I am ready to confess. Over the winter I had almost eliminated grains from my diet altogether. Porridge for breakfast once a week, a quinoa salad or two from the cafe downstairs at work, but other than that they have sadly been missing from my life other than endless varieties of rice and wild rice. Perhaps it is because I enjoy the chewy consistency of grains the most in salads that they have been absent over the winter months. But with Spring comes not only the hummingbirds, lilacs, and longer days but grains make a reappearance in my kitchen.
Barley is one of those wonderful grains that in the past never really appealed to me. Most people are familiar with pearl barley, especially as an ingredient in beef-barley soup where it releases starch into its cooking liquid, making it a good thickener for these types of dishes. It has been polished to remove the bran and possibly even the endosperm layers, resulting in a pale, creamy-coloured grain. It is only my opinion that there is a reason it is added to soup.
Enter hulled barley which I was introduced to last year at Diner en Blanc when my friend Laura of The Culinary Travel Guide wowed us with a delicious Italian inspired barley salad with Parmesan cheese. (As an aside I can't find a link to the recipe Laura…hint…hint). With a chewy texture and nutty flavour that I love, light golden coloured hulled barley is a delicious whole grain that can be utilized hundreds of different ways. It is the most nutritious of the two and can be considered a whole grain. Both kinds of barley are traditionally simmered in water, or for more flavour, stock.
To cook the barley for this salad The Kitchn says," Bring the water and barley to a boil over high heat. Keep an eye on the pot as barley will give off a lot of foam at first and can cause the pot to boil over.
For hulled barley, start checking at 40 minutes. The barley is done when it has tripled in volume and is soft yet chewy. Add more water if the pan becomes dry before the barley has finished cooking; check every 5 minutes until desired chewiness is reached."
One cup of hulled barley will yield three cups of cooked grains for your recipes. I found it in bulk at one of our local markets.
This simple, hearty grain salad is bursting with bright flavour and bold colours. The season's first cherry tomatoes from the greenhouses, peppery baby arugula, salty olives and feta combine with warm, chewy barley for a satisfying lunch or light dinner. I give you the option of adding olives but I left them out of my own salad as a matter of personal taste. Feel free to make it your own. A recipe is only a guideline and needs only your creativity and what you have available to make a dish your own.
**Greek-Inspired Barley Salad with Arugula and Feta**
1 cup barley (cooked as per instructions above)
4+ generous cups arugula
1/2 pint (8 ounces) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup jarred roasted red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta
20 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced into small rounds
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 - 2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 - 2 lemons, juiced
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon ground sea salt or kosher salt
Cook the grains as above. Drain and rinse and set aside. (This salad is best if the lemon-basil dressing is added while the grains are still warm).
Meanwhile prepare the lemon-basil dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients until emulsified.
In a large serving bowl while the grains are still warm or at room temperature combine the warm cooked grains, arugula, cherry tomatoes, chopped roasted red pepper, feta and olives. Toss with the dressing and season with black pepper and sea salt to taste.
Note: If not serving right away consider reserving the arugula until you're ready to serve (the dressing wilts the leaves).
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