Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Grilled Vegetable and Barley Salad with Arugula

Hey, I've missed you! While you were going about your life--working, dining out, coping with weird weather and fires--I was home sick. Nothing dramatic. Just a nasty cold or flu I couldn't shake--what I'm fondly calling "the crud"--but for 10 days it left me with no appetite for anything but the local Chinese joint's hot and sour soup that I doctored with sriracha sauce. It was a lost week, unless you count binging on movies and the second season of House of Cards. I had no energy for anything else.

But I'm re-emerging into the land of living and craving food that will give me a spark of life. I was poking around my pantry and came up with a small sample bag of Indian Harvest's Tuxedo Barley, a combination of waxy hulless barley and black barley. Aha! I could do something with this.

We typically relegate barley to winter--something you add to a big pot of hearty soup--but I started thinking about combining it with vegetables in a salad. What a great alternative to now overused quinoa. It's got a great chew factor and tremendous earthy flavor. With that I started marketing in my mind. Mushrooms and barley are a perfect marriage, so in would go cremini mushrooms. I wanted greens so peppery arugula seemed a good bet. And color--what else but red, orange, and yellow bell peppers? I had a beautiful spring onion I wanted to use, so that went on my list. And I wanted some crunch and to add depth to the flavor. Toasted pine nuts were my obvious answer. Hmmm, it also needed something salty to complement the mellow barley. This was developing a Mediterranean feel so capers would do the trick.

I was going to just chop it all up and add it to the barley, but it was Memorial Day and grilling is de rigeur. Plus, I love the sweetness that you get when vegetables hit heat. I didn't feel like firing up my gas grill so I pulled out my stovetop grill pan, brushed the vegetables with a little olive oil and let them blacken while the barley was simmering in its pot. In the 50 minutes it took to cook up the barley al dente, I had grilled the vegetables, made a garlic sherry vinaigrette, and toasted the pine nuts.

It's a simple dish, of course. And I like that instead of sautéing the arugula, you simply add it to the just-cooked and quite warm barley. As you fold it in, the heat from the barley wilts the arugula just enough. One step saved; one less pan to clean. Add the rest of the vegetables and the capers. Toss with the dressing, top with the pine nuts, and you're good to go. You can also make it ahead of time and put it in the refrigerator to chill if you want a cold salad. And, of course, you could add other vegetables, feta or smoked gouda, and other protein. Whole Foods in La Jolla sells smoked turkey and chicken. If I have the energy, I may go up there and buy a turkey leg, then cut up the meat and add it to the salad. In other words, the ingredients are pretty flexible and what you get is a salad that, yes, is hugely nutritious, but also packed with a mix of flavors and textures--a meal in itself.

Glad to be back with you! Here's to a happy, healthy summer!

Grilled Vegetable and Barley Salad with Arugula
(printable recipe)
Serves 6

8 ounces barley (look for hulled, not pearled, to get the whole grain benefits)
2 cups arugula
12 medium-size cremini mushrooms, stems removed
2 red bell peppers, quartered and cleaned
1 large spring onion, greens trimmed and the rest sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Garlic Sherry Vinaigrette
Makes 1 cup

1/3 cup Sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the first five ingredients. Whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

For the salad:

1. Add six cups of water to a large pot and bring to the boil. Add barley, cover, reduce heat to simmer, and let cook for 50 minutes until the grains are al dente.
2. While the barley cooks, make the vinaigrette and set aside. Then heat the grill. Brush the vegetables with olive oil and place on the grill. Once you see grill marks, flip to the other side and continue grilling. When the vegetables are grilled to your taste, remove them to a plate. Be sure to separate the mushrooms from the other vegetables since they'll release liquid. Slice the grilled vegetables into bite-size pieces and set aside.
3. When the barley is cooked, drain it in a colander, shake off excess water, and add to a large bowl. Then add the arugula and toss to wilt the leaves. Add the vegetables and the capers. Then add enough of the vinaigrette to coat the salad--you won't use it all. Top with the pine nuts and serve.

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