Fluffy, nutty barley gets mixed with grilled eggplant, onions, and jalapeño, then drizzled with red wine vinaigrette. Walnuts, mint, basil, and feta all get sprinkled on top for a middle eastern-inspired grain salad that’s just as good leftover for lunch the next day as it is for dinner. Have you ever had barley before? It’s probably most popular for its transformation into beer, though it really is a hearty, nutritious grain in its own right. If you’ve never seen barley before, you can usually find it in the dried beans/rice aisle, or in the bulk bins at your regular old grocery store. Although there are several types of barley, I’ve only ever seen the pearled variety in the grocery store, so that’s what I buy. The flavor is fairly mild and nutty, almost like brown rice. What I love most about barley, though, is its texture. Think big, fluffy rice meets tiny pasta. Barley soaks up flavors without ever getting soggy, and it’s chewy, toothsome texture makes the perfect base for this salad. It also happens to be packed with protein, fiber, and essential nutrients like magnesium, which is a welcome bonus.
I was inspired to make this salad by all the giant, beautiful eggplant and overflowing baskets of jalapeños at my neighborhood farm stand this week. I came home with one of each to find barley, walnuts, and lemons in the pantry, and plenty of basil and mint growing on the back steps. Sheep’s milk feta made it onto the next day’s grocery list, and the rest is history.
To make this salad, first you cook a pot of barley. I made mine a day in advance and left it in the fridge until I was ready to make the salad; you can also let it cook while you grill and prep the rest of the ingredients. While the barley cooks, eggplant, red onion, and a jalapeño get sliced, seasoned, and charred on the grill. A simple vinaigrette is whisked up with lemon juice and zest, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and olive oil. Walnuts, mint, and basil get chopped, feta gets crumbled, then everything gets tossed together in a big bowl. I almost threw in a handful of golden raisins, but changed my mind; if you’re looking for an extra touch of sweetness to balance out the spicy jalapeño, raisins would be a welcome addition here.
This salad is great warm, room temperature, or cold, and is filling enough to be a meal all on its own. I’ve been eating leftovers for lunch at work all week, and apart from less-crunchy walnuts, it has held up really well. Warning: I used an exceptionally giant, ferociously spicy jalapeño that gave the salad extra heat. In the recipe, I listed the jalapeño as optional, since not everyone can handle the heat; I’ll let you decide if you want the extra spice or not.
Either way, I think you’re going to love this grain-based salad full of late summer produce for an easy weeknight dinner or make-ahead lunch. If you make it this week, let me know! Comment below or tag me #bakedgreens on Instagram so I can follow along with your cooking adventures!
- 1 cup pearled barley (dry)
- 3 cups water
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 large red onion
- 1 jalapeno (optional)
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 4oz feta cheese (or about 1/2 cup, crumbled)
- 1/4 cup basil
- 1/4 cup mint
- extra olive oil, salt, and pepper, to taste
- 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- zest and juice from 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon each black pepper and garlic powder
- 1. Cook barley: add barley, water, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of salt to a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Set cooked barley aside in a large bowl, uncovered, until needed.
- 2. Turn on your grill to medium-high (alternately, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit). Slice eggplant into 1-inch rounds. Peel and slice red onion into 1/2-inch rounds. Leave the jalapeno whole, if using. Drizzle veggies with olive oil, and season generously with salt and pepper.
- 3. Place vegetables onto the grill, and cook for about 3 minutes per side, flipping once. If roasting, cook for 25 minutes or until tender. Remove vegetables from the grill, and slice the eggplant and onion into about 1-inch cubes. Slice off the jalapeno's stem, and remove seeds (if less heat is desired). Thinly slice the jalapeno. Put all the chopped vegetables in the bowl with the cooked barley.
- 4. Roughly chop the walnuts, basil, and mint. Crumble the feta. Add everything into the bowl with the barley.
- 5. Put all vinaigrette ingredients into a small bowl or jar, and whisk/shake to combine. Pour over the salad, and toss. Serve with an extra handful of chopped herbs, if desired.
- 6. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 1 week. This salad can be eaten slightly warm, room temperature, or cold, and tastes great at all three temperatures.
- If you don't have access to a grill, the eggplant, onion, and jalapeno can be roasted in the oven. See recipe for details.