I was blessed to spend last weekend with two of my dearest friends, Jennie (Bjornson) Weber and Jessica (Rein) Froehlich, women I met over three decades ago during our shared summers at Trollwood Performing Arts School.

It had been 10 years since the three of us were together and, as old friends often do, we picked up right where we left off as if no time had passed. In a word, it was marvelous.

We gathered at Jenn’s cabin overlooking Big Trout Lake, located near Crosslake, Minn., for a casual, makeup-free weekend of food, wine, friendship and lots of laughter. Each of us had agreed to prepare a meal for our weekend together and my Saturday lunch menu was inspired by two of my most popular recipes featured here this summer: Savory Salmon Cakes and Cucumber and Avocado Salad with Pickled Onion Vinaigrette.

Longtime friends Jennie (Bjornson) Weber (from left), Jessica (Rein) Froehlich and Sarah Nasello enjoy a long-awaited reunion at Big Trout Lake in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Jennie Weber / Special to The Forum
Longtime friends Jennie (Bjornson) Weber (from left), Jessica (Rein) Froehlich and Sarah Nasello enjoy a long-awaited reunion at Big Trout Lake in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Jennie Weber / Special to The Forum

Even though Jenn doesn’t do onions, and Jess doesn’t do fish (two facts I learned over our weekend together), thanks to the high protein and fiber content in this Hearty Bean and Barley Salad with Jalapeno Vinaigrette, there was no threat of anyone leaving lunch hungry. Better still, as nutritious and filling as this salad is, its best feature is that it is simply delicious.

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I first made this salad for my family last summer and have made it at least half a dozen times since, by popular demand. I usually pair it with fish and chicken dishes, and it is also a great option whenever you need a hearty vegetarian dish.

I use pearled barley for my salads, which I cook with chicken stock and a bay leaf to give this neutral grain more flavor. I have always used white beans for this recipe, like Great Northern, navy or cannellini beans, but black beans would also work well.

Pearled barley brings a punch of protein and fiber to this filling salad, which features a host of nutritious ingredients, including baby spinach. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Pearled barley brings a punch of protein and fiber to this filling salad, which features a host of nutritious ingredients, including baby spinach. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

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Bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, red onion and jalapeno bring flavor, crunch and color to the salad, and the vinaigrette boasts a tangy punch of lime, jalapeno and fresh cilantro. Even though there are two whole jalapenos included in this recipe — one in the vinaigrette and the other in the salad — by the time they are worked into the dish, most of their heat has disappeared, leaving just their terrific flavor.

For a spicier version, you can add a touch of cayenne pepper and/or Tabasco sauce to the vinaigrette.

With eight to 10 servings, this is a big-batch salad, which means that I had enough to leave some at home for my favorite men to enjoy in my absence, and the recipe can easily be halved or doubled, as needed. The barley and vinaigrette can be made several days in advance, and the salad is at its best when allowed to refrigerate overnight before serving.

Healthy, filling and delicious, this Hearty Bean and Barley Salad may have filled our bellies last weekend, but it was the joy of true friendship that filled our spirits. Cheers to good food, good health and great friends — may they be always in our lives.

With a variety of protein and vegetables, Sarah's Hearty Bean and Barley Salad packs a punch of nutrition and flavor into every forkful. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
With a variety of protein and vegetables, Sarah's Hearty Bean and Barley Salad packs a punch of nutrition and flavor into every forkful. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Hearty Bean and Barley Salad with Jalapeno Vinaigrette

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe

Serves: 8 to 10

Salad ingredients:

1 ½ cups pearled barley, fully cooked

3 to 4 cups water or chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1 can white beans (Great Northern, Navy or Cannellini), drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 bell peppers, red and/or orange, small diced (about ¼-inch)

½ cup red onion, finely chopped

1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (add more to taste)

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

3 cups baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped

Jalapeno Vinaigrette ingredients:

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Juice of 1 lime (about 3 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

For a spicier vinaigrette, add:

¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, for more heat)

4 to 5 dashes of hot sauce (like Tabasco)

Directions:

In a small bowl, add all of the vinaigrette ingredients and whisk vigorously until fully combined. Taste and add more seasoning as desired. Allow dressing to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes before using or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Whisk or shake vigorously before serving.

In a medium or large pot, bring the barley, water/stock and bay leaf to a boil over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is fully absorbed and the barley is al dente (tender with a slight crunch), about 45 to 50 minutes. Add more water if needed, ¼ cup at a time. Drain the barley in a strainer and discard the bay leaf. Rinse with cold water until cool to the touch.

In a large bowl, add the cooked barley, beans and extra-virgin olive oil. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to gently toss until evenly coated. Add the remaining ingredients and the vinaigrette; stir until well combined. For best result, refrigerate the salad for at least 1 hour before serving, or even overnight.

To store: Keep salad in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. If the salad appears a touch dry, drizzle a tablespoon or 2 of extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil over the salad to loosen it up before serving.

Advance prep:

  • The barley can be cooked up to 2 days in advance of assembling the salad.
  • The vinaigrette can be made up to 1 week in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.
  • The salad can be assembled and dressed up to 24 hours in advance of serving, and leftovers will keep well for several days.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.