We’re currently in the transition between winter and spring. We’ve had some lovely warm, sunny days, which feel lush. But thanks to La Niña today is feeling like winter again. That being said, I’m getting a lot of inspiration seeing fall recipes posted by Northern Hemisphere friends on Instagram. It feels like a nice overlap with the seasons where we can all enjoy some comfort food. Now that it’s October, pumpkins are definitely on the menu! This Spiced Pumpkin, Feta and Pearl Barley Salad is so versatile and delicious – definitely one of my new favourites that I will make over and over. Honestly I could eat this any time of year, but it’s perfect right now, no matter where you live.
Pearl barley is an underrated ingredient that I really love. You can buy a bag of pearl barley at the supermarket for just a couple of dollars, making it a super affordable grain that is also easy to prepare. Find it in the aisle with the dried beans and pulses. Pearl barley is often used in soups and even as an alternative to rice. My favourite way to use it is definitely in salads. It’s slightly chewy with a nutty taste that works perfectly in a textural salad like this one.
Adding to the textures and flavours are sweet chewy dried cranberries and crunchy pecans. Sliced spring onions and a whole heap of parsley and mint provide freshness. The dressing is a simple one – just add the ingredients to a jar and shake it up. We have the usual suspects of olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice with some Dijon mustard and honey to round out the flavours. And then on top, my favourite part – the crumbled fetta cheese that adds saltiness and creaminess and brings it all together.
Now let’s talk about the pumpkin. I love roasting large wedges for this salad, which makes it fun to serve family style as a shared side dish. I brushed the cut pumpkins with olive oil that I mixed with cinnamon, sumac, garam masala, salt and pepper. The pumpkin is basted on all sides a few additional times with the spiced oil as it cooks in the oven. It turns soft and sweet in the oven with a crisped up edge and great flavour thanks to the spices.
I keep thinking that this Pearl Barley salad would make an awesome Thanksgiving dish – the flavours of pumpkin, pecan and cranberries scream fall! I can definitely imagine this side dish alongside the traditional turkey and pumpkin pie.
BUT it also would be really good for meal prep! Not only is it economical to make, but it will easily last several days in the fridge. After I shot these photos, I had so much leftover and I hate wasting food. So I ate this salad for lunch for several days and it didn’t get sad and soggy. The salad maintained all its textural integrity and continued to taste good. It’s satisfying, filling and you can adapt it in so many ways…
Can I make substitutions in this Pearl Barley Salad?
Absolutely! I always love to add some suggestions of ways to change things up. You can adapt the recipe with ease to keep it feeling fresh whenever you make it.
Pearl Barley – If you don’t have pearl barley on hand you could substitute farro. It’s the most similar grain and can be used interchangeably. Pearl or Israeli couscous are small balls of toasted semolina and would also work really well in this salad. For a gluten free option, cooked quinoa or rice could be delicious but the texture will change. As another wild idea, you could even turn this into a pasta salad using your favourite short pasta shape, cooked and cooled.
Cranberries – I’d love to try this salad with fresh pomegranate arils as well or instead of the cranberries. Pomegranate would add a similar tart sweetness and look really pretty. You could also try other dried fruit like sour cherries or raisins.
Pecans – Try pepitas, roasted almonds or walnuts. Or if you have a nut allergy, you could roast some chickpeas until just crisp with the same spiced oil as the pumpkins and add them in. Yum!!
Protein – You can absolutely serve this as a side salad along any kind of roasted meat. Or turn it into a main dish with some grilled chicken, lamb cutlets or crispy tofu on top. I also loved this Pearl Barley Salad with grilled haloumi.
Pumpkin – Well, this salad is all about the pumpkin but you could definitely substitute different varieties of pumpkin, squash or sweet potato. Don’t be afraid of all the spices – they work really well with the sweet pumpkin.
Related Post: Pearl Barley, Pomegranate and Fennel Salad
Spiced Pumpkin, Fetta and Pearl Barley Salad
This Spiced Pumpkin, Fetta and Pearl Barley Salad is an excellent and economical fall, winter or Thanksgiving side dish with lots of textures and delicious seasonal flavours.
- 1/4 Kent pumpkin (roughly 900 grams)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- Salt & pepper
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks spring onion, finely sliced
- 1/2 cup combined fresh mint and parsley, finely sliced
- 1/2 cup Danish Fetta, crumbled
- Extra parsley and mint, to garnish
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- Salt & Pepper
First, cook the pearl barley. Place barley into a medium saucepan (that has room for barley to expand) with 3 cups of water. Cook covered with a lid on medium heat for about 30-35 minutes or until barley is soft but chewy and expanded in size. You will need to check on this a few times during cooking to make sure the water is not evaporating too quickly – add another 1/2 cup if it is. The water should be mostly or completely absorbed by the time the barley is cooked. Drain and rinse with cool water and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F).
To make the spiced oil, place 1/4 cup olive oil in a small bowl with cinnamon, sumac, garam masala, a large pinch of salt and some cracked black pepper. Stir to combine.
While the barley is cooking, prepare the pumpkin. I cut my unpeeled pumpkin into 5 large wedges but you could also peel and cut into 2cm cubes if you prefer. Place onto a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and brush with the spiced oil. Bake in the oven, basting every 20 minutes for about 50-60 minutes, flipping the pumpkin wedges over halfway and rotating the oven tray so they cook evenly.
To make the dressing place 1/3 cup of olive oil into a medium jar with the mustard, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, honey and salt and pepper. Secure the lid and give it a shake and then taste. Add more of any ingredient to your personal liking. Set aside until ready to assemble the salad.
To assemble the salad, place the cooked and cooled pearl barley into a large bowl, then add cranberries, pecans, spring onion and sliced herbs and toss to combine. Add half the dressing, some salt and pepper and toss again. Place the cooked pumpkin wedges on top and scatter with crumbled fetta and extra parsley and mint leaves. Drizzle over the remaining dressing and serve.