This Warm Barley Salad with Fresh Garden Herbs is destined to be your new favorite side dish for the coming months. It's so simple and delicious and uses all the tender, green herbs that are just coming in to season. If you have an herb garden of your own, you could easily have everything you need to make this on a moment's notice all summer long.
Barley in Scandinavia
Barley has been an important crop in the Nordic region since the stone age. It was ground into flour to make bread, cooked to make porridge and malted to be used in the beer making process. It was (and still is) commonly used as food for livestock. Barley contains more essential amino acids than both wheat and rye and is higher in fiber (8 grams per ¼ cup). Although its popularity as a bread flour waned as wheat became more available, barley is currently enjoying a bit of a renaissance. The New Nordic Cuisine movement has brought a fresh perspective to this ancient grain, highlighting its healthful properties and various culinary uses.
Note that this recipe calls for pearl barley (sometimes labeled medium barley at the grocery store). When pearl barley is processed, the bran of the grain is removed which shortens the cooking time. If you are using hulled barley, which is more minimally processed, it will take significantly longer to cook.
A few suggestions for making a perfect barley salad every time:
- Start with the right kind of barley. As I mentioned above, the difference in cooking time between pearl barley and hulled barley is significant. There is nothing wrong with using hulled barley in this recipe, just expect it to take much longer to cook.
- Give your barley a quick rinse before cooking. This removes any dust or unwanted fine particles prior to cooking.
- Use the pasta method to cook the barley. I find this to be the easiest and most forgiving way to cook barley. Simply boil a large pot of water on the stove like you would if you were making pasta. Add the barley and some salt and continue to cook over medium/medium-high heat until the barley is tender, about 35-40 minutes. Once it is done, simply drain and enjoy! It couldn't be easier, and if your barley needs a little more time to cook, there is no concern about the barley becoming too dry and scorching on the bottom of the pot.
- Taste the barley to see if it is tender. Don't rely entirely on my estimation of how long it will take to cook your barley. I've made this dish with barley from several different stores, and the amount of time it take for the barley to become tender can vary. Start checking at 30 minutes. If it's not tender enough, give it 5 more minutes and then check again. Continue checking every 5 minutes until the texture of the barley is to your liking.
- Drain thoroughly. This will help the salad from becoming waterlogged.
- Dress the salad while the barley is warm and season to taste with salt, pepper and additional lemon juice as necessary. Warm barley will more readily soak up the flavors of the dressing than cool or even room temperature barley. And I've said it before and I'll say it again: most people don't season their food properly. Give your salad a taste and keep adding salt, pepper and/or an additional squeeze of lemon juice until your salad is just how you like it.
Feel free to switch out the herbs depending on what's available to you. Nearly any combination of soft green herbs would be nice here....basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, tarragon and/or chives. Work with what you have!
I do hope you give this Warm Barley Salad with Fresh Garden Herbs a try! It would be very much at home next to a simple grilled chicken breast or a tender filet of roasted salmon. Keeping things vegetarian? I recommend roasted asparagus with a fried egg on top (optional but SO yummy). This dish is so versatile and delicious I'm sure you'll find countless ways to vary it over the coming months! Need more barley ideas? Here are a few blog favorites for using pearl barley:
- Springtime Barley Salad with Asparagus, Red Pepper and Spinach
- Easy Vegetarian Split Pea Soup with Barley
- Creamy Barley Risotto with Roasted Mushrooms and Crispy Kale
- Barley Risotto Cakes
- Cozy Slow Cooker Chicken and Barley Soup
- Zucchini Barley Cakes with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Ricotta
Warm Barley Salad with Fresh Garden Herbs
- 1 cup pearl barley rinsed in a fine mesh strainer
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice more to taste
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallion greens or chives
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add barley and 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook until barley is tender, about 35-40 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, whisk shallot, mustard, lemon juice and olive oil together in the bottom of a serving bowl. Add the warm barley and herbs and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and additional lemon juice. Serve warm.