Black Barley of Death

The inspiration for this recipe came from one ingredient and this post started the same way all the others do; with a grocery list and a general idea what I wanted the end result to be. In this case, the inspiration inducing ingredient was black barley; a deeply colored cousin of the commonly known white barley. I had come across it the other day in Whole Foods and couldn't wait to put it to use, especially since I had never seen, nor heard of it. A quick Google search rendered little information on my new find so I got to work, treating it just like I would treat white barley.

I wish I could tell you that every recipe I create comes out at least somehow how I imagine it to be, but as anyone whose ever spent any time in the kitchen knows, that is an impossible feat to achieve. When things go wrong in the kitchen, it's easy to get frustrated and it seems the more you carefully select your ingredients and plan it all out, the more of a let down it can be. For me, one of the hardest lessons to learn (and I'm still in the process of learning it) is to take that frustration, learn what you can from it and then make the most of it, by salvaging what you can.

This dish was supposed to be a fusion of Middle Eastern flavors combined with some classic combinations and prepared with a couple of twists and turns. I started by prepping my ingredients and laying them out on the butcher's block so that they'd be at the ready. I made a vegetable stock out of the classic trio of carrots, celery and onions and then I added whole cloves and a bay leaf and let that simmer before I strained it. Once that was done, I reached for my star ingredient, black barley, and added it to my homemade stock. I let that simmer for an hour, but noticed that the barley still hadn't done much. I added water, the stock had been absorbed, then covered and let that simmer for another hour and a half. Still no results. By this time, in an emotional fit of frustration combined with hunger, I threw in the towel, dubbed the barley, "Black Barley of Death" and reached for my jar of couscous. Within 5 minutes, I had all of my components of my original dish added and I was ready to eat. Thank heavens for couscous..

While the results were not entirely what I expected, the flavors still worked together nicely. The fresh figs still gently popped with each bite, the eggplant still was soft and earthy and the fresh mint and parsley were still bright and welcome. I've put the original recipe below and I recommend trying it with barley, risotto, rice or in a pinch, turns out, couscous works just fine.

1 cup barley
5 fresh figs, quartered
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 eggplant, cubed
1 mango, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 bay leaf
3 whole cloves
1 orange, zested and juice reserved
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp cumin
A handful fresh parsley, chopped
A handful fresh mint, chopped
Salt and Pepper
Olive oil

In a medium-sized sauce pan and on medium heat, coat the pan in a thin layer of olive oil. Add the carrots, onion and celery and a generous pinch of salt. Cook the vegetables until they soften slightly and start to caramelize a little. Fill the rest of the pan up with water, add the bay leaf and cloves, lower the heat and let it simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes, strain out the vegetables and set the stock aside.

While the stock is simmering, coat the eggplant in a thin layer of olive oil and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the eggplant in an 400 degree oven until softened and set aside until ready for use.

Heat another sauce pan on medium heat and add another layer of olive oil. Heat the barley for a minute or so to toast it a bit. Add 3 cups of the vegetable stock, cumin and coriander, and bring mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the barley and let it cook until tender. Add the peppers and gently stir the barley to let the heat cook them through. Add the figs, eggplant, mango and orange zest, season with salt and pepper and then gradually add in orange, adding just enough to give it a light orange flavor. Finally, add the fresh mint and parsley, gently stir and serve when warm.


Betsy said...

I'm in love with these photos!

Ranjani said...

Huh, I've never heard of black barley. It looks like it's not pearled...maybe it needs an overnight soak before cooking? Sounds like you recovered well from the barley mishap!

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