Bean and Barley Salad

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I belong to salad.  It’s year round for me.  What salad and I have together… well, it’s special.  It’s not a summer fling.  I do love salads in the summer… grilled tuna and avocado salad, for instance.  And there’s nothing like roasted fall vegetables over greens in late fall, or a tart and crisp fennel and grapefruit salad in the winter.  But one of my all-time favorite salad categories is the warm grain salad.  It’s a perfect salad for a fall dinner – hearty enough to make a meal out of it, but extremely wholesome and nourishing all the same.  And I’m not just talking about rice – although a wild rice salad with grapes is very nice.  Any whole grain can bulk up a salad, whether as an accent or as one of the basic building blocks – and you’re supposed to eat whole grains, anyway.  Bonus!  Take barley for instance – I’ve always got some in my pantry and sometimes it can be hard to know what to do with it.  But I’m telling you… give this salad a try, and you’ll never wonder what to do with that barley you bought in a fit of crunchiness.  This salad is what barley is made for.

A note on the beans, before I give you the recipe: while this salad would work with your run-of-the-mill dried pinto beans from the grocery store, it’s just better if you use heirloom beans.  The recipe was written to be made with the Yellow Indian Woman beans from Rancho Gordo… and no, I’m not being racist.  That’s really what they’re called.

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See?

Anyway, these beans are wonderful in this salad.  They hold their shape beautifully and bring a fantastic, rich flavor that goes extremely well with the barley and other ingredients – chopped preserved lemon and wilted spinach.  They really do make a difference, I promise!

Bean and Barley Salad with Spinach and Preserved Lemon

1/2 cup Rancho Gordo Yellow Indian Woman beans
1/2 cup organic pearl barley
1/2 package spinach (or equivalent amount of another leafy green)
1/4 preserved lemon, minced fine (use more if you like)
salt and pepper to taste

  • Put dried heirloom beans in a heavy stockpot, cover with water – about an inch – and cover the pot.  Allow to soak at room temperature for at least two and up to eight hours.  (I know this is annoying, but it’s crucial.  This recipe is really better on a weekend, I realize… but canned beans would not be the same.  Trust me on this one.)
  • Bring beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1-2 hours, until extremely fragrant.  Test a bean occasionally to gauge doneness.  The Yellow Indian Woman beans should keep their shape but still be soft enough to eat without crunching.
  • Meanwhile, cook the barley according to the package directions.
  • When the beans are about done cooking, stir in the spinach (or other dark green – chard would be lovely here and was actually my original intention, but my grocery store was out, darn them).  Allow the greens to wilt, then drain the beans as necessary – but don’t get too precious about it.  A little pot liquor (what bean folks call the cooking liquid) is a very, very nice addition.  Stir in the minced preserved lemon and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Finally, add the barley and stir everything together.  Serve the salad while it’s still warm and congratulate yourself for eating such a healthy dinner!

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Yield: Serves 4.

Source: Adapted from Heirloom Beans, by Steve Sando

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