Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad

We celebrated a friend's birthday a few weeks ago at La Jolla Cove in San Diego. There were about 20 guests and it was potluck style. I was in charge of bringing the salad. My friend expected me to purchase the pre-made salads at Costco and to pick up some bulk dressing.
To tell you the truth, that was my first thought too because I wasn't sure I was going to have enough time to get more creative. In the end though, I decided to suck it up and just do it! I thought of making a Mediterranean salad the cucumbers and feta cheese and the other fixins, but I've already done that in the past. I saw this as an opportunity to try something different.
After consulting my trusty recipe blog, I decided that this Mediterranean eggplant and barley salad would be just the right fit. It had the Mediterranean flavors that I was craving, yet it allowed me to learn new skills, like roasting eggplant and zucchini. This was truly a multi-component and multi-technique (roasting and sauteeing) salad - just what I needed to satisfy my tastebuds and hone more skills in the kitchen.
The salad was greeted with open arms (we arrived a little late =)...) and was a hit!
After the beach, a few of us went to a dessert place called Extraordinary Desserts. I'm sure you've heard of it if you live in Southern California. I've always wanted to go there whenever I was in San Diego, but just never made it. There was a little bit of a line when we got there, but not too bad. We ordered the strawberry shortcake for dine-in and I ordered a lemon napoleon for take-out. It was a cozy place with relatively small tables and lit with candles. To tell you the truth, the desserts were tasty, but I think over half of the appeal comes from the impressive way they present each dessert. They sold a variety of teas and allowed us to sample the aroma.

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 lb eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 lb zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (note: I used 1/8 tsp. and it was plenty spicy; adjust to taste)
1 1/4 cups pearl barley (8 oz)
1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and drained if desired
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

1. Roast eggplant and zucchini: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

2. Toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Combine vegetables in 1 pan and cool, reserving other pan for cooling barley.

3. Cook barley: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add barley and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer to reserved shallow baking pan and spread to quickly cool, uncovered, to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

4. Make dressing and assemble salad: Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add barley, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well. Serve with cheese slices.

Do ahead: Salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Return to room temperature before serving.