There just a few months left of the fresh herb season so I’m trying to find ways to eat up as much of the leaves as I can. Plus, it’s a constant battle with the bugs. Hopefully, I will enjoy more of the herbs than the bugs do.
A while back I wrote about using herbs for a Southeast Asian rice salad. Dried shrimp and a stunning array of finely chopped aromatics were part of the nasi ulam recipe. Then I went to Chimu, a new Peruvian restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. There, the chef presented a barley salad tossed with a green salsa criolla. The dish was called trigo mote, and though trigo means wheat in Spanish, barley was used. The Peruvian barley salad also had bits of beets, feta and leaves of tarragon. It was refreshing.
I’d mostly eaten barley in western soups but the Peruvian treatment made me realize that barley is appreciated as a major grain in many parts of the world. After all, we’d had roasted barley tea at many Korean and Japanese restaurants. Barley is used for the Tibetan staple tsampa. China is one of the world’s biggest consumers of barley as food. Obviously, barley is not just for beer and beef soup.
My husband and I were so knocked out by Chimu’s barley salad that we went home and tried making our own. We used unhulled organic barley, soaking it overnight, then simmering it for about an hour. The barley was toothsome but not handsome because it didn’t keep its roundish shape. It kind of busted out by the time I deemed it ‘done.’
To get the green color, we whirled up a bunch of parsley and added a touch of oil to emulsify it. The parsley imparted an overly vegetal flavor. After we tried correcting the flavor with a bunch of chopped Asian herbs from the garden, it dawned upon us that we should not use parsley at all. We also decided that too much oil made the grains taste heavy.
My husband enjoys finely chopping fresh herbs so he gladly did it for a second round of the barley salad. This time, I used organic pearl barley and toasted it before cooking. No soaking needed. Voila! The grains retained their charming shape and alluring chew.
I tossed the grains in a bit of oil to separate them and keep them moist. Then I hit the barley with a mess of herbs and a touch of salt and fish sauce (you can use soy sauce, Maggi, or Bragg’s liquid aminos for a vegetarian/vegan option).
We ate the barley herb salad for dinner alongside grilled salmon and zucchini squash. A few days later, the leftovers got paired with grilled chicken, sliced tomatoes, and a green salad.
Barley and Asian Herb Salad
Feel free to add other goodies to the salad such as diced roasted beets or feta like Chimu did for their trigo mote. Those ingredients would certainly pair nicely with the herbs. Some fried crispy shallots (hanh phi) would too! Rinsing the grains removes starch to create a lighter barley.
1 cup pearl barley
1 3/4 cups water
2 tablespoons fragrant peanut oil, or 1 tablespoon of canola and 1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup lightly packed, finely chopped fresh herbs, such as:
- Vietnamese coriander (rau ram)
- Red perilla (tia to)
- Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi)
- Kaffir (makrut) lime leaf
- Thai basil
Fish sauce, light (regular) soy sauce, Maggi Seasoning Sauce, or Bragg’s liquid aminos
1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, toast the barley for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it smells nutty. It’s fine if some grains pick up a bit of light brown.
2. Set aside to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then dump the barley in a mesh strainer. Rinse under water for 10 to 20 seconds to remove some of the starch. Drain well, giving the strainer a few shakes to expel hidden water.
3. Put the barley back into to saucepan. Add the water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until tender-chewy and there is barely any liquid visible at the bottom of the pan. Occasionally stir the barley to evenly cook.
4. Turn off the heat and let the barley rest for a few minutes. Dump it back into the strainer, then flush with water for about 10 seconds to rinse off residual starch. Drain well, then transfer to a bowl.
5. Add the oil and toss the grains. Then add the herbs and toss to combine. Now season with the salt, fish sauce, and black pepper. You can serve the barley salad immediately or let it rest for a spell to develop the flavor. The salad keeps well in the fridge for several days.