Thursday, March 31, 2011

Barley and Favas

It's been a nasty few weeks. I came down with some head cold thing the first week in March that is still clinging on. One major customer called a complete halt to all work and another announced an emergency project that should take two weeks and is being compressed into 4 working days. I have the day off today and I'm making a big grain and legume salad for dinner since the temperature in hovering near 80 degrees.

Red Bell Pepper 1.00 Each $1.16
Fava Beans 1.00 Can (20 oz.) $0.99
Dried Apricots 3.25 Ounces $0.62
Chicken Stock 1.50 Cups $0.54
Barley 5.25 Ounces $0.32
Shelled Pistachios 0.31 Ounces $0.19
Olive oil 2.00 Tbsp $0.16
Scallions 0.50 Bunch $0.10
Fresh Parsley 0.25 Bunch $0.05
Ras al Hanout 1.00 Tbsp $0.03
Lemon zest and juice 1.00 Each $0.00

The key to this dish is to buy your ingredients at a local specialty market where you can get weird, cheap food. The most expensive item was the red bell pepper that I had to buy at Trader Joe's for over $1/pepper. The barley is something imported from the middle east and is the tiniest, finest barley you can imagine, having nothing in common with the huge grains of US pearled barley. The favas are a non-standard 20 ounce can. Smaller cans cost about 79 cents. My lemon came from my own tree, so was free.  I'm really lucky to have a Meyer lemon in my backyard, even if it means washing off the bird poop.
  1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in heavy bottomed sauce pan, and add the barley. Stir until the barley begins to smell good and some of the grains are getting toasted. Pour in the stock and bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes for fine barley.
  2. While the barley cooks, chop up the bell pepper, the parsley, the apricots and the green onions and stir them up well in a bowl. Add the lemon zest and pistachios. Drain and rinse the favas, then stir them in.
  3. When the barley is done, dump in colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Drain very well and add to the bowl. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and stir well to distribute ingredients. Pour lemon juice in and stir some more. Sprinkle ras-al-hanout spice mix over the top with salt to taste and mix again.
  4. Let this sit in the fridge for the day to let flavors blend. Pull out an hour before serving and allow to come to room temperature. Add salt, more lemon juice and olive oil to taste at the table.
If you'd prefer to make this with wheat berries, rye berries, spelt, coarse bulgur, or large grained couscous, go right ahead. Heck, brown rice would probably work, too. If you can't find or don't like favas, try substituting chickpeas or even white beans.  Try almonds or cashews instead of pistachios. Use cranberries or golden raisins in place of all or some of the apricots. Minced red onion in place of the scallions is fine. Use plain water instead of chicken stock to cook the grains. Use cucumbers and/or tomatoes in place of the red bell pepper. Etc. In short, if you don't have exactly this ingredient list on hand, see if you have something that has a similar texture or flavor and substitute that.
Ras-al-hanout is a spice mix that is slightly different depending on who mixed it up. Search for a recipe - you'll find dozens - and pick the one that has a spice mix that appeals to you. The mix I use is:
  • 1 tsp each ground black pepper and cardomom
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp each red pepper (like cayenne), ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon
This is a pretty nutritious meal depending on how much extra oil you pour over it.  I serve it as a main dish at home, but I also take it as a side dish to potlucks, picnics and parties.

I like using the combination of barley and favas. It has a really good texture and is very cheap.


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