Barley Vegetable Salad


Sometimes, silly mistakes turn out well. I have one sweet potato left in the pantry and wanted to combine it with lentils for a great curry. In a hurry to get the lentils cooking, I pulled the “lentils” jar out of the cupboard and emptied the pound bag into a pan. It was only when I started to add water to the pan that I realized what had been in the mislabeled jar was barley. By now, of course, the grains were wet and had to be cooked, so what could I make that would be relatively fast and good to serve to some vegan friends who would be coming for lunch?

A quick look through the refrigerator and freezer resulted in this salad. While the flavors would be even better if it was refrigerated overnight, the dish was a hit after only an hour or so of chilling.

Barley Vegetable Salad

2 to 3 medium carrots, coarsely grated (about 2 c or 5 oz)
10 to 11 oz frozen sweet corn, thawed
2 c pearl barley, cooked without salt and drained (about 8 oz before cooking)
1/2 to 2/3 c chopped sweet or red onion
1/2 c diced bell pepper, any color
1 c diced celery
1/2 c sliced black olives
1 t dried basil
2 to 3 T balsamic vinegar
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 to 1 t garlic powder
1 T sugar, or to taste
1 1/2 t salt, or to taste

black olive juice, as desired

1.  Combine the barley, vegetables, and basil, tossing together until evenly mixed.
2.  Shake or stir together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the barley and vegetable mixture, adding a little of the black olive juices if needed to moisten the salad.
3.  Chill for at least an hour, but it will be even better if left in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Will keep well in the refrigerator for several days, though the colors of some of the vegetables may be less bright over time.

Serves 10 to 12 as a side salad, 6 to 8 as a main dish.

Variations and Other Thoughts

The variations on this are really endless, depending on what you have in the refrigerator. Diced cucumber or  broccoli flowerets would be good additions. Leftover vegetables (carrots or peas for example) could also be stirred in. You may want more or less bell pepper or onion or whatever. Adding thinly sliced carrots (raw or steamed for a minute or two in the microwave to soften) could give a different appearance to the salad too.

We are a family that loves olives, so I buy these in large quantities at Costco for a very reasonable price. If they seem too price-y or if you are not such big fans, you can cut back the amount a great deal or just eliminate them entirely. The use of the brine around the olives boosts the flavor and works as part of the salt in the salad overall, but it too could be eliminated if desired. 

This is one recipe where garlic powder may be a better choice than fresh, simply because the flavor may be more evenly blended throughout, but fresh garlic would of course be a great choice instead. If you have fresh herbs, they would be a wonderful substitution, whether basil or rosemary or even a bit of mint.

Barley:  This grain is under-utilized in most of our kitchens, yet it is easy to prepare, inexpensive, and nutritious. I like to cook a pound at a time, following the package directions but without adding any salt. Then I can put the extra into freezer bags or refrigerator containers. By not adding salt, I can use the extra barley for any recipe, adding seasoning as needed.

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  1. Helen, Just got off the phone with a son, offered to bring a salad to a birthday party on Saturday; then I read your post – it sounds perfect (but NO olives for us!). Thanks!

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