Warm Barley and Vegetable Salad

Warm Barley and Vegetable Salad

It has been a long time since we last had a CSA Challenge around here.  As we mentioned in a previous post, one of the ways that we get our organic and local produce is through a Community Supported Agriculture box or CSA box.  When this box arrives every other week from a local farm, sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out what to make with the vegetables that come.


In our most recent box, the vegetables we received included several onions and a few bunches of greens (kale and collards to be specific).   I find onions and greens to be pretty versatile vegetables and not so much of a challenge to figure out how to prepare.  This time, however, I decided I wanted to make some sort of tasty main dish that would include both of these vegetables and a few other ingredients that I had on hand—so this was where the CSA challenge came into play.

Caramelized Onions

While sorting through our pantry to try and up the ante on the Challenge, I decided that a slightly dusty bag of barley and an acorn squash I had purchased a while back should be thrown into the mix.  I figured that each vegetable, prepared in my favorite way, could be mixed in with the barley to yield a nice hearty dish.

Acorn Squash

The methods that I used to prepare all of the vegetables and barley for the dish were varied and required the use of a few different pans (Graham was not the happiest camper with all of the dish washing he had to do afterwards!).   I caramelized the onions, roasted the squash, sautéed the kale, toasted the walnuts, and set the barely to cook in boiling water.  The seasoning was pretty simple, olive oil, salt and pepper and a little dried thyme.  If I had it on hand, I would have added fresh thyme instead of dried, but part of the Challenge was to work with what I had.    At the last minute I also decided to add some dried cranberries for color and for their sweet tart flavor.

Kale cooking

Despite the time and extra dirty dishes that went along with this Challenge, I would definitely make this dish again.  When brought together each of the elements of the recipe added a unique flavor and texture that made the overall dish complex and hard to stop eating.   My mouth is watering just thinking of the variety of flavors—savory, sweet, tart, and a touch of bitter from the kale—and the textures—soft, crunchy, chewy, and just melt-in your-mouth wonderful.  Please give it a try and let me know what you think.

Toasted Walnuts and Roasted Squash

Warm Barley and Vegetable Salad

  • 1½ cup pearled barley
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 medium yellow onions, sliced into thin crescents
  • 1 bunch kale
  • ½ cup cranberries
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • a squeeze of lemon (about 1 tablespoon or so)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Prepare barley according to directions on the package.  Pearled barley should take about 30-45 minutes to cook.  Make sure to test the barley as it cooks.  Remove the barley from the heat when it is plump and chewy, before it gets too soft.  Drain any excess water from the barley.

While barley cooks, begin to caramelize the onions by heating about a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sized skillet.  Add the sliced onions and cook for roughly 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes to keep the onions from burning.   The onions should cook down quite a bit and take on a rich brown color.  Remove from heat and set aside.

For the squash, heat the oven to 425°.  Arrange cubed squash on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix so that all of the squash is evenly coated with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast the squash for 20 minutes or until the cubes are brown in places and tender.  During roasting stir occasionally to ensure the cubes don’t get too dark.

While the squash is roasting, arrange walnuts in a single layer on another baking sheet.  Toast the walnuts in the oven for about 5 minutes or until they are golden in color.  Make sure to watch the walnuts carefully, because they can burn quickly (I’ve had this happen to me more than once).

For the kale, strip the leaves from stems and discard stems.  Chop kale leaves into bite-sized pieces.  Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large pan (to save Graham from having to wash another pan I used the one I had cooked the onions in).  Add the kale leaves.  Cook kale leaves over low heat until slightly wilted, stirring occasionally.

For the dressing, mix together about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the dried thyme, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Once all of the vegetables and barley are cooked, mix them all together in a large pan. Add the dried cranberries and pour the dressing over the mixture.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  If necessary, heat the mixture over low heat until the salad is just warm.

Warm Barley Salad

Tasty Easy Healthy Green Recipe Ratings:

Recipe Report Card Notes About Recipe Ratings

Tasty Rating


Four Chefs (Delicious!)

Delicious!  A great mix of flavors and textures.

Easy Rating


Three Easy Chairs (Average Difficulty)

None of the steps in preparing this dish are very difficult, but there are a lot of steps going on at once.   Each of the steps are well worth it though.

Healthy Rating


Four Apples (Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise)

While pearled barley is not a whole grain it is still a good source of fiber and vitamins and minerals.  The salad does have a fair amount of olive oil, but as I’ve mentioned previously olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, which has been found to lower the risk of heart disease.

Green Rating


Five Leaves (Absolute Green)

All of the ingredients were organic and some of them were local.
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