After a snap poll of Standard Issue staffers, we came to the conclusion everyone has a signature dish they’re willing to brag about. When it comes to pearl barley salad, Justine Brooks reckons everyone else can take a seat.
Name: Justine Brooks
I make the best… Pearl barley salad
When I was a child, my mum used to make something she called ‘Irish Stew’. I still remember it now: the way the little fat globules used to sit on top of the thin, grey, watery soup; the way my spoon disappeared into the bowl, bringing up morsels of boiled grey neck bone covered in fat and gristle, the way even the vegetables tasted of greasy lamb neck.
The only saving grace of this horror meal was the relief of finding pearl barley grains at the bottom of the dish. While my parents told me to hurry up and eat my dinner, these small creamy pearls offered delicious comfort throughout the traumatic experience that was ‘Irish Stew’.
It wasn’t until years later that I discovered you were allowed to use pearl barley in dishes that were not ‘Irish Stew’.
Around early adolescence I was super lucky that a friend’s parents ran one of London’s most fashionable Japanese restaurants, where not only did I learn to love Japanese cuisine, but also got to gawp from the kitchen door at an impressive array of celebrities including George Michael, Annie Lennox and Nicole Farhi.
This friend’s family were total foodies, as chefs probably tend to be. And what they loved doing on their days off was cooking.
“While my parents told me to hurry up and eat my dinner, these small creamy pearls offered delicious comfort throughout the traumatic experience that was ‘Irish Stew’.”
One Sunday my friend made me a pearl barley salad she’d found in celebrity chef du jour Anton Mosimann’s latest cookbook. I was instantly smitten. Finally, someone had found a way to celebrate this underrated grain and give it glorious centre stage, without an accompaniment of gristle and bone!
Finding this old, once-drab friend made over and modernised was an absolute revelation, and I’ve regularly made this salad ever since.
Note that due to forgetfulness this recipe is not the same as Mr Mosimann’s. Over the course of 30 years I seem to have forgotten a few ingredients and doubled up on others I particularly like, but it still tastes as sublime as the first time I tried it – and it sure to god is so much better than ‘Irish Stew’.
6 tbsp olive oil
200g pearl barley
500ml vegetable stock
Juice of 2 lemons
200g green beans, trimmed and cut into 1.5cm chunks
6 pieces of sun dried tomato in oil, cut into 5mm dice
2 tbsp each of finely cut mint and coriander
Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan, tip in the pearl barley and stir so it’s coated well with the oil.
Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the pearl barley is tender. Add a bit more water if you need to.
When it’s cooked, drain off the liquid and put the barley in a bowl. Mix together the rest of the oil with the lemon juice and lots of black pepper and a little salt. Stir this into the warm pearl barley so it absorbs the liquid and flavour.
Cook the green beans until they are still firm but not crunchy. Drain these, add with the tomatoes, mint and coriander to the pearl barley then serve. You could also add sliced black olives or substitute the beans for cucumber.
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Justine lives in beautiful north Leeds with her 12-year-old daughter and a lurcher called Lionel. She runs a PR and marketing agency and is writing a novel.