I’ve always been a huge fan of North African food, and Moroccan food in particular. Moroccan culture is an old culture, and the spice combinations and juxtaposition of sweet and savory are not much changed from a thousand years ago, when these flavors dominated both Europe and the Arab world.
Everything in this salad could have come from Morocco, and the barley is something of a Berber touch: Barley is a mainstay of Berber cooking.
I have no idea whether anything like this salad exists in Morocco, so let’s say it is Moroccan-inspired rather than an attempt at anything authentic.
Most of the ingredients for this dish are easily obtainable, with the exception of the ras el hanout. Frankly, the salad is great without it, but the addition of this beguiling spice mixture does add another layer of flavor.
What is ras el hanout? It is the masala of Morocco. Every person who makes ras el hanout makes it differently. Generally speaking it should include black pepper, cardamom, chile peppers, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric—well as more unusual stuff, such as lavender or dried rose petals.
I include a rough approximation of ras el hanout in the ingredients, should you be unable to find it in a store.
You can vary a few things in this salad and still have it come out well: Substitute pine nuts for the pistachios, or chopped dates for the chopped apricots. You can even make your chickpeas from scratch on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker.
You could even switch out the barley altogether and use something like spelt or farro. But definitely try this recipe as written first: You’ve probably never tasted anything like it.
Moroccan Chickpea Barley Salad
- 1 1/2 cups barley
- 1 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth (use veg broth for vegan version)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and strained, or 1 1/2 cups cooked
- 1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
- 1 cup diced dried apricots
- 2-3 chopped green onions or scallions
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- Zest and juice of a lemon
- 1 tablespoon of ras el hanout spice mix*
- Salt to taste
- *Ras El Hanout Spice Mix:
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Cook the barley:
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot on medium high heat. Add the barley and sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring often.
Add the broth, water, and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer and simmer until the barley is tender, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how old the barley is.
Strain the barley, toss with olive oil:
Strain the cooked barley through a colander or sieve and run cold water over to cool it quickly. Toss and mix in the colander to strain as much water as you can.
Lay out the barley on a sheet pan and drizzle olive oil over it. Mix to coat well and set aside.
Combine salad ingredients:
In a large bowl, add the chickpeas, pistachios, apricots, green onions and parsley and mix well.
Add the zest and juice of the lemon and mix again.
Add the barley and mix.
Sprinkle the ras el hanout spice mixture over the barley and mix well. Taste, and add salt if needed.
Marinate before serving:
Let the salad marinate for an hour or so before serving. If the barley has absorbed all the olive oil, drizzle a little more on right before serving.