Birthday Barley Salad


With blue cheese, marinated onions... With blue cheese, marinated onions...

I've been avoiding food blogs ever since their advent because I am nervous about plummeting productivity.  I've always had a penchant for food magazines (thanks, Mom), and food blogs just seem too good to be true--new recipes, beautiful photos, updated all the time.
Because I am constantly cooking, I figure I may as well write about it.  And the simple recipes I've been stumbling across (sauteed cabbage?!  I can write about that!) have inspired me.  As with many things in my life, I often don't start something for fear that, at some point, I will do it less than perfectly (which of course, I will), I will lose motivation (which is inevitable at various points) or that I will seem self-absorbed or self-important.  On this last point, anyone that knows me will attest to my complete obsession with food and how I love to talk about what I've just made or what I'm thinking about making.  So I'm finally giving in.

I made this salad for my Mom's surprise birthday party two weeks ago.  Before the (very approximate) recipe for the salad, a word about the party.  My Mom turned 57 on March 24, and has never had a proper birthday party.  After Christmas, I started scheming with my Dad and sister about surprising her this year.  It's not a milestone birthday, she'd never expect it, and we managed to get 40 of her biggest fans in a room, all loving on her, eating pulled pork, and yes, downing my salad.  It was a wonderful night, and one of my parents friends, Hugh, asked me for this recipe 3 times and claims it's the best salad he's ever eaten.  I don't know about that, but I promised I'd send it to him.  That means I have to approximate proportions and remember ingredients, which I'm notoriously bad at.  But here's a shot at it--use common sense and taste often as a buffer for  my "measure-once-cut-twice" propensity.

P.S. I absolutely adore kale in almost every form.  It doesn't lose it's crunch or color in salads, is definitely in the kick-ass-good-for-you category, and is available in the dull winter months.

Birthday Barley  Salad

2 cups barley

1 head curly kale, washed, ribbed, and finely chopped

1 c. roasted pecans

1/2 c. dried cherries, roughly chopped

1/2 c. crumbled Danish blue cheese (or other firm blue cheese)

zest from one lemon


1 minced garlic clove

salt and pepper to taste (don't be shy with your salt!)

1/2 ts. smoked paprika

4 Tb. apple cider vinegar

2 Tb. honey

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 red onion, cut into thin rings

For dressing:  Mix the first five ingredients in a large measuring cup.  Whisk in olive oil until emulsified.  Season to taste.  Drop in onions and let them marinate for at least 20 minutes.

For salad:  Cook barley in lots of boiling water for about 45 minutes.  There needs to be plenty of water so it won't stick together--you want the grains to be separate.  After it's done (grains will be soft, but still a little chewy), drain it and run cold water over it.  You can do this one day ahead if you want.

Toss barley with kale and most of the pecans, blue cheese, dried cherries, and dressing.  I use my hands to do this.  Scatter some of the remaining ingredients, the lemon zest, and a few marinated onions from the dressing over the top.  I always like my audience to know exactly what's in the salad just by looking at it.  Grind a bit more pepper if you like.


red onions marinating in smoky paprika dressing red onions marinating in smoky paprika dressing