I rarely find myself packing a lunch these days, so when I do, you know that it means business. Today's business was the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam (CDRE), which is the last step to becoming a Registered Dietitian. The exam is 210 multiple choice questions written in two three-hour sessions (but based on the exit questionnaire it looks like they're wondering if they can trim it down to 2½ hours... and I think they can), with a 45 minute break in between, so they suggest you pack a lunch instead of counting on something good to be open on a university campus on the weekend (we're all future dietitians, after all), so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to make myself some brain food.
My mind instantly turned to salad - not a lettuce-based salad (BO-RING!), but something a little more filling, like a grain salad, bean salad, or pasta salad. I was tempted to make a batch of Mylène's pasta salad, but was reminded of the fact that I haven't shared a recipe here for a whole two months. (I'm only thinking of you here, people.)
I found this recipe on the Pulse Canada website, and it looked promising. After all, it was rated 5 out of 5 beans (!!!) and I was hoping it would be something like the Manitoban Grain Salad I had at Café Pi in Montreal. (It is not.) And surely the recipe didn't really make 15 cups of salad! (It does.)
I started off by chopping up an onion and a shallot clove before sautéing it in a large saucepan. Since I failed to read the directions before going grocery shopping, I thought the onion was going to be raw, so I bought a red one, but a regular one will do just fine. Also, I chopped up a shallot because my mom took all the garlic and minced it up and put it in a jar in the fridge, though I ended up tossing a spoonful of that into the pot too.
Next you add in 1½ cups of barley; I eyeballed the amount from the bulk bins and was pretty impressed that I came pretty close.
I then covered barley with 1 L of stock + water and brought it to a boil. Then I prepped the rest of the ingredients while the barley was a-cookin'.
This meant chopping up the zucchini, halving the cherry tomatoes, and opening, rinsing, and draining the canned chickpeas and lentils. I then mixed everything up, removed the salad from the heat, and stirred in some chopped fresh dill.
I'd made the salad earlier in the week so I can test run it in another packed lunch (for work) and as beautiful as the salad was, I was disappointed. Perhaps I was a little overzealous in diluting the stock, but the salad was bland, and I had a feeling I knew how to fix it.
I rummaged through my mom's spice cabinet - cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, curry powder... My secret ingredient was nowhere to be found!
I endured two helpings of bland salad before I finally made my way to the grocery store.
The secret ingredient is... cumin! (and lemon... my mom had lemon juice in a plastic lemon in the fridge, but since I was at the store anyway, I figured I'd get the real stuff.) I first discovered this tasty combination four years ago with my ex-roommate Marianna, and it's spiced up many a bean salad. Will it work with this one?
I zested the entire lemon into the salad, then squeezed in half of its juice (now there's half of a naked lemon in my fridge - hehe!) Immediately the salad perked up with the bright citrus. Then in went a teaspoon of cumin, adding a smoky depth to the flavour. I took a bite and nodded in approval as I chewed. My dad asked why the hell I was nodding to myself in the kitchen.
"I took this crappy salad and I made it good."
To top it off, my picky brother gave the salad a try, and he liked it too! So the secret's out - lemon and cumin are my secret weapons, and I'm hoping this salad fed my brain enough to give me an edge on the CDRE! ;)
Pulse and Barley Salad
Adapted from Pulse Canada
Makes ~15 cups
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 garlic and/or shallot clove, minced
- 375 mL (1½ cups) pearl barley
- 1 L (4 cups) reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth*
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 500 mL (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved**
- 1 can (540 mL/19 fl oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 can (540 mL/19 fl oz.) lentils, rinsed and drained
- 10 dill sprigs, chopped
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 (heaping?) tsp cumin
*If you're one of those people who makes their own stock, great. If not, if you buy cartoned stock, they come in packages of 900 mL, so just pour in water for the last 100 mL to lower the sodium content further.
- In a large, nonstick saucepan, sauté onion and garlic/shallot in oil over medium-high heat for about two minutes. Add barley and cook for another two minutes.
- Stir in broth and bring to a boil.
- Cover pan and reduce heat. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until barley has soaked up most liquid.
- Stir in zucchini, tomatoes, lentils and chickpeas. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in dill, lemon zest and juice, and cumin. Can be served warm or cold.
**You can find them sold by the pint at the grocery store.
Nutrition Info (per cup): 178 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbohydrates (8 g fibre, 2 g sugar), 8 g protein, 345 mg sodium. An excellent source of vitamin K and manganese. A good source of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin E, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium.