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Barley Salad with Parsley & Walnuts

Last week we had dinner at our friends house and Marie served the most delicious barley salad. She said it was from the May Food & Wine, so I made the tabouleh-inspired salad for a family gathering.

Barley Salad with Parsley & Walnuts | Food & Wine | May 2008

Barley is versatile enough to be served warm or at room temperature, as in this terrific salad with walnuts, parsley and salty bits of ricotta salata cheese in a lemon-garlic vinaigrette. It can be served as a main course or as a side for grilled chicken or pork.

1 1/4 cups pearled barley (9 ounces) 1 cup walnut halves (4 ounces) 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 garlic clove, minced 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves 4 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the barley over high heat until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the barley and rinse under cold water to cool thoroughly. Drain again, shaking out the excess water. Meanwhile, spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool. Coarsely chop the nuts. In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the olive oil, garlic and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Add the barley, parsley and ricotta salata and toss gently. Add the toasted walnuts, toss again and serve.

MAKE AHEAD: The salad can be refrigerated overnight.

I have been using the new quick-cooking barley from Quaker for several months now and don't think I will ever go back to pearl barley. Barley is delicious, pretty, cheap, nutritious and - now - convenient! Barley is going to be the New Super Food (trust me on this).

The recipe is simple and the salad comes together in as much time as it takes to boil the barley. Though the recipe says the dish can be made a day in advance, I dressed the barley and put the cheese, walnuts and parsley over the top - refrigerated the salad - and tossed it together just before serving. In my mind, this kept the nuts crunchy and the parsley from becoming soggy.

Ready to toss

Ricotta Salata is simply ricotta cheese that has been pressed and aged. It is a brilliant white cheese and crumbles easily. The flavor is mild - nutty and just a bit salty.

The only thing I felt strange was the request for walnut halves. I have perfectly good chopped walnuts in my freezer... so why buy expensive walnut halves only to chop them? Maybe so the pieces would be/could be larger? Next time I will know better. And there will be a next time. This salad is really wonderful and our family and friends devoured a large bowl.

Isn't that pretty?

Just looking at this photo makes me hungry