Friday, October 12, 2018

Egyptian Barley Salad

I may have complained about it before, but I've had to do a heck of a lot more driving since moving to Colorado. Everything is just a bit further away here than it was back in Pennsylvania. School alone is an hour long drive round-trip if traffic is good. Get stuck behind a train or caught in a traffic jam and the commute time easily gets pushed passed the 90-minute mark! Because of this, on days when Matthew has sports practice, I normally do not go back home after school until the practice is over. This means that if his practice does not begin until 5:00 PM and school is out at 3:00, that we have to kill time somewhere else for a couple hours. Thankfully, their school is located very close to a branch of the public library. I normally take the kids there and have Matthew work on his homework while the girls and I read, play games, or draw. Surprisingly, the time passes rather quickly and everyone mostly enjoys themselves.

Although we all prefer the days when Daddy brings dry ice from work to play with...

Yesterday we were hanging out the library as we normally do a couple days out of the week. I was reading a story to Emma and Lucy when they suddenly noticed that children were gathering for what appeared to be a story time. Now, we have a very large Hispanic population in the area of town where my kids' school is located. Because of this, nearly half of the library books at this particular library branch are in Spanish and a large portion of the library activities are conducted in Spanish. I noticed that this particular story time - which was very well attended by a dozen Spanish-speaking families - was intended for Hispanics.

Emma and Lucy, upon seeing the moderator preparing her materials for the story time begged me to let them attend.

"I don't know girls. This story time is going to be entirely in Spanish. I'm not sure you're going to be able to understand much of it," I explained to them.

This did not deter Emma, who is currently taking Spanish as part of her Kindergarten curriculum. She began bouncing up and down while clapping her hands and saying, "I am learning Spanish! I can talk a little bit in Spanish!" And before I could stop her, she had danced over to the large group gathered for the story time and skipped right into the center of the circle, waving enthusiastically while declaring: "Hola amigos!!"

The moderator encouraged Emma to be seated and then asked her: "¿Cómo te llamas?"

To which Emma replied: "Eh? What did you say?" You see, she had already displayed the majority of her Spanish vocabulary which I'm pretty sure she learned from Dora the Explorer.

By this point, Lucy and I had joined Emma and I quickly whispered to her: "Tell her 'Me llamo Emma'." And she did. Lucy did the same with her name and the two of them sat down and listened to a story completely in Spanish about a girl who had red curly hair and desired nothing more than for it to be straight and smooth. So, she went through a number of drastic experiments in a vain attempt to straighten her curls. I'm not sure how much of the story my girls understood, but Emma laughed and laughed louder than any other child there throughout the entire tale at each and every silly way the poor little girl tried to change her hair.

Then it was time to sing some songs. The girls quickly caught on to the first song since it was "If You're Happy And You Know It" just in Spanish. They surprisingly picked up the Spanish lyrics quickly and sang loudly while doing all the correct hand motions. For being the only non-fluent participants of the Spanish story time, they were more vocal and enthusiastic than any other child there.

Next, the librarian pulled out a large laminated poster featuring the letters of the alphabet with a corresponding animal picture underneath each letter. She started going through each letter and encouraged the children to make the sounds and say the name of the animal in the picture. When she reached the letter "O", there was a picture of a bear underneath the letter. The librarian prompted the children: "O es para oso." And then reiterated the lesson by pointing to the picture of the bear: "Oso. Oso!" This made Emma laugh very loudly: "Oso! Ha! That's a funny name for a bear! HAHAHA!"

I was truly concerned that their Spanish illiteracy would disrupt the class, but at the end, the librarian approached me and encouraged me to bring the girls back for Spanish Story Time each week. She loved seeing how they did not grow bored or restless even though they did not understand the language but rather displayed an interest in learning new words! Everyone was so kind and encouraging of the girls and they truly did enjoy themselves. Maybe if I keep bringing them, they will actually pick some of it up.

As usual, the recipe I want to share with you today has absolutely nothing to do with my story. It's a simple barley salad that is actually Egyptian in origin. That simple fact is the only reason Matthew was willing to try it because he is suspicious of anything that has feta in it. But he not only tried it, he actually liked it! This is a filling salad - with raisins, pistachios, feta, green onions in addition to the barley. We ate this as a meatless meal and it was plenty filling BUT you could certainly add some grilled chicken that has been marinated in lemon and garlic. This would also make a great side to some salmon or as a bed for shrimp! The original recipe called for pomegranate molasses which I could not find so I used honey as a substitute. They also detail that a garnish of pomegranate seeds would add some lovely color as well as an additional level of texture to the dish but I skipped that too because I don't like them. If you happen to try the salad with either of those ingredients, let me know how you like it!

Egyptian Barley Salad with Feta and Pistachios
from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook

Note: Do not substitute hulled barley or hull-less barley in this recipe.

1½ cups pearl barley
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
⅓ cup golden raisins
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
¼ cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped coarse
4-6 ounces feta cheese
6 scallions, sliced thin
½ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add barley and 1 tablespoon salt, return to boil, and cook until tender, 20 to 40 minutes. Drain barley, spread onto rimmed baking sheet, and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Whisk oil, honey, cinnamon, cumin, and ½ teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Add barley, raisins, cilantro, and pistachios and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add feta and scallions and pomegranate seeds (if using) and toss lightly to combine. Serve!

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