Life is all about finding that balance, right? I love to cook and eat different foods so I supply my kitchen with lots of grains, healthy dairy items, lean proteins, etc. Sometimes, making small changes can make a huge difference—like using olive oil or canola oil instead of vegetable oil, or sautéing and baking more than frying. A simple change I recommend is to implement “Meatless Monday” in your house. It’s only one day a week but it will make a positive change in your health, your budget, and even the environment. So why not?
I always keep cooked grains like barley, farro, or quinoa in my refrigerator so I can add it to soups, stews, or salads. It’s so easy to add some herbs and veggies to a cup of cooked grains, add some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and you have a great mid-day salad packed with fiber and many nutrients.
My pearl barley cakes are very easy to make and so delicious with spinach and parmesan cheese; add a little cayenne pepper if you like the heat. Top cakes with chive ricotta, a take on my mom’s ‘requesón con cebollina y hierbas’ spread. Requesón is a Venezuelan pot cheese or curd very similar to ricotta and women in my family always used it as cheese substitute—the ‘diet’ cheese. So I’ve always associated the cheese and texture with lighter fare; I think it goes great with these cakes as it adds another layer of texture and a complexity of flavor. Buen provecho!
Pearled barley cakes with spinach and parmesan. Chive ricotta.
- Olive oil
- Coarse sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup red bell peppers, finely chopped
- 1/8 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/8 tsp ground cumin
- 1 cup (packed) fresh baby spinach
- 1 cup cooked pearled barley (see below)
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, plus more for coating cakes
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/3 cup ricotta
- 1 tbsp chives, finely minced
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil on a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for a couple of minutes, until onions are somewhat translucent. Add garlic and sauté briefly, until fragrant; then add red peppers, paprika, and cumin and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add spinach and cook until it has just wilted. Remove from heat and transfer to platter. Allow to cool down.
Preheat oven at 350˚ F
Drain spinach mixture lightly using mesh strainer and place it in a large bowl. Add pearl barley, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, and beaten egg; mix with wooden spoon and carefully combine all ingredients. Place additional breadcrumbs on a plate. Divide mixture in four, form cakes with your hands, and pass them by breadcrumbs to coat lightly. Place cakes on a lined baking tray, cover with foil or plastic, and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil on a skillet over medium-high heat. Sear cakes on both sides until golden brown, then transfer to baking tray. Place in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes.
While cakes bake place ricotta and chives in a small bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt to taste and freshly ground pepper; mix until fully incorporated. Set aside.
Remove cakes from oven and let rest for 3-4 minutes before serving. Top with chive ricotta!
Tip: Feel free to drizzle some red pepper oil or Meyer lemon olive oil!
Cooking Pearled Barley (Make Ahead)
- 1 cup pearled barley*
- 3 cups water
- 1 tsp sea salt
* Pearl barley does not have to be soaked; however, I like to soak it for half hour prior to cooking—that’s the way I was shown growing up.
Combine pearled barley, water and salt in a medium pot or saucepan; place over medium-high heat and bring to boil. Stir gently using wooden spoon, reduce heat to low and cover with lid; let simmer until liquid has been absorbed and grains are tender, about 45 minutes. Transfer to shallow pan or baking sheet, spread in thin layer and let cool off completely.
Cooked barley may be added to salads, soups, stews, and more!