This Springtime Barley Pilaf with Baby Artichokes, Peas, and Mint Pesto is a satisfying meal for the vegetarians in the family and a fabulous side dish for the meat eaters.
Life used to be easy.
Well, at least as far as dinner went. I’d fire up the grill, massage a spice mix into a hunk of meat, and watch over it as the smell of charred fat filled the air. Add corncobs slathered with garlic butter, a simple salad dressed in a zippy vinaigrette, and bingo baby, dinner was ready in about the time it took for the red wine to “open up”.
Then one of us – that would be me – decided to go vegetarian. For a brief moment, as my husband, Myles, asked “Are you kidding?” (meaning “Are you insane?”) I blithely imagined us sharing the adventure of eating closer to the earth, exploring the worlds of quinoa and tofu together. But one of us – that would be him – thought there was good reason for not having explored that terrain, so to speak. “I need meat. If I wasn’t supposed to eat it, I wouldn’t have incisors,” he argued.
Initially, Myles eyed bundles of kale and mustard greens coming into the house with grave suspicion. But when bags of barley, farro, and quinoa began to fill shelves, he went on the offensive, marshaling a constant stream of reinforcements to shore up the ranks. Pork chops, ground beef, and every cut of steak known to man were drafted into service, forcing me to threaten to rent a nearby meat locker. The man was desperate.
Food connects us as we sit down to dinner, a time of respite from the day’s battles. When a member of a family suddenly darts out on their own vegetarian path, it’s stressful to everyone at the table. Will they see tofu on their plates now? Will they have to sneak burgers into the house, and eat them under the cover of darkness in a closet?
On more nights than I care to admit, I still haphazardly pull together two different dinners, short-order cook style with all four burners fired up, guzzling wine to keep calm. But more and more, as Myles and his incisors hold firm, I lean on keeping a stash of pre-cooked grains, beans, and condiments on hand to ease the way to my vegetarian plate, without sacrificing an ounce of flavor.
This dish is a perfect example. Cook the barley and make the mint pesto up to three weeks ahead, so all you need do is roast the artichokes and cook the peas when it’s time for dinner. Really squeezed for time? Roast those artichokes over the weekend, pop them into the refrigerator, and just warm them up with the barley during the week, or just go buy a jar of them. Easy-peasy.
- ½ cup mint leaves, well packed
- ½ cup Italian parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or enough to create a sauce-like consistency
- 1 large lemon wedge
- 12 baby artichokes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- ¼ cup white wine
- 3 cups vegetable broth, or water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup barley grain
- ½ cup shelled English peas (about ½ pound with the shells)
- ½ cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1½ tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
- Parmesan cheese for serving
- Make the Mint Pesto by adding all of the ingredients except the olive oil to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse several times to chop the herbs and pine nuts. Drizzle the olive oil through the shoot while whirling the blade like crazy.
- Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Fill a medium bowl with water and stir in the juice squeeze from the lemon. Trim the tops and bottoms from the artichokes, and snap off the outside leaves. Be aggressive so that as much as possible will be edible in the pilaf. Dry the artichoke hearts and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Lay out on the prepared baking sheet, salt and pepper liberally, and pour the white wine around them. Cover with foil. Roast for 20 minutes, remove the foil, and roast for another 5 minutes – or until tender.
- Bring the vegetable broth to a simmer in a small pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the salt and add the barley grain. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, and cook until tender – about 25 minutes for pearled barley.
- Simmer the shelled peas in water for 5 minutes, or until crisp-tender.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the tomatoes for 5 minutes, or until limp. Add the vinegar.
- Fold the artichokes, peas, pesto and tomatoes, including the oil and vinegar into the barley. Correct for salt and pepper. Serve warm with grated parmesan cheese on the side.
Susan’s Busy Weeknight Strategy: At any given time, I have zip-lock baggies filled with cooked grains, along with several jars of sauces or pesto I’ve cooked up, in the refrigerator. Then all I need do is roast up some vegetables for a satisfying vegetarian meal or side dish than can be ready in 30 minutes or less.
Looking for some hearty vegetarian dishes that will satisfy the meat eaters as well? Check these out:
- Celery Root Gratin with Horseradish Cream and Barley
- Cauliflower Tetrazzini with Poblano Peppers
- Cheese Tortellini with Herbed Ricotta and Fava Beans
Do you have a mixed household of vegetarians and carnivores? We’d love to hear your tips and suggestions about how you make that work in your family.