Warm Pearl Barley Squash Salad with Balsamic-Dijon Dressing

Being one of those people who never thinks I’ll be full from a plate of vegetables alone, grains are my saviour when it comes to vegan salads. Also, it’s eight days into Veganuary and I still haven’t plucked up the courage to try vegan cheese, so we aren’t even going to go there as a solution to the problem.

It seems somewhat pretentious to quote Aristotle in reference to a salad, but this really is one where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (I’m sorry, please feel free to delete me from all your social media feeds immediately.) I love all of the components: pearl barley, butternut squash, tenderstem broccoli, pine nuts, sundried tomatoes, mustard and an eye-popping amount of balsamic vinegar; but in this dish they come together to create something more magic than I could have imagined. Being grain-based, it is filling enough to have as a supper, but also packs up into a Tupperware for the next day’s lunch. I’m going to stop bigging it up after this, I promise, but it’s also ridiculously easy to make.

Still here? Good. The original recipe came from the BBC Good Food website, and has been adapted over the years a little. In an ideal world I would have roasted the butternut squash but as I have been without an oven since mid-December (which is a story for another day) steaming it was the only option. What I like about it best is that you can swap out any of the ingredients, depending on what’s available or in season, and it will still be an excellent salad. I always made it with pumpkin seeds, as per the original, until one day I came home to find that I didn’t have any, so substituted in half a bag of pine nuts and never used seeds again.

The recipe below yields about six large-ish servings; or eight lunch boxes. You can eke it out among more people if you serve it as a side dish. I once served it up as a vegetarian option at a BBQ, for example, and it went around about 15 people.

Warm Pearl Barley Squash Salad with Balasmic-Dijon Dressing

1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
250g pearl barley
250g tenderstem broccoli, cut into pieces
100g sundried tomatoes
1 small red onion, diced
50g pine nuts
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
Handful chopped basil, plus extra leaves for garnish
90ml olive oil
75ml balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, finely grated

[Note: I only steamed the squash as I am currently without an oven, I have previously roasted it and preferred the result. If you wish to do this, preheat the oven to 200ºc, toss the squash pieces in oil and a little sea salt and spread out on a baking tray. Roast for approximately 30 minutes until the squash is tender and a little browned at the edges.]

Steam the squash until tender. Meanwhile, cook the barley in a pan of salted water until soft; this will take approximately 25 minutes.  When the squash is cooked, remove to a plate and steam the broccoli until cooked to your liking – I like mine a little al dente.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked squash, barley, broccoli, sundried tomatoes, onions, pine nuts, capers and basil. Give it a good grind of pepper if you wish, but you will probably not need any salt due to the capers.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and garlic. Pour over the salad and stir evenly to coat. Garnish with the additional basil.

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food.

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