Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring Barley Salad

Hello Foodies,

It feels like spring and summer are fighting it out right now on who gets to stay. We had a few good days in between and then it was rain and cooler temps for a week. But a visit to the farmers market confirms that the veggies got their memo. The farm stands were either a lush green or filled with pops of color showing off nature at its best. My brunch if I go to the farmers market on a Saturday is usually samples from each of the stands ending with a cup of freshly cut watermelon, cucumber and mango spiked with lime juice and tangy chile powder.

It's hard not to fall in love with veggies when they are in season and picked fresh. I was never a fan of peas as a kid and hated that my mother would add them to everything when they were is season. But now I find myself doing the same. I shocked myself by snacking on fresh peas as I walked through the market and ate whole sugar snap peas and ended up liking it. Asparagus on the other hand don't have a long history since we never had them back home. My favorite way to make them is to quickly roast them at high heat with salt, pepper and olive oil or roasted in a dry pan on the stove top. In this dish I went for a quick saute as they were fresh and tender and wouldn't withstand much cooking.

In an effort to clean out my pantry be healthy, I've been using quinoa, wheat berries, farro, barley and brown rice instead of plain rice. Each of these have different cooking times and its hard to keep track. I have a whole grains cooking sheet on my refrigerator for easy reference but even that gets ignored most days. A few months back I tried cooking barley in my little electric rice cooker and it came out perfect. Since then I've cooked wheat berries, farro and brown rice in it and have had consistently good results. I use the same amount of water as I would for rice, slightly less for barley. Cooking it this way has definitely made it more convenient to swap whole grains for rice. If you can plan ahead, pre-soak whole grains for a few hours or a quick soak in warm water to cut down on cooking times.

I make a big batch of grains and have a stash in the fridge to use over a few days. This makes putting together a quick lunch salad like the one below really simple. Barley has a chewy texture, similar to brown rice but less nutty. Its almost neutral taste makes it a perfect grain to pair with mild veggies or spices. I add it to salads snd soups or use it in this Indo-Chinese fried rice recipe.

Peas & Asparagus Barley Salad
Prep time - 10 mins 
Cook time - 30 mins + 20 mins
  • 2 cups - Pearl Barley, cooked
  • 1 cup - Green peas
  • 10-12 spears of Asparagus
  • 2 - Shallots
  • 1 Tbsp - Olive oil
  • 1 - lemon zest and juice
  • Salt, freshly ground pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 tsp - Toasted sesame oil (optional) 
  • Spring onion greens for garnish
  1. Wash and cook barley grains in an electric rice cooker(1: 1.5 water) or on the stove top (1:2) as you would regular rice.
  2. Mince shallots and saute in a wide pan with olive oil. Chop asparagus in 1 inch rounds and saute for a few minutes, reserving spear tips to add towards the end. Add peas, salt and red pepper flakes next. Sprinkle a few drops of water, cover and cook a few minutes till peas wilt and turn a bright green.
  3. Add barley, more salt as needed and cook covered on medium low heat for 5-6 mins.
  4. Add 1 tsp lemon zest, 1-2 tsp of juice and black pepper to taste. I finished it off with a tiny drizzle of toasted sesame oil to add a nutty, aromatic flavor, but this is optional.
  5. Garnish with spring onion greens before serving it warm or at room temperature.
Notes: Swap with farro, quinoa or brown rice instead of barley. Other spring delicacies like fava beans, sugar snap peas would work too. 

This dish is all about the fresh peas and asparagus. Tender spring veggies don't need much in terms of cooking or flavor additions. A quick saute like this one helps tone down the rawness but still retains the bright fresh flavor and crunch. Barley adds a chewy texture and heft to the salad making it a meal itself. Use any spring veggies you have on hand - fava beans, snap peas, fresh onions and garlic, broccoli flowers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Color Splash - Farmers Market

Dear Foodies,

These are a few photos I took with my phone while walking around the Saturday morning market in Little Italy. This is one of the larger farmer's markets in San Diego county with a great selection of fresh and artisanal products. Just sampling the produce and snacks ends up being my brunch for the day :) I went back home with a bunch of these carrots and roasted them whole with some salt and pepper. Finished it off with squeeze of lemon and enjoyed them over tart sorrel greens and slivered almonds. I was surprised by how substantial the carrots felt and they tasted great. I was tasting sorrel for the first time and liked the tartness in them, they reminded me of some other green, may be chintha chiguru - tamarind leaves.
See the colorful cauliflower in the background ? Stunning, right. I have a recipe with them coming up soon.
Fresh Onions
Rainbow Chard
A multitude of colored beets
Berry nice! and of course there were a lot of fresh strawberries too
Chamomile tea anyone ?
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