Now that summer is 100% here and the temperature is creeping ever upwards, I'm putting a lot of make-ahead pasta and grain salads on the menu. This colorful salad is an oldie but goodie, and a variation of another favorite of mine, my Roasted Beet and Barley Salad. I love the bright pops of golden beets and red onions mixed in with the barley and wilted chard stems. It's all tied together with a quick lemony dressing and topped with a sprinkle of salty feta.
Golden beets are sweeter and less earthy-tasting than the red beets with which most of us are familiar. They're great for getting reluctant beet-eaters hooked! You cook them just as you do for red beets, and as a bonus, they won't stain your hands purple. I love rainbow chard in this recipe (even more color!), but if your beets come with the greens still attached, you can substitute the beet greens for all or part of the chard.
I'm also not going to lie: this recipe takes a little time to come together. With the beets baking, the barley simmering, and the chard cooking on the stovetop, there's a lot of multitasking going on. But on the flip side, you make a lot of salad. It's enough to feed a crowd at a backyard barbecue or to keep in the fridge for quick lunches and dinners all week long.
This beet salad is a fantastic side for just about anything coming off the grill, from grilled salmon to kebabs. On its own, I love it as a light lunch with a hunk of good sourdough bread. Either way you go, this salad is a winner.
I have to tell you that I love this salad just as much now as when I first made it over four years ago. Maybe more. There are so many good flavors and textures going on that I find myself going back to the bowl to serve myself one more scoop...and then another. The lemon dressing really does bring it all together. You add a little lemon with the chard leaves and a little more in the dressing, so there's a pleasant tartness and freshness in every bite. It's just right.
This recipe is basically unchanged from when I wrote it. I re-arranged a few steps — it still takes some time in the kitchen to bring the salad together, but the process is a little more streamlined now. -Emma
Golden Beet and Barley Salad with Rainbow Chard
4 medium golden beets, tops removed (see Recipe Note)
1 cup dry pearl barley
1/2 large red onion, minced (about 1 cup)
1 bunch (about 1 pound) rainbow chard
3 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon, divided
4 ounces feta, crumbled, plus extra for serving
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 450°F. Loosely wrap the beets in foil and roast them in the oven until they are just fork tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Let cool enough to handle, then peel and dice the beets into 1/2-inch cubes.
Meanwhile, cook the barley. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the barley and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain the barley and return it to the pan. Cover with a clean dishtowel until ready to use.
Place the onions in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside to soak for at least 30 minutes.
Wash the chard and pat dry, but leave some moisture clinging to the leaves. Strip off the leaves, stack them in a pile, and slice them into 1/2-inch ribbons. Set aside. Dice the stems into small bite-sized pieces and set aside.
Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the diced chard stems with a pinch of salt until they start to turn translucent around the edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the ribboned chard leaves, half of the lemon juice (1 1/2 tablespoons), and a healthy pinch of salt. Continue to cook, stirring gently, until it is bright green and has wilted down, another 4 to 5 minutes. If the pan is very dry, add a few tablespoons of water so the chard can keep steaming.
Drain the red onion from the soaking water. Combine diced beets, cooked barley, chard stems and leaves, and red onion in a large mixing bowl. Let everything cool to room temperature, then stir in the feta. Whisk together the remaining lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and stir to evenly coat all the ingredients.
Taste the mixture. As needed, add salt 1/4 teaspoon at a time. Add pepper to taste.
Serve family-style in a large bowl or in individual bowls with extra feta sprinkled over the top. Leftovers will keep refrigerated for one week.
• If your beets come with their tops still attached, you can substitute them for all or part of the chard.
This post and recipe have been updated. Originally published 7/2/09.
(Images: Emma Christensen)