The leaves are falling, which means a shift in types of recipes I prepare is in order. I think I’ll be taking somewhat of a break from summer salads and sandwiches to shift my focus back to soups, stews, holiday side dishes and pilafs. This recipe is the perfect example of the style I’m referring to.
This dish was not something I threw together in a few minutes. It took time. Cooking barley on low heat until it’s tender takes about an hour. The dish was, however, extremely simple to prepare, which was a pleasant surprise. There’s minimal prep work required and a fairly short list of ingredients that are necessary. The best part of the entire process was seeing what a relatively small bag of barley can transform into once it’s cooked. If I had to guess, I’d say it filled up half of my dutch oven, which is no easy feat.
Inherently, barley doesn’t offer a lot of flavor. It’s sort of like pasta in that it is a simple base. With the addition of some salt, things improve. Add to that some onion, toasted walnuts, raisins, parsley, balsamic vinegar and feta cheese, and you’ve got yourself something worth writing home about. It truly is the combination of ingredients that makes the dish so good. Individually, nothing really stands on its own. Well, except perhaps the feta. I can eat a block of feta and not even think twice.
Serves 6 to 8
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Sweet Onion, Chopped
9 Cups Water
3 Cups Pearl Barley
Regular Table Salt
Ground Black Pepper
1 1/2 Cups Walnuts, Crushed and Toasted
1 Cup Raisins
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Chopped
4 Ounces Feta, Crumbled
This can be considered a rustic dish that will provide lots of leftovers. Laura and I ate our two portions last night and have enough to feed us until Friday, which is two days away. So, for very little money, we can get six nice portions. That’s not bad at all.
I’d like to thank America’s Test Kitchen for this recipe. Even though their original version that’s called Oat Berry Pilaf with Walnuts and Gorgonzola is barely discernible, I did get the idea for what I put together from them. I enjoy certain ingredients, so I took the Test Kitchen’s initial idea and added my twist to it.
Soften the Onion
I suggest using a large pot or dutch oven to prepare this dish. Since the barley will grow in volume, you don’t want to get stuck with something too small. I used a 7-quart Lodge dutch oven for this.
After the onion is chopped, add it to the pot. Warm that, along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, over medium heat for about 5 minutes. All you need to do for this step is slightly soften the onion.
Once the onion is softened, go ahead and add the 9 cups of water, 3 cups of barley and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to it. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to low and let simmer for about 50 minutes to an hour.
You’ll know when the barley is finished when it’s tender and all the liquid has been absorbed.
Toast the Walnuts
Measure out the walnuts. Then, grab a handful and squeeze until you feel and hear them breaking. Add what’s in your hand to a small skillet. Do this until you’ve gently crushed all of them. Then, drizzle some olive oil over the walnuts and warm the skillet over medium heat. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes or until you begin to smell them toast and until they begin to brown slightly. Don’t overdo it. This is a gentle process and once the nuts begin to brown, they can easily and quickly burn.
When this step is finished, remove the skillet from heat and set aside for later use.
Prep Other Ingredients
While the barley is cooking, you can prep the remaining ingredients. I did this and took a few photos of the end results. I measured out the raisins, cut up (or crumbled) the feta and chopped the parsley.
Once the barley is finished cooking and everything else is ready to go, add the walnuts, raisins and parsley to the dutch oven. Stir well to combine everything. At this point, you can season with salt and pepper to taste.
After that, you can scoop some of the pilaf out of the pot and into bowls. Once you do this, drizzle each serving with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle some feta cheese on top.
The Final Dish
As I mentioned above, this dish is all about taste and filling you up. The ingredients are fairly inexpensive and what’s produced is substantial. Overall, I think it’s a really great recipe that I’ll be using again in the future.