Last year (ed. note: it was 2019), I was lucky enough to find a copy of Ilene Rosen’s Saladish at a little publisher’s overstock bookstore in Athens. I was thrilled. The book had been on my wishlist forever. And while I can’t say that it’s gone into heavy rotation – I’m too easily distracted for that – it is full of exactly the sort of food I love to cook. Simple, vegetable-forward one-bowl meals and grain salads with lots of color and texture.
Which means, of course, that I couldn’t leave well enough alone.
Barley with Many Mushrooms was probably the second or third recipe I tried out of the book and the first that I had an immediate desire to mess with. Let me be clear – there is absolutely nothing wrong with the recipe as written. It’s a beautifully balanced grain salad that keeps forever for lunches or make-ahead dinners…
…but the amount of dishes it produced bothered me.
You dirty a pot to cook the barley, a skillet to sauteé the mushrooms, and a sheet pan (or three) to roast the brussels sprouts, toast the walnuts, and cool the barley – plus the bowl you mix it all in.
I figured it’d be easier to roast all the vegetables together – saving the effort of standing at the stove and sauteéing two batches of mushrooms, and keeping a pan out of the sink. While I was at it, I thought I’d mix up the veggies too – carrots for a pop of color, plus the last bits of the leek kicking around at the back of my produce drawer. And since I don’t keep barley on hand, I swapped out the grains too.
So I tried it – and it sorta worked?
The grain salad I ended up with was both low-effort and low-dishes – but at the cost of speed. The veggies were fine, getting lovely and charred and crisp around the edges in 20 minutes or so. The mushrooms took an hour and a half. Not exactly the quick weeknight dinner I was hoping for – but since the bulk of the cooking time is hands-off, I don’t mind so much.
Once the mushrooms came out, everything else came together quite quickly. I just tossed the mushrooms, vegetables, and farro with the toasted walnuts, thyme, a glug of olive oil, and a splash of red wine vinegar for brightness, since I forgot to buy celery when I went to the grocery store (… and I never thought it integrated particularly well anyway).
The result is a comforting, textured grain salad that comes together into something so much greater than the sum of its parts – a rubble of chewy farro tangled with meaty mushrooms and crisp, char-kissed veggies, studded with pops of walnut crunch. It’s exactly the lunch I want to be eating right now.
Especially with a crispy fried egg on top.
Fall grain salad with mushrooms
Time: 2 hours, mostly hands off Yield: 4-6 servings Source: Inspired by Ilene Rosen’s excellent Saladish
I call for farro because it’s the grain I’m most likely to have in my pantry at any given time. This salad would work equally well with barley, wheat berries, or even pearl couscous. Similarly, if you have part of a cabbage kicking around, feel free to slice that thinly to replace the brussels sprouts.
I cooked all my mushrooms on a single sheet pan because I know they shrink down significantly and I didn’t want to do more dishes, but they took an hour and a half to cook this way. If you’re in a rush, split the mushrooms onto two trays. They’ll cook faster if they’re not crowded together.
Also, this salad is delicious, but I still feel like it’s missing something – and I think that something is a couple handfuls of dried cranberries or tart cherries folded in at the end. I haven’t tested it yet (and I already have the photos finished) but I’ll update the recipe if that’s the right move. Let me know if you try it!
- 190 grams (1 cup) semi-pearled farro
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 111 grams (1 cup) shaved brussels sprouts
- 83 grams (heaping 1/2 cup) leek, halved and sliced ¼” thick
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly
- 2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 2 pounds mixed mushrooms (I used white button and oyster), sliced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 89 grams (1 cup) walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Preheat your oven to 400°F
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the farro and cook until it is just tender. My package suggested this will take 20-25 minutes, but depending on your farro this may take more or less time. Once the grain is fully cooked but still slightly chewy, drain it thoroughly, and toss with two tablespoons of the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Spread it out on a sheet pan or platter to cool.
Toss the brussels sprouts, leeks, onion, and carrot with two tablespoons of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and ground pepper, and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan.
Toss the mushrooms with two more tablespoons of oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and about half the thyme, and spread them out in as close to a single layer as you can get on a sheet pan.
Roast the mushrooms until they are deeply browned and starting to crisp around the edges, about 75 minutes. Toss the mushrooms with the soy sauce and continue roasting until the soy sauce has evaporated and glazed the mushrooms.
Put the remaining veggies into the oven when you add the soy sauce to the mushrooms. Roast until the carrots are tender and the sprouts, leeks and onions are just starting to char around the edges, 15-20 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss together the veggies, farro, walnuts, thyme, red wine vinegar, and two more tablespoons of olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary.
This grain salad is excellent both warm and at room temperature, and I can’t think of a better thing to bring to a fall picnic.