Let me just say that I never thought barley + butternut squash could incite so much passion. I should have known better. I first made this salad for my sister’s bridal shower. Her wedding was this past weekend and—even weeks later—it still had people talking. I'd even go so far as to say that there was more salad-related chatter than the typical love life inquiry chitchat.
Which was fine by me. Talking about barley is much less awkward. Especially when you’re in a bridesmaid dress with Frank Sinatra playing in the background.
Coincidentally, preparing this recipe requires a certain romancing of the ingredients. It’s not rocket science, but you have to pay attention to the details. And in the end, it’s the details that make the salad worth eating.
So, dear barley salad, there are many things that will keep me loving you and, with your permission, may I list a few? The way you wear your hat. The way you sip your tea …. Errr, I probably shouldn’t anthropomorphize the barley too much, should I? I suppose it's too late.
This is truly a salad to love. The butternut squash is peeled, chopped into tiny cubes, and tossed in oil and herbs. The onions get bathed in balsamic. Then these very special jewel-toned vegetables marry with the barley.
But no matter what: the barley was good, and pretty, and the memory of all that, no, they can’t take that away from me.
1 pound barley, uncooked
2 butternut squashes, peeled and chopped into 1/2" cubes
6 sage leaves, minced
3 sprigs rosemary, minced
~ 1 cup olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
Juice of 3 lemons, divided (zest of one lemon reserved)
Juice of 3 tangerines, divided (zest of one tangerine reserved)
~6 tbsp maple syrup, divided
3 red onions, peeled and sliced thinly
2-4 tbsp balsamic vinegar (enough to coat red onions)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare barley on stovetop according to package directions. While barley is cooking, place butternut squash cubes on baking sheet and toss with the herbs and enough olive oil so that the cubes glisten and will not stick to the pan (~4 tbsp). Season liberally with salt and pepper and place into preheated oven.
Meanwhile, prepare the dressing by combining the juice of 2 lemons, 2 tangerines, zest of 1 lemon and 1 tangerine, at least 1/2 cup olive oil, a quick gulg (a tablespoon or so) of maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste. (At this point you may need to add additional acidity, so add more citrus juice or additional maple syrup and olive oil for sweetness and body, respectively, as needed per your preference.) Set dressing aside until the barley is thoroughly cooked with cooking water drained. Toss 1/2 of the dressing with hot barley in a large bowl and set aside.
Then check on the butternut squash and toss it with ~1/4 cup maple syrup and juice from the remaining lemon and tangerine and place back in oven and continue to cook it until squash is fork tender and caramelized. Meanwhile, place red onions on another baking sheet and toss with balsamic vinegar and additional olive oil; once again, until well coated. Season with salt and pepper and roast in oven until they are caramelized and shriveled. (They will roast fairly quickly, so keep an eye on them.)
Once the squash and onions are done, mix them with the barley; then toss everything with the remaining dressing. Taste and adjust for additional salt and pepper as needed.
Makes about 10 cups
-Since this recipe was me, in the kitchen, in rare form: most of the measurements are approximates.