I made this recipe up, inspired by CheapHealthyGood’s Balsamic Tomatoes. I wanted to try that recipe, but I only had three tomatoes and I knew that wouldn’t be enough for a side dish for the whole family. So, how could I make this recipe work? Here’s an example of how I take inspirational recipes and tweak them to make them just right for our family.
I thought about adding a grain or pasta. Carbs are my friend, my sweet, sweet BFF and I love me some macaroni salad. Except, pasta doesn’t keep well with vinaigrette dressings. The noodles absorb the dressing and all you get the next day is a blob of mush with the slightest hint of flavor.
On the other hand, I’ve been wanting to try a cold barley pilaf, because, well, I just did, OK? The barley will be a good match for the vinegar and tomatoes.
Barley has a chewy consistency, more firm than rice, like al dente pasta. I like chewy. I like to use my teeth when I eat. I didn’t pay for two root canals so I could gum my food. See folks?
That’s being frugal and using what you have. I just realized I made barley sound like Wrigley’s gum. It’s not, I promise. It’s chewy and toothsome but not in a Doublemint kind of way. I’m sure that cleared things up.
I am always on the lookout for new twists on beans and rice because grassfed beef and pastured poultry is expensive, and beans ‘n’ rice is so cheap even Dave Ramsey knows about it. Could I make this into a vegetarian main dish? Yep! I added white beans for protein. Navy beans, cannelini, or even Great Northerns would all be perfect. Should you be living in the lap of luxury, and have actual meat available, this would pair nicely with poultry sauteed in olive oil. Whoo hoo, looky there. Another recipe for using up leftover Thanksgiving turkey. See what added value I bring to your kitchen? You can thank me with brownies. Because carbs, especially chocolate carbs, are my BFF. I think I mentioned that.
Now, if it’s a one-dish meal, what about a vegetable? Yeah, yeah, tomatoes, but we usually have at least two veggies at dinner (preferably different colors, to maximize nutrition.) And everyone knows that vegetables have to be green in order to count, ketchup notwithstanding (you listening, USDA?)
So I chose green beans, because they would add color to the cream colored barley and beans, I thought they would complement the summery tomatoes, and, most importantly, they were in my freezer. I killed my garden this year so it’s freezer veggies for us.
I used a yellow onion to liven things up a little, but a red onion would be festive and green onions would be nice, too. I guess I should encourage you to use something fancy and totally Martha, like shallots and pearl onions, but around her, a plain old yellow onion is my friend (but not my BFF, see above). My friend that I whack into a million pieces then fry in oil. Mmm, I like my friends with layers. Like an onion.
If you think all these references to friends and food are weird, please recall that I am pregnant. Knocked up women get emotionally attached easily.
A note about barley. Pearled barley is available in 1# bags at most major stores – Kroger and HEB carry it – but it can be in different places. No one seems to know where to put it. Kroger keeps it by the bagged beans. One HEB carries it by the soups, and another stocks it near the rice. Barley cooks up just like brown rice. Add 2 1/2 c. of water for every cup of pearled barley, bring to a boil for a minute, then turn to low for 45 minutes.
Tomato Barley Salad
Crazy cheap at 89¢/serving
Serves 6. (I doubled this recipe for my family and we had lots of leftovers)
2 c. dry pearled barley cooked in 5 c. water (I didn’t measure how much this actually made when done.) ~ $1
4 c. white beans, cooked. Season beans generously with garlic and onion while cooking. (1/2 pound package of dry beans, cooked, or two cans, drained) ~ 50¢
2 largish tomatoes ~ $1.50
12 oz. frozen cut green beans, thawed $1
1/2 small onion, finely diced, or 3-4 stalks green onions, minced ~25¢
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar (Cost varies greatly. I buy the cheaper stuff, so 30¢ for me.)
1/2 c. olive oil ~80¢
Salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder to taste.
Chop the tomatoes into bite sized chunks. Dump everything into a big bowl and mix it all around. In a measuring cup or smaller bowl, mix olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Give it a good whisk with a fork. Pour over barley mixture and toss well to coat. Check seasoning, adding salt if needed.
Can be served warm or cold. Keeps well. Very tasty over a bed of spinach or lettuce the next day for a refreshing lunch!
Tip! Be smart and cook up the whole bag of beans, saving half of them to make white bean dip with lots of garlic for snacking the next day. Or freeze them for a convenient meal later one.
Make it faster! Use canned beans instead of prepped dry beans. But don’t forget, you can cook up a huge batch of white beans and make them as convenient as the canned stuff. You can also make and freeze batches of barley for busy nights. If you had prepped beans and barley from the freezer, thawed in the fridge all day or heated up in the microwave, this meal would take about 5 minutes to toss together – just the time to chop the tomato and onion, and mix the vinaigrette.
You could also substitute instant brown rice for the barley, although it would have a different texture.
Make it cheaper! Grow your own veggies, or use whatever is on sale. Blanched fresh green beans would sing in this dish! Cucumbers or fresh spinach would be wonderful here, and leftover roasted or grilled eggplant would be excellent.
Disclaimer: Husband thought it was very good, even though it was meatless and too many meatless meals make him go a little berserker. Mr X, age three, only ate two bites and refused to try any more. The other kids ate their usual amount and Baby A ate some too. Though she rejects anything green on general principle, so she ate around the green beans.
Need more cheap ‘n’ tasty eats? Check out all of my Crazy Cheap Cooking posts!