Okay, I finally understand the ingeniousness of “health bowls”—it’s a fabulous way to enjoy a healthy one-bowl-meal using a mix of grains, fresh vegetables and whatever else you have on hand. In this case, a healthy better-than-rice bowl of barley, fresh spinach, sweet dried cranberries, and toasted pine nuts. End result — an ultra-satisfying, easy and nutritious meal. It’s not quite a salad, and I’m not sure it would qualify as a quasi-risotto, so I guess it’s somewhere in between those two. Name unknown. Hence “Barley Bowl”.
Did I tell you that barley is one of my go-to-grains? Not only does it have a fantastic chewy texture and unique nutty taste, but even pearl barley, which is not entirely a whole grain, has more fiber than white, brown and wild rice. This less robust, “polished” grain still retains many vital nutrients, but if you want a whole grain option that really packs a nutritional bunch, then go ahead used hulled barley. It’s minimally processed—and carefully so, as to ensure that only the tough inedible outer hull is removed. But it takes longer to cook, so plan ahead. Alternatively, give it a soak overnight to speed things up. Plus soaking whole grains is said to help unleash even more of their nutrients, support better absorption of the various vitamins and minerals, as well as aid in digestion. All good things.
Barley Bowl with Lemon-Spinach Pesto
Serves 2 as a main (or 4 as a side)
1 cup pearl barley (220 g)
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup organic dried cranberries (apple juice sweetened) (50 g)
1 shallot, minced
3 handfuls baby spinach, plus 1 handful (about 100 g)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly grated parmesan, as garnish
1. In a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups (750 ml) of salted water to a boil. Add the barley and reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for about 25 minutes, until the barley is al dente. If liquid remains, drain the barley in a colander (or use the lid of the pot to strain off any excess moisture).
2. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat until lightly golden. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. Using the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the dried cranberries and shallot and sauté until the shallot is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add to the bowl with the barley.
4. Using a food processor (or hand-held immersion blender) blend together 3 handfuls of spinach with the lemon juice and 6 tablespoons olive oil until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
5. Scrape the pesto into the bowl with the barley, add the remaining handful of spinach leaves, as well as the pine nuts and toss until well combined. Serve immediately and enjoy warm!