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Two Summer Dinner Salads

When, or perhaps I should say if, the sun is shining, I’d rather be in the meadow than in the kitchen, so I often make a large barley salad that can be served either with soup, bread and cheese, or leftover chicken to make satisfying dinners over the next few days.

The first time I had barley salad I couldn’t identify the ingredients. I only knew barley as bland, tiny spheres floating in beef soup. In fact, barley is eaten around the world. Muhammad prescribed the barley grain as an antidote for grief. It has been a staple food in Tibet since the fifth century, and early Roman gladiators were called barbarian hordearii, translated as “barley eaters.” If you would like to eat like a gladiator, try this salad. With barley as a primary ingredient, this is a substantial dish that tastes fresh even after a couple of days in the fridge. Here’s how I made it:

Barley Salad

1 1/2 cups barley

4 cups water

1 large red onion, diced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups raw corn kernels (frozen corn works and there is no need to thaw it)

1 red pepper, diced

1 jalapeno, diced

1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cucumber, diced

1 cup cilantro leaves

4 cloves garlic

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 Tablespoon ground cumin

I began by making sure that there were no stones masquerading as barley. Then, I rinsed it, put it in a sauce pan with the water and let it simmer, uncovered, until it was tender, about 35 minutes. While the barley cooked, I diced one large red onion and put it in a bowl of salted ice water to eliminate the strong, raw taste.

I drained the barley and combined it in a large serving bowl with the rinsed and drained onion, corn, red pepper, jalapeno, black beans, cucumber and cilantro.

For the dressing, I simmered the garlic in boiling water for three minutes and then pureed it in a blender with the vinegar, olive oil, canola oil and ground cumin. I mixed this colorful salad and dressing together and added salt and pepper to taste. I prefer to serve this salad at room temperature.

If barley holds no appeal and there’s a bag of quinoa in the pantry, why not opt for Quinoa Salad?

Quinoa (keen-wah) is the seed of a plant related to tumbleweed. Who knew? Tumbleweed makes me think of Gene Autry singing “… drifting along with the tumbling, tumbleweed.” Quinoa originated in the Andes Mountains in South America and has been an important food for more than 6,000 years. A gluten-free, complete protein, quinoa has rightfully earned the title “mother of all grains.”

Here’s how I used parsley from the garden along with a lemon to make a salad reminiscent of tabbouleh:

Quinoa Salad

2 cups quinoa

2 cups vegetable broth

1-15 ounce can soy beans, rinsed and drained

1-15 ounce can white kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup, loosely packed, parsley leaves

1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

I rinsed the quinoa in cold water to get rid of the bitter coating, then toasted the quinoa in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Initially the quinoa stuck to the bottom of the pan, but as the grains were heated they began to dance around in the bottom of the pan. After 10 minutes of constant stirring, the seeds were light brown and aromatic. I took the pan off the burner and stirred in the vegetable broth, then put it back on the burner, brought it to a boil, covered the pan, reduced the heat and let it simmer until it was al dente, about 18 minutes. I drained the remaining liquid and set the covered quinoa aside for five minutes.

I used a fork to fluff the quinoa and then transferred it to a large bowl to cool. I added the beans, parsley, scallions, cherry tomatoes and the lemon zest.

For the dressing, I combined the lemon juice, mustard and olive oil. I stirred the dressing into the salad, added salt and pepper to taste and the salad was ready to put on the table. These recipes serve six generously. Served at room temperature, this salad is a crowd pleaser.

Both of these salads can be modified to suit your palate and pantry. Any canned beans will work, parsley can be replaced with basil, and red onions and scallions are interchangeable. Minced chili pepper or a bit of cayenne pepper will add heat.

With flowers from the meadow on the table, dinner is a breeze, no matter how hot the day.

Carol Egbert lives in Quechee, where she paints and cooks. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com