Increased fruit and vegetable consumption has been linked to myriad salubrious health outcomes, yet many Americans find it challenging to find variety to incorporate more plants in their diet. Traditional side salads are an easy go-to solution, but that quickly gets old. One issue may be that Americans don’t realize how versatile plant foods can be. When we think outside the box, we find that there are endless possibilities for plant-based side dishes and full course meals.

While I was at the fair this year, a colleague suggested I try a recipe for Egyptian Barley Salad she recently tested in her own kitchen. I found it online at America’s Test Kitchen ( and thought I would share it with you. As you look over the recipe, you will find a few unique ingredients such as pearl barley and pomegranate molasses that may be hard to find here in Harvey County. I certainly do not expect anyone to make a special trip to Wichita just to try this recipe. If you happen to be heading that way, add those unique items to your shopping list and give this recipe a shot. I have provided a link at the end of this article should you want to look it over online. I am interested to hear what you think, so please get in touch if you try it out. Enjoy!

Do not substitute hulled barley or hull-less barley in this recipe. If using quick-cooking or pre-steamed barley (read the ingredient list on the package to determine this), you will need to decrease the barley cooking time in step 1.

1½ cups pearl barley

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

⅓ cup golden raisins

½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro

¼ cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped coarse

3 ounces feta cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes (¾ cup)

6 scallions, green parts only, sliced thin

½ cup pomegranate seeds

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add barley and 1 tablespoon salt, return to boil, and cook until tender, 20 to 40 minutes. Drain barley, spread onto rimmed baking sheet, and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.

2. Whisk oil, molasses, cinnamon, cumin, and ½ teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Add barley, raisins, cilantro, and pistachios and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread barley salad evenly on serving platter and arrange feta, scallions, and pomegranate seeds in separate diagonal rows on top. Drizzle with extra oil and serve.

Serves 6-8

Nutrition Facts: 280 calories, 10 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 41 g carbohydrates, 7 g protein, 7 g fiber, 320 mg sodium

— Aaron Swank is a Kansas State Research and Extension Agent for Harvey County. Nutrition and Family Finance are his specialties. The Harvey County Extension Office can be contacted at 284-6930.