Recipe: Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing

updated May 11, 2022
Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing
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(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Earthy barley gets a refreshing makeover in this summer salad, with crunchy chunks of apples, crisp celery, and an herbal citrus-dressing. Don’t get hung up on the ingredients — swap in soft dried Turkish apricots for the figs and experiment with other fresh herbs, such as basil or marjoram. The grain can also be exchanged; try an ancient wheat variety, such as farro (emmer), spelt, or Kamut.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Unlike any other grain, barley’s fiber is distributed throughout the kernel, so it retains nutritional benefits even after the outer bran layer is removed (as in pearl barley). Use hulled (whole-grain) barley, soaked overnight and simmered for about 50 minutes, for an even more nutritious meal.

Pork chops or chicken breasts are a great match with this salad. Vegetarians can toss in a handful of lightly toasted walnuts for a more substantial meal.

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Tester’s Notes

I’d never had dried figs in a salad, and now I know what I’ve been missing out on! They add a floral sweetness and help balance out the earthy barley, vegetables, and herbs.

This salad can be made ahead: I cooked the barley a day ahead, let it cool, and just finished the salad the next day. It held up beautifully and would make a delicious and satisfying work lunch, or be an impressive side dish to bring to your next summer potluck.

Christine, August 2015

Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


For the barley:

  • 2 cups


  • 3/4 cup

    pearl barley

  • 1

    (2- by 1-inch) strip lemon zest, optional

  • 3


  • Pinch of fine sea salt

For the salad, and to finish:

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 1/4 cup

    chopped dried figs, preferably Greek or Turkish (4 to 6)

  • 2

    medium stalks chopped celery, halved lengthwise if large, and cut into 1/4-inch slices (1 cup)

  • 1/2 cup

    finely chopped green onions, white and light green parts (about 4)

  • 1/2 cup

    chopped tangy apple, such as Macintosh or Granny Smith (about 1/2 apple)

  • 2 tablespoons

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 to 3 teaspoons


  • 1/4 teaspoon

    fine sea salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons

    finely chopped fresh tarragon

  • 2 tablespoons

    finely chopped flat-leaf parsley


  1. To prepare the barley, bring the water, barley, lemon zest, peppercorns, and salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the barley is tender but still slightly chewy, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and, if you have time, let sit, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and transfer the barley to a large serving bowl to cool. Remove the zest and the peppercorns.

  2. To prepare the salad, finely grate the zest of the lemon until you have 2 teaspoons zest. Squeeze the fruit to get 2 tablespoons juice (reserve leftover lemon for another use). Place the dried figs in a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Set aside. Add the celery, green onions, and apple to the serving bowl.

  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, the zest, and 2 teaspoons of the honey. Season with the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more honey if you like, and then stir in 1 tablespoon of the tarragon and 1 tablespoon of the parsley.

  4. To finish, add the barley and the plumped figs with any juices to the bowl and stir together. Drizzle on the dressing and toss to combine. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes for the flavors to mingle. Toss again, sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of tarragon and 1 tablespoon of parsley, and serve.

Recipe Notes

Make-Ahead: Cook the barley ahead in the evening, or a few days earlier. The salad can also be prepared up to eight hours ahead; refrigerate, covered. Remove about one hour before serving to take the chill out, and refresh with a drizzle of olive oil.

For a more textured dish, you can use whole grain hulled barley, soaked overnight. Or combine 1/4 cup soaked, hulled barley with 1/2 cup pearl barley for a pleasing mixture.

Reprinted with permission from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.

(Image credit: Erin Kunkel)

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