted pecans, and serve with the barley.


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