Give Me Five: Barley salad with mint, beetroot and carrot

Beautiful deep purple beetroot is just the thing to add flavour and colour to barley

“My mother used to throw a handful or two of barley into stews and soups”

“My mother used to throw a handful or two of barley into stews and soups”

 

Raw beetroot is amazing. It dyes everything that comes into contact with it a vibrant pink and brings a lovely pop of colour to grain salads such as this one.

I always make a grated carrot and beetroot salad dressed simply with mint, lemon juice and olive oil, but recently I have been adding a little bulk to the mix with barley.

A further burst of freshness and piquancy comes from the pomegranate; it’s so natural to eat it with lemon and mint. The plump arils are camouflaged well among the beetroot-stained barley.

This salad is a great vegan main course served with a dollop of hummus or some salty feta crumbled on top. It is lovely with grilled lamb chops and it keeps well as a salad for lunch boxes.

Barley is one of my favourite grains. I’m quite nostalgic about it as my mother used to always throw a handful or two into stews and soups when we were little. I love its nutty flavour and distinctive texture, especially when cooked so that it retains a little bite.

Barley can be given a modern revamp by colouring it with beetroot or by adding turmeric to the cooking water. It is amazing how your perception of foods change once they are presented in a new way. Barley is a fantastic source of fibre and trace minerals such as selenium and manganese.

It is also a good alternative to pasta such as orzo and it can be used in risotto or pilaf in place of rice. I’m using pearl barley here, which has been polished to remove the tougher bran layer. This makes it faster to cook and releases starch so it can thicken soups and stews. It does make it less nutritious, however, so opt for the hulled barley if you have more time to cook it.

Barley is cheap, making this a very cost-conscious dinner. The pomegranate adds a splash of the exotic. I usually buy a whole pomegranate instead of the prepackaged tubs of arils.

Choose one that feels heavier than it looks: this means it will be full of juice. I usually halve the fruit and then get to work pulling it apart and picking the arils out. It’s a time-consuming job but always worth it. You can store the arils in a lidded container in the fridge afterwards. Children seem to love eating them and working to free them from their inner membrane. It is a nice job for them to do if they are helping to prepare dinner. I usually sprinkle some over smoothies or salads; they are also great on curries.

I have only recently discovered that the seeds freeze really well too. Just scatter the arils in an even layer on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and freeze for an hour or two, then tip into a sealable bag and store in the freezer until needed.

BARLEY SALAD: SERVES 4

The five ingredients

  • 300g pearl barley
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 raw beetroot, apple-sized
  • About 20 mint leaves
  • Half a pomegranate, arils removed

From the pantry

  • 3tbs olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2tbs lemon juice, or 1tbs cider or red wine vinegar

Method

Rinse the barley well in a sieve under running water. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then drain immediately. Cover once more with cold water and bring to boiling point again. Lower the heat and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the barley is cooked but still retains some bite. Drain and place in a large bowl. Immediately dress with three tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar. Season with salt and black pepper. Set aside to cool.

Peel the beetroot and roughly grate. Place in a large bowl. Peel and grate the carrot the same way. Place in the bowl and add the cooled barley. Stir until well combined. Taste for seasoning. Add more lemon juice or olive oil if it needs it. Finely shred the mint. Fold the mint and the pomegranate arils through the salad just before serving.

  • Every Thursday, we’ll tweet the five ingredients from @lillyhiggins and @irishtimeslife so you can have them ready for Friday. Email givemefive@irishtimes.com with your suggestions for recipes
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