Most Middle Eastern foods have their roots dating back for 1000’s of years. Yes, foods have evolved and changed, but many of the foods of today are very similar to what they were back in the early days of civilization.
Since the trade routes and spice routes traversed all throughout the Middle Eastern countries, the Middle Eastern cooks are known for using many different and exotic spices in their cooking. They also use a wide variety of grains and legumes as well. It is said that no Middle Eastern kitchen is complete without several types of grains in their panty. They use all kinds of grains dating from the ancient to the more recent versions. Wheat is one of the oldest grains, and is the root of many classic Middle Eastern dishes. Rice is a more “recent introduction”, yet has still been around since the Medieval times. Rice became widespread in the Middle East after the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Bulgar, lentils, beans and chickpeas are staples in Middle Cooking as well, particularly in the areas of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, as well as all over the Mediterranean areas of Europe.
My latest Middle Eastern culinary experience was a barley and chicken salad. The recipe called for couscous, but I substituted barley instead, even though I had both on hand. I use couscous quite frequently, but barley is something I don’t use as much of, even though I love it, so I used barley instead. Both barley and couscous are very healthy and are great sources of protein. And of course, I stylized it in my own way, to give it my own unique signature, as I always do.
Barley is another ancient grain that dates back at least 8000 years, and originally hails from the Fertile Crescent areas of Egypt and Mesopotamia. It then made its way to Northwestern Europe and then to China. Today, barley is found in most areas around the world. Barley and wheat are two of the oldest crops known to man, and are even listed in the Bible as food staples. “Two grain crops are prominent in the Scriptures–barley and wheat. … It was always valued less than wheat (II Kings 7:1; Revelation 6:6). Although barley was sometimes used as fodder in Bible days (I Kings 4:28), its main use was as a staple food. It was ground and baked into round cakes (eg Judges 7:13).”
Even though barley was originally grown in the Fertile Crescent area, today, Russia is the one world’s largest producers and users of barley, growing about 20.63 metric tons annually. Other countries that produce a lot of barley are Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Turkey, which account for 58.01% of the world’s barley production.
My idea to go Middle Eastern was inspired by some leftover Costco rotisserie chicken that needed to be used. Larry wanted enchiladas, but it is way too hot to turn on the oven. I chose a simple Middle Eastern salad instead. My pantry is always well stocked with just about everything, so I already had what I needed and I just let the creativity flow. Cooking barley is similar to cooking rice, only it takes longer to cook. I also cooked mine in chicken broth to add more flavor.
Chicken and Barley Salad
2 1/2 cups cooked barley
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked green beans, cut into pieces about 1 inch in size
1 TBSP garlic
1/3 cup green onions, sliced thin
1 jalapeno, diced fine
1 1/2 lbs diced or shredded cooked chicken
salt & pepper to taste
2 tsp orange spice
3 TBSP olive oil – I used garlic infused olive oil
2 TBSP pomegranate seeds, optional
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped fine
Combine all the ingredients, except the chicken, with the cooked barley and toss together well. Reserve some of the cilantro for topping.
Plate the salad up and top with the chicken and add the cilantro to finish. Cool, refreshing and delicious!
I served it with some pita bread and hummus, and a rich, buttery chardonnay on the side, to make a perfect summer meal. As usual, this delicious salad only requires a few simple and basic ingredients too. It is simple and easy to make and delicious and healthy to eat. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Stay well and stay safe Everyone. ‘Til next time.