With a tender chew and an earthy sensibility, underdog whole-grain barley makes a sturdy base for salads whose ingredients can change with the seasons and weather. This version is loaded with fresh herbs from the garden and a lemony dressing for a pop of spring in your picnic basket.
1 cup barley (try Four Star Farm’s locally grown variety)
¼ cup lemon juice (from 1 medium lemon)
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ cup neutral oil, like canola
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped dill
1 cup chopped parsley
½ cup torn mint leaves
4 ounces sheep-milk feta, crumbled
½ cup shelled pistachios, chopped
1 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Put the barley in a medium-sized pot with 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 25–35 minutes, until the water is fully absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave covered for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Spread barley in a single layer on a baking sheet to cool. When cool, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
While the barley cools, stir together the lemon juice, garlic clove, sugar and a pinch of salt in a small Mason jar. Add the oils, screw on the lid and shake until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Transfer the barley to a large bowl and add the dill, parsley and mint. Toss to combine. Pour 2–3 tablespoons vinaigrette over the barley (leave the garlic in the jar) and toss, adding more dressing if needed. Add the feta, pistachios and sumac (if using) and toss to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.
LEIGH BELANGER is the food editor at Culture magazine. Her second book, My Kitchen Chalkboard, about streamlining dinnertime for busy families, will be released this coming fall. She lives in Jamaica Plain.