I've never met a chickpea I didn't like. Chickpeas have a satisfying texture and nutty flavor that shine when dressed with a simple vinaigrette, so I've especially been enjoying them lately in salads. And this chickpea salad is a special one, full of tender beans, chewy barley, and crunchy zucchini, all held together with a bright, refreshing vinaigrette.
The contrasting textures are what makes this salad so fun to eat. The zucchini is shredded, salted and left to sit while the rest of the salad is prepped. During that time, it becomes a little softer and less watery as the salt draws the moisture out, leaving zucchini strands that are a little crunchy and a lot more flavorful.
Chewy nubs of barley are the only component that require any cooking, assuming your beans are pre-made or canned. But pearled barley, cooked like pasta in a pot of boiling water, only takes about 15 minutes on the stove, and the few times I've made this salad without the barley, I've missed it, so it's worth the minimal amount of work it adds.
I prefer making bean salads with from-scratch beans rather than canned, for both flavor and texture. Since starting with dry beans isn't a weeknight option, I make big batches in the slow cooker and freeze them in 2-cup portions, mixed with a little vinegar to keep them from splitting. These freezer beans are now a pantry essential for me.
And that means there are many more renditions of this salad to come, at least until zucchini disappears from the market and it is time to come up with a new favorite chickpea salad for fall.
Chickpea, Barley and Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Mint and Feta
Makes 2 servings as a main dish, 4 servings as a side dish
2 medium zucchini
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided, plus more for salting water
1/3 cup pearl barley
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups (or 1 15-ounce can) chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons feta cheese
Freshly ground pepper
Trim the ends of the zucchini and cut in half crosswise. Using a mandoline or a knife, cut the zucchini into thin matchsticks and place in a colander in the sink. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and massage lightly with your hands to evenly disperse the salt. Let sit for 20-30 minutes, or as long as it takes to prepare the rest of the salad.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the barley. Cook, stirring occasionally, until barley is cooked through but still pleasantly chewy, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas, barley and about half of the dressing. If the barley is still very hot, let the mixture sit until just warm, stirring occasionally. Squeeze the zucchini gently to get rid of any excess moisture and add to the bowl, along with the remaining dressing and the mint. Stir and transfer to a serving bowl. Crumble the feta over the top and serve.
• Warm beans absorb dressing better. The chickpeas can either be warmed in the microwave or in a small pan on the stove before being tossed with the dressing, but if you're gripped by summer cooking laziness, feel free to skip this step; the salad will still be good.
• The salad can be made several hours ahead and refrigerated. Longer than that, and the texture of the zucchini becomes a bit soggy.
Related: 5 Tips for Better Bean Salads
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)