Mediterranean Barley Salad

The last couple months of the year are a precarious balancing act. How does one hit up 35 holiday parties, complete with indulgent food and overindulgent drink, and still manage to escape unscathed, at least as far as the scale is concerned?As far as I can tell, you can’t. Even this past week, before the Holiday wave had officially hit, there was a wine-and-naan-only dinner and a fried chicken and chocolate birthday cake fiasco. If you’re like me and have little-to-no self control around good food and drink, you’ll probably be feeing it come January. But what you CAN do is try your best to make those in-between meals as earnest as possible.

Remember when I mentioned that I eat a lot of grain salads for lunch during the summer? This is the one that I come back to again and again, more than any other. I find it’s also amazing this time of year, when it’s a crisp temperature outside, appropriate for roasting veggies, and perhaps you want some whole grains in your life. Fresh and roasted veggies, barley, heart-healthy olive oil, tons of fresh herbs and a little feta for zing? Ok.

I, surprise surprise, got this recipe off of Smitten Kitchen a couple years back. Back then, I started out by nixing the eggplant and doubling the zucchini because I foolishly believed that I didn’t like eggplant. Crazy talk. Eggplant is delicious.  This is, yet again, one of those recipes that’s better than the sum of it’s parts. Cooking the barley in a spiced chicken broth seems like a no-brainer flavor-wise, but it really does do something magical. Other than adding feta, which seems obvious to me, and reducing the olive oil even more, I follow this recipe to a tee; It really doesn’t need much more adjustment. It keeps for a good 3-5 days, depending on the ripeness of your tomatoes, so it’s a perfect make-ahead lunch. I suggest you try this soon too; it might just be what you need the week after Thanksgiving.

Mediterranean Barley Salad

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Gourmet. Makes 4-5 main course servings.

Substitute vegetable broth and you’ve got yourself a vegetarian meal.

1 1/2 lb eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 lb zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 T. olive oil
salt
black pepper
1 c. chopped scallion (about 1 bunch)
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/4 t. cayenne
1 1/4 c. pearl barley
1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium, fat free chicken broth
3/4 c. water (or, subsitute with more broth, if you arent watching your sodium)
2 T. fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons; I sometimes use more)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 t. sugar
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 c. Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 c. thinly sliced red onion
1 c. chopped fresh italian parsley
1/2 c. chopped fresh mint
4 oz crumbled feta cheese

  • Heat oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Toss eggplant and zucchini with 4 T. oil, salt and pepper to taste, and spread on large baking sheet
  • Roast for ~25 minutes. Cool
  • In a 3 to 4 quart heavy pot, heat 1 T oil over medium-high heat. Cook scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne until fragrant (~1 min)
  • Add barley and stir to coat with oil. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until tender (~30-40 min). Cool
  • In a large bowl, combine the lemon juice, garlic, sugar, 1/4 t. salt, 1/4 t. pepper, and 1 T. olive oil
  • Add cooled barley, cooled roasted veggies and all the remaining ingredients to the dressing and toss to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper

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