Though best known for its role in hearty soups, barley is a fantastic grain to use in sturdy cold dishes. Case in point, this simple and flavorful barley salad with red beans, embellished with cucumber, herbs, and sunflower seeds, dressed in vinaigrette.
Barley is one of the most ancient of cultivated grains, yet in the kitchen, it never gets old, so to speak. Partly, that’s because many of us tend to think of rice and quinoa as go-to grains, forgetting that barley is such a versatile change-of-pace, with its mild flavor and pleasantly chewy texture.
Barley doesn’t take much longer to cook than brown rice, though for those in a hurry, there’s also quick-cooking barley, which is partially cooked, then dehydrated. Pearl barley is the more common variety; pot barley has more of the hull left on, takes a bit longer to cook, and is more likely found in bulk in natural foods stores.
Because it’s so sturdy, this is a nice salad for cool-season potlucks. As the weather warms up, this can also be a side-by-side dish with a potato salad or pasta salad, along with some grilled or steamed vegetables.
- 3/4 cup pearl or pot barley (about 3 cups cooked; see Note)
- 15-ounce can red or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 2/3 cup vinaigrette, bottled or homemade (see link in notes), or as needed to moisten
- 1/2 medium cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, optional
- 1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Rinse the barley in a fine sieve. Combine 2 1/2 cups (for pearl barley) or 3 cups water (for pot barley) with the grain in a saucepan. Bring to a slow boil, then lower the heat, and simmer gently, covered, until the water is absorbed, about 30 to 40 minutes. If the grain isn’t done to your liking, stir in an additional 1/2 cup water and cook until absorbed.
- Remove the cooked barley from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Combine the barley with the remaining ingredients in a serving bowl and stir together. If time allows, let the salad stand for a half hour or so for the flavors to marry. Either way, taste and add more dressing, salt, and pepper if need be, then serve.
Here's our Basic Vinaigrette Dressing if you'd like to DIY.