Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ingredient: BARLEY

I'm going to go ahead and guess that most people consume the majority of their barley in the form of beer. Actually, people probably get most of their barley in an even more round-about fashion: barley is a major part of animal feed, so when we're eating meat, we're sort of eating barley too. Really the bottom line is that we need to get some one-one-on, up close and personal time with this delicious grain.

Did you know that barley is the reason we're here today? ("We" being the pinnacle of civilization, obviously.) Barley was the first domesticated grain in the Near East. Domesticated grains meant a reliable food source, which meant more free time to invent s*** and further all sorts of human developments. (Er, somebody go find Elliot Spitzer and tell him that domestication is the key to social advancement. )

Over the years, barley has been used as currency, as a beverage (barley wine, anyone?) and as medicine. The prophet Mohamed prescribed barley to soothe "seven diseases" and in medieval Europe, people drank barley broth to cure fevers. I believe they were on to something because barley is one healthy grain. Among its many benefits, barley has high levels of niacin, which protects against heart disease; fiber, which decreases levels of bad cholesterol and protects against asthma and breast cancer; copper, which eases arthritis; and selenium, which has been shown to significantly reduce your risk of colon cancer.

So why aren't people eating more barley? I think it's gotten unfairly labeled as a "health food" product; one of those things you only eat if your mom forces you to, threatening to hide the Playstation controllers until you finish your meal (or at least this will be my parenting tactic). But I promise: barley is delicious! It's nutty and chewy and plays well with other flavors. If you buy pearled barley, it cooks in 40 minutes or less, and let's be honest- you need that time to brush up on Angry Birds, anyway.

Barley White Bean Salad
with Parsley-Basil Vinaigrette

This past weekend was eerily dead in New York City. I oscillated between enjoying the quiet streets and the sky-rocketed dog to person ratio (I swear it was 1:1 in the West Village) and feeling depressed that I was landlocked when everyone else seemed to be on a beach somewhere, working on their tan.

Of course it was all worth staying around for July 4th itself, when I attended the almost-annual BBQ thrown by my childhood friends. As I've mentioned before, they're all awesome cooks, so we divvied up the menu, and I personally offered to bring dessert and a side. Dessert was a no-brainer (blueberry pie, of course!) but I spent some time deciding on a side dish. It was going to be super hot, so the food should be room temperature to cold, but there were going to be a batch of boyfriends lying around, so a pretty plate of lettuce was not going to cut it.

I decided to make a farro salad, because I simply adore farro and it's chewy and nutty and delicious. Of course I decided to wait until the last minute to buy the star ingredient and ended up face to face with CLOSED signs in all my farro-purveyors windows. (I thought this was the city that never went on vacation?) But then, as I walked desolately up and down the aisles of my still open overpriced understocked supermarket, I came upon a bag of barley. And you know what I realized? I realized that barley is chewy and nutty and delicious, just like farro. So in fact a perfect substitute was on hand (and at one third of the price!)

This salad is simple but wonderful. It's mostly barley, with some creamy white cannellini beans thrown in for texture and flavor contrast. The vinaigrette is a blend of olive oil, parsley, basil, and lemon. It's fresh and citrusy, and also reminiscent of everyone's favorite- pesto.

I'm going to eat this barley salad all summer, making big batches and serving it at room temperature alongside grilled fish or chicken.

Serves 12


2 cups dry pearled barley
4 cups cold water
2 teaspoons salt
2 19-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups basil, packed
1 large bunch parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


In a large pot, combine barley, cold water, and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat. Cook for 40 minutes or until all water is absorbed and barley is tender.

While barley is cooking, combine basil, parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until almost smooth. With motor running, add olive oil and pulse until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combined cooked barley and cannellini beans. Pour vinaigrette over barley and toss until evenly coated.

*Can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. Stays well for a few days in the fridge, though lemon flavor will decrease as time goes on.

No comments:

Post a Comment