Spicy Salmon Peach and Barley Salad

“If this is a salad, then anything is a salad,” Gary teased me last time I served this and expressly called it a salad. His taunting highlights something I’ve  given idle thought to before: the definition of a salad.

Any quick search of a recipe site will prove salads are much more than beds of lettuce. I’ve seen just about any vegetable made into a salad; some of the best are completely sans lettuce, like the black bean and corn salad that graces so many picnic tables in the summer.

Nor are “salads” purely the domain of vegetables. Where would lunch be without the tuna  or egg salad?

Perhaps “salad” refers to a cold temperature? But no, obviously there is hot German potato salad and wilted salads made with hot bacon dressing.

Could “salad” be a preparation technique of mixing  disparate ingredients into a big pile and uniting them with a dressing? Hmmm…. mayb—- Nope. Both the casual Caprese salad of neatly overlapping mozzarella cheese slices, tomato slices, and basil leaves and the elegant towers of a sea scallop, caramelized onions, and a cornichon served in white tablecloth restaurants testify against that.

I remain at a loss. I only know that a salad is different than a casserole, which is different than a soup. And that this is surely a salad.

I used unhulled barley rather than the more common pearled barley because in addition to retaining more nutrients, I enjoy the chewiness of unhulled barley. While the long soaking step is technically optional, I strongly recommend  making the time for it as your barley will cook more quickly and your body will be better able to absorb the nutrients from the grain. The added vinegar aids in the neutralization of phytic acid, a nutrient inhibitor.

Szechuan peppers are not actually related to regular peppercorns. They are members of the citrus family and hence impart an almost floral aroma and flavor. Szechuan pepper is a component of the popular Chinese Five Spice mixture. They compliment other truly spicy flavors like cayenne and chili by contributing a tingly sensation on your lips and tongue. Most bulk spice suppliers will carry them, and they are unquestionably worth trying. Though if you cannot find them, you may substitute plain black peppercorns.

 

Spicy Salmon Peach and Barley Salad

2 wild caught Alaskan salmon fillets about the size of a deck of cards, or two cups leftover flaked salmon
2 Tbs coconut oil (if using leftover salmon, omit this)
1 cup dry unhulled barley
2 cups chicken stock or water, plus extra if necessary
3 ripe peaches, peeled or unpeeled as you prefer
1/2 sweet onion, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 Tbs fruity olive oil
2 Tbs cider or rice wine vinegar
2-3 Tbs of spice mix, to taste
1/4 cup of any mixed herbs you have-  I like garlic chives, thyme, basil, and oregano

Spice Mix
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbs whole Szechuan peppercorns
1 Tbs whole coriander
1 tsp red chili flakes
a pinch or two of cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 Tbs salt

The night before, toast the barley in a saucepan by placing it over high heat and giving it an occasional gentle shake or stir until the toasty aroma fills your kitchen.  Take it off the heat and let it cool slightly. Then add water to cover the grains by several inches. Dribble in a little vinegar and give it a stir. Cover the pan with a tea towel and let the barley soak in a warm place overnight. Whenever you’re ready to cook it the next day, drain the water and return the barley to the pan. Add the chicken stock and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer covered with a tight lid for about 45 minutes. Check it a few times during cooking and replenish the liquid if necessary.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium heat until  it shimmers. Add the salmon fillets skin side down and sprinkle the tops with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a lid and cook until the fish flakes easily, lowering the heat if it begins to burn. Cut it into large chunks. It will be further broken up when you mix the salad together. If I can resist eating the crispy skin, I mix it with the salad as it is a source of healthy fats; if it’s texture bothers you too much, feed it to your cats. Set aside until the barley is done. If you’re using leftovers, just remove it from the fridge when you start the barley so it can come to room temperature.

Combine all your spices in a mortar and pestle or a spice mill and grind until they are powdered. Sometimes the Szechuan pepper refuses to powder completely. In this case, you can either go with it or shake it through a fine mesh colander to remove the stubborn bits.

In a large bowl, combine the warm barley, chunked salmon, garlic, onion, and peaches. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar and sprinkle with a Tbs of the spice mixture. Mix well, preferably with your hands so you can feel when it’s all been evenly incorporated. Taste and see what you think of the spice. Add more until it suites you. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep the leftover spice in an airtight jar in a dark cupboard for next time.

If you have time, let it sit in the fridge for a few hours so the flavors can meld. If you don’t, serve it with confidence because it will still be good. Just before serving, mix in the chopped herbs. This salad is good cold or at room temperature. I like serving it on a bed of wilted greens.

 

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Posted in Uncategorized 5 years, 2 months ago at 2:55 pm.

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  1. Rachelle Sep 8th 2012

    I think “mix of discrete ingredients unified by a dressing and usually served cold” covers MOST salads well enough. Even if the dressing is just a little olive oil as in the Caprese salad. OR…maybe it’s that it’s not cooked again after assembly like a casserole is.

    Also…I want a peach.


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