This Barley Salad with Asparagus, Red Pepper and Spinach is not to be missed! Hearty pearl barley, bright asparagus, red bell pepper and tender spinach come together to create a delicious and satisfying springtime salad. It makes a lovely first course or side dish and is even substantial enough to be a meal on its own.
This grain based salad is fresh, healthy and easy to make! Keep reading for step by step instructions for creating this gorgeous salad at home.
Why This Recipe Works
- A delicious combination of vegetables: Thin spears of sautéed asparagus, diced red pepper and sliced shallots are perfectly paired with fresh baby spinach.
- Cooked pearl barley brings whole grain goodness and satisfying texture and flavor.
- Creamy goat cheese crumbles, toasted almonds and a simple sherry vinaigrette pull everything together.
- Cooked pearl (or medium) barley is my grain of choice here but you could use any cooked whole grain (like farro) in its place. You could even use cooked brown or wild rice or even quinoa if you would prefer a gluten free version.
- If you can't find sherry vinegar, you can substitute white or red wine vinegar in its place.
- Creamy goat cheese makes a lovely accompaniment to the cooked spring vegetables, but crumbled feta would be good here, too.
How to Make This Recipe
- Begin by combining 1 tablespoon of the vinegar and minced garlic together in a large bowl and set aside for at least 10 minutes. This helps to mellow and soften the raw garlic flavor.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the red bell pepper and cook until softened and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender, about 2 more minutes. Add the shallot and cook for one more minute.
- Remove from the heat and and add the remaining teaspoon of vinegar to the pan. Stir to combine. Stir the cooled pearl barley into the pan with the vegetables, season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Slowly whisk the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil into the vinegar and garlic mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Toss the spinach with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Add the barley and vegetable mixture to the bowl with the remaining vinaigrette and toss to combine.
- Arrange the spinach on a serving platter or onto individual plates. Top with the barley and vegetable mixture. Scatter goat cheese and almonds over the top. Serve.
- Try to find thin asparagus spears for this recipe. They will cook more quickly than thicker spears.
- The salad is tossed in two bowls and while it does require the tiniest bit of extra dishwashing, your efforts will be rewarded. Keeping the baby spinach separate from the asparagus and barley mixture really helps maintain the integrity of the ingredients and prevents bruising the delicate greens.
Hulled barley is minimally processed. Only the inedible outer shell of the grain is removed leaving the bran intact. While this means your grains will take longer to cook (possibly over an hour), they are more nutritious. In order to speed cooking time and increase the bioavailability of nutrients, it helps to soak hulled barley overnight prior to cooking.
When pearl (or medium) barley is processed, the nutrient and fiber dense bran of the grain is removed. This shortens the cooking time of the grain but removes some of the nutrients and fiber that make barley an appealing grain from a health perspective. Even though pearl barley does not have the same nutritional punch as hulled barley, it still retains more nutrients than most processed grains.
Instant (or quick) barley is pre-steamed pearl barley and takes only 10 or 15 minutes to cook.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Season with salt. Add 1 cup of pearl barley. Cook until tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain through a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold water to cool completely. 1 cup of dry pearl barley will make about 3 cups of cooked barley. Barley can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Cooked barley can also be frozen in a freezer safe container such as a Ziploc freezer bag for up to 3 months. Check out this blog post for more information on making barley in the Instant Pot if you would rather go that route.
The barley can be made ahead of time (see the FAQ above) as well as the vinaigrette. The vinaigrette can be tightly covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. It's best to make the vegetables just before serving as the asparagus will lose its vibrant green color over time. Likewise, the tender spinach leaves should be tossed in the vinaigrette just before serving to maintain their delicate texture.
Store any leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to two days.
This salad is hearty enough to be enjoyed as a vegetarian meal on it's own, but it would also be delicious with grilled chicken or salmon.
Yes! Simply leave out the goat cheese cheese crumbles or substitute a vegan cheese instead.
Yes! Simply substitute brown rice, wild rice or quinoa for the barley.
Looking for more delicious barley recipes? I've got several here on the blog for you to try!
Barley Salad with Asparagus, Red Pepper and Spinach
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar divided
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 red bell pepper cut into a medium dice
- 8 ounces thin asparagus spears trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium shallot sliced thin
- 1 ½ cups cooked pearl barley cooled (see note below)
- 6 cups baby spinach
- ¼ cup sliced almonds toasted
- 3 ounces soft goat cheese for crumbling over the top
- Combine 1 tablespoon vinegar and garlic together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Add red pepper and cook until lightly browned and beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add asparagus and cook until nearly tender, about 2 minutes. Add shallot and cook until softened, about 1 more minute. Remove from heat and add remaining teaspoon of sherry vinegar. Stir in cooled barley. Set aside to cool while you make the vinaigrette.
- Whisk remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil into garlic and sherry vinegar mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Toss spinach with 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add asparagus and barley mixture to the medium bowl with the remaining vinaigrette. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To serve, create a bed of spinach on the bottom of each plate or on a serving platter. Arrange the asparagus and barley mixture over the top. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and crumbled goat cheese.
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