I've found it. My one, new, incontrovertibly delicious, show-stopping salad of the summer. I could eat it for lunch. I could eat it for dinner. I could probably manage to eat it for breakfast, if you pushed me on it. This salad is just the best.
This recipe caught my eye because of its two main ingredients. There's barley, which I love. And eggplant, which I want to love but always seem to mangle. A quick check through the rest of the recipe revealed plenty of my favorite spices, diced kalamata olives, and juicy summer tomatoes. Check, check, and check.
The biggest surprise of this recipe was actually the barley. The recipe has you toast the spices, a handful of scallion, and the barley itself in oil before a drop of cooking broth hits the pan. It made my kitchen smell toasty and mouthwatering. The resulting barley was deeply flavored, perfectly cooked, and slightly (wonderfully) creamy. I'll definitely be trying this seasoning technique again.
The eggplant gods must have also been with me because this eggplant came out perfectly. I finally understand what everyone is raving about. The eggplant was silky and luscious, sweet and a little smoky because I'd let one side cook for too long and the bottoms charred (note: charring the bottom is one accident worth repeating).
The barley and eggplant were so good on their own that they were bound to create something magical once combined. And they did. The kalamata olives add just the right touch of saltiness. The fresh tomatoes made a nice contrast to the roasted flavor of the eggplant and zucchini. The dressing was lemony without being overwhelming. The ensemble of ingredients was fantastic and refreshing to eat.
The whole recipe also came together much more quickly than I'd anticipated. There are a lot of steps - toasting the spices, making the barley, roasting the veggies, prepping everything else - but it all came together without a hitch. Definitely read the entire recipe through before making it the first time. I also recommend starting the barley before starting the roasted vegetables, swapping their order in the recipe.
This salad would make a wonderful side dish with grilled fish or a few steak kebabs. You could also make it into a meal on its own by piling a generous scoop on top of salad greens and adding a few slices of leftover chicken.
Definitely give this one a try. I'm hoping to make it several more times before the summer ends.
• Get the Recipe: Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad from Epicurious
(Images: Emma Christensen)