This recipe proves how important one ingredient can be, especially if it is a intensely flavored condiment. I spotted this recipe in the August issue of Food and Wine Magazine and it sounded so good: nubbly barley tossed in a lemony kale pesto dressing.
The recipe said that the addition of chopped preserved lemon was “optional,” so I left that ingredient out and added in lots of fresh lemon juice. Even with using a whole lemon instead of the measly 1 Tbl. of juice the recipe called for, the salad tasted bland, very, very bland. Mostly, the salad had a strong herbal taste from the kale.
I went down to Sarah’s Tent in Deal, New Jersey to rectify the situation. I came home with a pint of preserved lemon slices, floating in spicy oil. I went straight to the kitchen and pulled out the leftover salad and tried to fix it by adding in the lemon and also some craisins.
The recipe called for currants, but I felt the recipe needed a more acidic dried fruit. Ideally, I would have added in these dried grape tomatoes that my sister-in-law brought back from Israel. They look like giant craisins, but taste like really, really sweet tomatoes. Those would have been perfect in this salad.
Not to digress too much, but these Israeli dried tomatoes are astonishing. My sister-in-law told me that they have no added sugar. They were so super candy sweet that I just didn’t believe her.
I’m still not sure that I believe it, but I looked online and found out that there is something called the Tomaccio, the “sweet raisin tomato.” Bred in Israel from wild Peruvian tomatoes, the Tomaccio is super sweet, so sweet that it turns into something like a raisin when it is dried. It took Israeli nursery Hishtil twelve years to breed this variety of tomato. Another Israeli company, 2Macho (pronounced the same as Tomaccio?) created another kind of cherry tomato raisin. And yet another Israeli company, Tomaisin, bred a cherry tomato that dries on the vine and has twice the sweetness of regular tomatoes (see also this).
On top of being really sweet and having a pleasant raisin texture, these tomaisins are supposed to have much more lycopene than regular tomatoes. Yummy and healthy–my favorite combination.
So, anyway, back to the barley salad. I added in the chopped preserved lemon and, WOW! The flavor of the salad went from blah to something that exploded with spicy lemony flavor. This is a salad to serve at a fancy simcha because the colors are beautiful, the texture is very appealing and the flavor is intense.
The recipe for this salad was contributed to Food and Wine by up and coming chef Jessica Koslow, of Sqirl. The key to its success is aggressive seasoning.
Bonus: Someone else found this salad a bit bland without the preserved lemon (“somehow kale plus olive oil and a bit of salt and lemon was just sort of meh.”). Here is how Lynne Ireland jazzed it up.
Another bonus: the preserved lemons I bought were in slices, seasoned with paprika, hot pepper (other spices?) and oil. Here is a similar sounding recipe from chef Shaya Klechevsky.
Lemony Barley Salad with Kale Pesto
Adapted from Jessica Koslow, Food and Wine Magazine, August 2014. I increased a lot of the seasonings.
1 cup pearled barley, boiled in salted water until tender but still chewy (about 30 min.), then drained
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted 3-5 minutes in a skillet over low heat until golden
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
currants (craisins or tomaisins)
1/4 cup minced shallots (originally just 1 Tbl.), sauteed in a small skillet with 2 Tbl. oil until golden
6 ounces kale, remove stems and tear up leaves into small pieces (4 cups)
Juice 1 lemon (originally just 1 Tbl. juice)
salt, to taste
2-4 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon, or more, to taste (originally 2 Tbl. and listed as optional–NOT optional)
Combine the toasted pine nuts, craisins/tomaisins, sauteed shallot and barley in a bowl.
In a food processor, pulse together two-thirds of the kale with the lemon juice until chopped. While continuing to process, pour in 1/2 cup oil and puree until smooth. Season the pesto with salt, to taste, and then mix the pesto into the barley. Stir in the preserved lemon and the remaining kale leaves. Toss everything together and adjust seasoning.
Note: the oil with the preserved lemon is very flavorful. Stir it in as needed to intensify the flavor of the salad. You might need to add a little ground pepper.