Monday, August 2, 2010

French Barley Salad

After a recent trip to Europe (Brussels and Paris), it got me thinking about Parisian way of life and their lifestyle vs. the average American's. It's not that I haven't thought about this before, but as I am in the process of exploring different ways of eating (i.e. Ayurvedic, macrobiotic, etc), I am considering different elements of all these different approaches that I may want to incorporate into my own. Of course there have been all kinds of things written about why French women are so thin when there are so many rich foods in their diet, and while I haven't read any of them fully, a few of the more obvious points are:
1. Portion control- you can eat rich foods when you're just eating tasting portions of them and not super-sizing everything.
2. Sit down to eat and enjoy your food (sitting in the car doesn't count).
3. Use your feet as your main mode of transportation.

One observation I made was I didn't see a single person walking around drinking coffee out of a to-go cup. In Europe, they sit down and drink their coffee. In addition to taking time to eat/ drink their food, they are also much more "green" there than we are here, so that probably contributes to this factor as well. But, the next time you walk down a busy city street here in the U.S., take note as to how many people are eating or drinking something while they're walking. The same goes for the car. There is quite a bit of mindless consumption that takes place.

I had two of the best salads I've ever eaten while in Belgium, one in Brussels and one in Bruge. The one in Bruge had mozzarella that was so light and delicious it melted in my mouth. In Brussels, Wendy and I were hoping to eat some form of protein that was not cheese. In my experience, this is very difficult to do in Europe. There doesn't appear to be a big vegetarian crowd as far as I can tell. It's not that I didn't adore the toasted goat cheese I had on a couple of occasions, or the aforementioned mozzarella, but I'd prefer to not eat that much dairy. So, when we sat down at Birdie Nam Nam, the cafe in Brussels (can you even stand how cute the name is?) and started to decipher the French menu, I nearly shrieked with delight when I saw "lentils" as part of the ingredients. As it turned out, this was not the best part of the salad. The highlight was these little tomatoes that were either partly dried or partly roasted that were so delicious, I had to ask Wendy to be quiet every time I ate one, so I could have a "moment". Luckily she totally understood, and I did the same for her. I wish I could take some home with me (see the picture at the top if you want to know what they look like). I would take these any day over the many pieces of Belgian chocolate we sampled (I know, this is blasphemy to some.) It makes me sad that I may never eat one of those amazing little bundles of goodness again unless I can figure out how they were cooked.

The consistent element to most of the salads I ate was the simple vinaigrette they were dressed in. You could probably feed me sawdust, but if it was covered in a tangy vinaigrette I'd be happy. As a tribute to the salads I had while abroad, I made this barley salad from the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special Cookbook. I used cucumber instead of green beans since I didn't have any on hand and I toasted the walnuts instead of cooking them in butter, though I'm sure that would add some nice flavor. Barley is a great base for a cold salad because its consistency holds up very well. I like the chewy texture a lot.

French Barley Salad
1/2 cup raw pearled barley
6 cups water
1/2 tspn salt

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 tspn Dijon mustard
1 tblspn chopped fresh dill (1 1/2 tspn dried)
1 tspn salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup halved or quartered mushrooms
1 cup peeled diced carrots
1 cup cut green beans, trimmed and halved
1 cup thinly sliced red or yellow bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tspns butter
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Bring the water to a boil, adding the 1/2 tspn of salt. Rinse the barley in a sieve or strainer. Add it to the boiling water, and cook for about 30 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water to arrest the cooking and put aside to cool.
2. While the barley cooks, whisk together the dressing ingredients and in a small bowl, pour half over the mushrooms and let marinate.
3. Blanch the carrots in boiling water for about a minute. Remove with a slotted spoon,
drain and set aside to cool in a large serving bowl. In the same water, blanch the green beans for 3 to 4 minutes. Rinse in cold water and set them aside (do not add to serving bowl).
4. Stir the peppers and the mushrooms in with the carrots and green beans.
5. In a skillet, heat the butter, when it sizzles, stir in the walnuts so they are coated in butter and begin to brown, then immediately remove from heat.
6. Add the drained barley and remaining dressing to bowl and mix well. Let marinate for 30 minutes. Just before serving add the green beans and walnuts (it's best to add these in just before serving, otherwise the acidity from the dressing will start to soften them).

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