Winter and I have had a rocky go of it this year. We’ve waffled back and forth in a love / hate relationship that rivals the one I’ve currently got going on with my gym membership. On one hand, I’ve loved the quiet beauty a good snowstorm lays gently across my world and the resulting desire to cozy up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and a season of Entourage. On the other, I am tired of feeling stuck indoors, the outside ice, mud and frigid air enough to keep me hibernating under a quilt with the lights turned low. The result has been a bit too much cozying, and my motivation to cook, write, or log miles on the treadmill seems to be hiding in the same dark place as the sun. I am lost in the monotony of February, floating through scenes of white and gray, desperately seeking a reprieve in the form of a warm day, tiny chartreuse buds on the backyard Maple tree, fresh produce from local farmers that isn’t squash or cabbage.
There have been some brighter moments lately, a few shrieks of excitement released from my heart after witnessing the sun pierce a hazy layer of clouds, revealing a small patch of brilliant blue sky. I was thrilled to notice last week that two copper-toned birds have chosen to make a nest in the cold, drab ally outside my office window, and just this morning heard a woman excitedly discussing the yellow crocuses popping out from under a blanket of snow in her yard. All are sure signs of Spring’s impending arrival and moments I am desperate to capture permanently. Should snow fall again in the coming weeks I’d like to have a photograph stashed away in my back pocket to remind me that the end is near, that productivity will return with a sunshine-filled sky and baby birds chirping on the sill.
In the meantime, the meals I am managing to cook seem to have several similar qualities. They are simple. They are hearty and warm and filling. They incorporate some ingredient that brightens the dish at multiple levels; to the eyes, to the nose, to the tongue. Whether it be golden citrus tossed in a salmon salad, vibrant leeks bobbing amongst emerald isles of kale, the scent of fresh lime wafting from my oven, each recipe is very carefully chosen to lift our spirits and carry us through these last (25!) days of Winter.
This salad is no exception to my new rules. Hearty grains are joined by warm, earth-scented mushrooms to create a salad base as warm and satisfying as a family quilt enveloping shivering shoulders. Jewel-toned grape tomatoes and bright flecks of fresh parsley are the harbingers of this dish, reminders that Spring, followed closely by Summer, will be joining us soon. Served over a bed of spicy arugula and layered with shavings of Pecorino Toscano, this salad makes for a lovely, filling, early dinner, and is best enjoyed beside a window in the rays of Winter's setting sun.
Warm Barley Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms
adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop
serves 4 as a main course
- 1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
- 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 medium shallots, thinly sliced
- 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 quart water
- 1-1/2 cups pearl barley
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 6 cups packed baby arugula, spinach, or mix
- 4 oz Pecorino Toscano, feta or goat cheese, diced or crumbled (I used a hard pecorino, shaved over the top of the salad)
- Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 425*.
- Toss the mushrooms, tomatoes, shallots and 2 tbsp of the oil together on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast the veggies, stirring once, until the mushrooms and shallots are browned nicely, about 25 minutes. Let cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, bring water, barley and pinch of salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender but still a bit chewy, about 30 minutes. Drain the barley well in a strainer and transfer to a large bowl.
- Toss the barley with the remaining 3 tbsp oil until coated evenly. Add the roasted vegetables and parsley and toss to combine. Cool slightly and then season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide the arugula or spinach among four large plates. Spoon warm barley salad over each plate, sprinkle with cheese, and serve.
- Store barley salad separately from arugula or spinach and reheat for lunch the next day, if desired.