Necessity was definitely the mother of invention for this Barley-Fiddlehead-Asparagus Salad. Early in May, I had signed up to bring a grain salad to a potluck on the Tuesday after the Memorial Day holiday. The morning of the potluck arrived. I was due at work shortly. I had neither shopped for ingredients, nor made a salad, nor, to be honest, given the dish a moment’s thought.

I looked around my kitchen. I looked at the clock. And this is what I devised.

On the carpool ride home after the dinner, the driver said my barley salad had been her favorite item at the potluck. Personally, I’d vote for the tahini-chocolate chip cookies or maybe the incredible wild yeast bread another guest baked and brought. That said, I am happy to accept this compliment with grace.

It’s probably too late in the season to find fiddleheads, but the nice thing about grain salads is how accommodating they are. Look in your own refrigerator or garden and substitute whatever vegetable or herbs are near at hand. (Don’t forget weeds. This salad would be delicious with chopped purslane, which grows all over the place, often in cracks in the sidewalk.) Cupboard cooking can produce some happy surprises.

BARLEY-FIDDLEHEAD-ASPARAGUS SALAD

The amounts for the vegetables, the chickpeas and the cheese are just suggestions. If you like more vegetables or less cheese, or vice versa, suit yourself – it’s your dinner, after all. Use good quality olive oil; you’ll notice it here.

1 cup pearl barley

3 cups vegetable stock

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 shallot, finely chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 cups fiddleheads, cleaned

1/2 pound asparagus, tough ends removed and composted

1/2 cup cooked chickpeas

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

3 tablespoons minced fresh mint

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Toast the pearl barley in a medium-sized pot over medium heat for several minutes to coax out the flavor. Add the vegetable stock to the pot, bring to a boil, then put a lid on the pot, turn down the heat and simmer until done. If the barley is cooked before all the liquid is gone – you want it soft, al dente really, but not mushy – then drain away any extra liquid.

Meanwhile, mix the lemon juice and minced shallot in a jar. Seal, shake and let the shallots macerate for 15 minutes to soften the onion’s harshness. Add the oil, salt and pepper and shake again. Toss the dressing with the still-warm, drained barley in a large bowl.

Boil the fiddleheads in lightly salted water; the UMaine Cooperative Extension says to be safe you need to boil them for 15 minutes. Shave the asparagus stalks as thinly as you can, about 1/8th an inch, setting the tips aside; a mandoline is very handy for this task. In the last minute that the fiddleheads are boiling, add the asparagus tips to the pot to lightly cook them and bring out their color. Drain, rinse the vegetables with cold water to stop the cooking, drain again. Add the asparagus and fiddleheads to the dressed barley. Toss gently. Add the chickpeas, feta and mint. Toss to combine.

Let the mixture sit at least 30 minutes for the flavors to develop. When you are ready to serve the salad, taste it, adding more salt and pepper, as needed, and sprinkle with pine nuts.

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: PGrodinsky

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