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Barley and Vegetable Skillet Salad

I know most of “us” (yes, including me) avoid barley because we think of it as health food. And health food is not supposed to taste good right? When barley is prepared properly and seasoned well, it can transform into gourmet food. Barley is a very versatile grain with a pleasant nutty flavor. These little grains are filled to the brim with nutritional benefits, the best one being the fiber content. An average person needs about 28 grams of fiber per day. 1 cup of cooked barley can provide you about 55% of your daily requirement!! Now isn’t that a reason to eat barley at least once a week? This is exactly what I thought and attempted this warm salad today. I liked chewing on the nutty barley pearls. But they definitely need some strong seasoning to enhance their taste. I used the spicy and robust Mexican seasoning that I bought from a local store (sprouts) recently.

I am obsessed with it and use it in everything 😀 I have made fajita and quesedilla with it and they were fabulous! I ended up using the same seasoning today also and used lots of chopped cilantro to complement it. Verdict – Yummy!!!!!! I love this salad and this will become a staple in my diet from now on. Though it might take a few more years to make Venkat eat this 😛 And the best part about this salad is that you tend to have automatic portion control because of the chewy texture and barley is extremely filling! I guess that’s because of the fiber in the barley and the tons of veggies I’ve used in here. I was completely full until dinner time, didn’t even crave for a tea time snack. I would suggest that you make this ahead and carry it for lunch at work. You will automatically cut down on snacks and coffee.

This recipe is just a guideline. Yo can go ahead and use any seasoning, vegetables and herbs of your choice. There is no hard or fast rule. That’s what makes cooking interesting, unlike baking combine a few ingredients and season them well, you will have a very edible dish ready! Its all about your taste buds. But there are a few things you may like to keep in mind so you don’t end up with weird tasting food. For example, remember that cilantro pairs well with Mexican and Indian food. Rosemary, oregano, terragon and parsley pair well with Italian/American food. These basic things will help you build strong and successful flavor combinations.

And oh! I served this salad with one of my MOST favorite vegetable that’s in season now – Asparagus! I can’t believe I spent the first 25 years of my life without this 😀 Hehe….that was a bit too much I know, but its just to tell you how much I love asparagus. Especially when roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper and grated garlic, yum! I had first heard of asparagus when I was in school, I guess 7th grade. Have you read the story, The Luncheon by Somerset Maugham? If you haven’t, you should! Here is a link to the story online. In that story, the author is a not so successful writer (at that time) meets one of his fans at a restaurant in Paris. It turns out that the restaurant where his fan had planned the meeting was one of the most expensive ones in Paris. He panics, but can’t back out. So they meet and go in to have lunch. He orders the cheapest meal on the menu and the lady orders herself a feast, saying she could never eat more than one thing at lunch. She ends up ordering caviar, champagne, asparagus (very very expensive in those days!), ice cream and peaches; apart from her meal of salmon!!!! The host ends up having just enough money (his whole month’s savings) to pay the bill. And the parting words from the lady are: “Follow my example,” she said as we shook hands, “and never eat more than one thing for luncheon.” Then the author has an opportunity to meet her some years later and she weighed 21 stones (295 pounds!) . I love the humor in Somerset Maugham’s writing. He has written various short stories if you ever care to get your humor fix.  Since that story, I thought of asparagus as an exotic vegetable! Now that I’ve tasted them, I do agree they are exotic and exquisite!! Especially the tips, yum!!!
This post is going to Simona of Briciole who is hosting the fifteenth edition of Novel Food, an event she co-created with Lisa of Champaign Taste. This event highlights the food and drink found within the pages of the literature, poetry, plays, memoirs, and essays.

Note: You may use the quick cooking barley for this recipe. The quick cooking grains are not unhealthy at all, they pack in the same nutrition and are just processed to cook quickly!

Serves 2-3

Pearl Barley – 3/4 cup
Water/Vegetable Stock – 2 cups
Onion (sliced) – 1 small (preferably red)
Red/Green Pepper (sliced) – 1 small
Carrot (julienne) – 1 medium
Mushrooms (sliced) – 1 1/2 cups
Frozen Green Peas – 1/4 cup
Frozen Corn kernels – 1/4 cup
Olives (cut into halves) – 8-10 no. (Optional)
Asparagus – 10-12 spears (or as many as you need)
Garlic (minced) – 2 large cloves
Mexican Seasoning* – 1 Tbsp
Salt & Black pepper – to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 2 Tbsp

Lemon juice – 1 Tbsp
Cilantro/Coriander leaves (chopped) – 1/4 cup

*Tip: If you don’t have Mexican seasoning, use 1/2 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp ground cumin and 1 1/2 tsp of chipotle chilli powder/smoked paprika and increase the garlic to 3 cloves.


  • Rinse the barley and soak it in at least 2 inches of water for an hour. This will help the barley cook faster.
  • After an hour, drain the barley and combine it with the water or vegetable stock and salt to taste (about 3/4 tsp) in a saucepan; cover and cook for 20-25 minutes on medium-high heat. When the barley is ready, the grains will be soft and the liquid would have evaporated completely. Fluff the barley with a fork and rest for 10-15 minutes before using. You can actually cook the barley ahead and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week and use it whenever required.
  • Chop or slice the vegetables as mentioned in the ingredient list.
  • Heat the olive oil a fairly large skillet. Once the oil is hot, add in the garlic, wait for 30 seconds. Then drop in all the vegetables at once, add the Mexican seasoning, salt & pepper to taste and stir fry on high heat for 5-7 minutes. The vegetables should not cook through completely, they should retain some crunch.
  • Then add the cooked barley and toss to mix. Cook for 2 minutes, to let the barley absorb all the flavors. Turn off the heat and finish with the chopped cilantro and lemon juice. Cover and let stand for at least 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.

If you would like to serve this with roasted asparagus, remove the woody end of the asparagus spears. In a small bowl combine 1 Tbsp olive oil, salt & pepper to taste and 1 clove of grated garlic. Pour this over the asparagus and rub it on. Line them up on a lined baking sheet and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

You might also like:

POM (Pomegranate) Strawberry Tartlets

Roasted Sweet Potato & Spinach Salad with Cilantro-Lime dressing

Rice & Vegetable cakes with Avocado-Yogurt sauce and Wilted Spinach

Baingan Bharta – Roasted and Mashed Eggplant Curry

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