Lemony Barley Salad with Kale Pesto

This past weekend I co-hosted my very first dinner party.  A real, actual dinner party that involved cooking for many, many hours (let’s be honest, many days) and seven old friends sitting around and dining on around a table that had never actually been dined upon.  Unfortunately, the terrifyingly strong margaritas I was drinking impaired my judgment just enough so that no photos of the event, the food or the people were taken.  So instead of sharing with you some of my favorite Mexican recipes (there’s always next time), this post will be about atoning for a massive alcohol-induced headache.  And I’m pretty sure if you look up tequila in the thesaurus, it will tell you the antonym is kale.

If I’m going to ingest kale, it needs to be done creatively, and it helps if it’s disguised.  Pesto is a fantastic, dare I say brilliant, way to eat kale without actually feeling like you’re eating much of it at all.  I’m sure it would be great on pasta, or spread on a sandwich, but this salad really brings it in terms of different textures and interesting flavor combinations that really work together.

Kale is bitter, a little spicy and toothy, and it coats the dense little kernels of pearl barley perfectly.  Add to that some crunchy toasted pine nuts and bright little specks of dried currants.  The finishing touch is some chopped preserved lemons which I think round out the whole thing and give it almost a Middle Eastern bend (the original recipe marks these as optional but if you can find them and like them I think it’s worth using at least a little bit).

So the next time you open your eyes on a Sunday morning and your head can’t lift off the pillow and your eyes can’t handle the light of day…well, let’s be honest, you probably aren’t going to get up and cook.  Order a bagel instead.  The kale will atone for that, too.

Lemony Barley Salad with Kale Pesto
Adapted from Food & Wine, August 2014

This recipe serves 4

1 cup pearled barley (about 8 oz.)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon minced shallots
6 oz. kale, stems discarded and leaves torn into small pieces (4 cups)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon

In a medium saucepan, cook the barley in salted boiling water until al dente, about 30 minutes.  Drain well and transfer to a large bowl.  Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over low heat, stirring, until lightly golden, 3 to 5 minutes.

In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Add the currants and shallot and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the shallot is golden, about 3 minutes.  Scrape into the barley and add the pine nuts.

In a food processor, pulse two-thirds of the kale with the lemon juice until chopped.  With the machine on, slowly drizzle in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil until smooth.  Season with salt.  Scrape the pesto into the barley.  Add the preserved lemon and the remaining kale leaves, season with salt and toss well.  Serve.