In the wide world of the Internet, it’s easy to get cynical about how rapidly and easily ideas are repackaged, reposted, and reshared, ad infinitum. You could say this about serious subjects, like news coverage, or about less serious subjects, like celebrity gossip. You could also say it about food-related content. Take, for instance, the phenomenon of what I call the “wedding salad” (because nearly every catered salad you’re served at a wedding is a variation on this). It consists of spinach/arugula, goat cheese/feta, dried cherries/cranberries, nuts (sometimes candied), and a vinaigrette. The wedding salad is omnipresent, and for good reason: it is delicious and time-tested. It’s hard to mess up. But the public does not need four million recipes for this salad. Moreover, I worry that all the recipes detailing minor variations on this wedding salad esotericize* something that should be simple. In other words, maybe the recipe should really be: Here is how you make a salad. A nice template for a salad is a tender green + a soft cheese + something sweet + something crunchy + something acidic.
This is not to say that people shouldn’t share ideas—goodness knows the Internet is an amazing way to do that—but it also means that I think we suffer a bit for a lack of creativity, and that we’re more derivative than we realize (I will be the first to admit that I’m probably complicit in this).
Grain salads are also one of those things that is made more difficult than it needs to be, and for which there are many recipes that claim to be different or unusual and are really just variations of the same. The template here would be grain/seed + protein and/or green thing + optional cheese + vinaigrette. Farro, butternut squash, and goat cheese salad. Quinoa and kale pilaf. They’re everywhere. And again, they’re lovely, but the tiny tweaks aren’t worthy of a million search results.
So, why am I posting about a grain salad, after I basically said the world doesn’t need one? Because this vinaigrette is great. The recipe is adapted from one of this summer’s (June, maybe?) issues of Bon Appetit. I haven’t yet tried it on another type of salad, but I bet it’d be great on there too. I do like the combination of chickpeas and barley here, but this was the first time I used the recipe’s green beans as opposed to some sort of leafy green I had languishing in the crisper.
I am off to Wichita, Kansas (to see some new babies!) and then immediately to Dar Es Salaam, because that’s how my silly life works. Maybe somewhere between America’s heartland and East Africa I’ll find some original thought to throw out into the universe! Until then.
Chickpea & barley salad with toasted spice vinaigrette
Adapted from Bon Appetit. The vinaigrette is the star here—double the recipe and use it on other things, too.
- For the vinaigrette:
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (or half teaspoon ground coriander)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or half teaspoon ground cumin)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (of half teaspoon ground fennel)
- 1/4 cup neutral-tasting oil (such as grapeseed oil), or 1/8 cup neutral-tasting oil + 1/8 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the grain salad:
- 1/2 pound green beans, washed, trimmed, halved OR substitute any seasonal green veggie (Springtime? Asparagus! Winter? Tuscan kale!)
- 1 cup pearled barley
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 4 ounces crumbled feta
- Make the vinaigrette: First, toast the spices in a small skillet over medium heat, carefully tossing or stirring so that they don’t burn, no more than 5 minutes, until they are browned and aromatic. If using whole spices, chop them coarsely after they cool.
- In a jar or other sealed container, combine oil for vinaigrette, vinegar, dijon, toasted spices, and a pinch of kosher salt. Shake vigorously and taste for seasoning. Season with more salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. When it’s at a rolling boil, blanch the green beans (or kale or asparagus or whatever) for about three minutes, until still brightly colored and crisp-tender. Remove from pot and transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking with a slotted spoon, strainer, or spider skimmer.
- Bring the same pot of water back to a boil. Drop in the barley and give it a quick stir. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for about 20 minutes, until barley is tender but still chewy and toothsome. Drain barley in a colander.
- In a bowl or on a platter, toss barley, green beans, rinsed chickpeas, and vinaigrette. Top with feta. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for serving over the course of the next week.
* WordPress claims that this is not a word, but I’m pretty sure it is. If anyone wants to back me up, I’d like that.
** After I wrote this post I read this article and, polarizing title aside, I agree with a lot of it. I’m particularly in agreement about feeling exhausted and numbed by 1) a lack of quality in Internet writing or 2) the way most Internet reading smacks of just being written for the content mill. It’s strange that I use the Internet as a creative outlet even though, after what I’ve written here, it sounds like I’m not even sure I believe it can really be used that way with any integrity. Blegh.