On Tuesday, I went to a free personal training session at the gym. The trainer kicked my butt and at the end, gave me her sales pitch: pay hundreds of dollars to get your butt kicked repeatedly (but lose weight in the process!) As you can guess, I politely declined — if I had a few hundred dollars lying around just begging to be spent, I wouldn’t spend it on exercise.
What would I spend it on? A plane ticket. (I already bought one of these last month and will be heading to Argentina in a few weeks, but I am of the firm belief that one can never have too many plane tickets.*) I love traveling, especially to new countries: hearing the different languages, seeing the different signs, touching the different currencies (so many colors!), the smells, the sounds, the sights, the people — it’s a welcome sensory overload every time.
One of my personal goals is to travel somewhere new each year. This year, I was very lucky and went to Mexico, will go to Argentina in October, and then India in December (not new, but still exciting). While I’m certainly not the most intrepid traveler, practice makes perfect. So naturally, I’m already thinking about where to go in 2013 and Morocco is high on my list.
My missed opportunity still stings, and in a huff on Tuesday night, I decided I had to make something Moroccan for dinner. Food is one of the best parts of traveling to new places. Skipping the tourist scene and heading to where locals eat, visiting local markets or grocery stores — it can reveal a lot about cultures and daily life in your location. Since Morocco is currently out of reach, I “traveled” there via its cuisine, courtesy of this barley salad from Simply Recipes.
Barley is a staple of North African cuisine, and is a slightly chewy, nutty whole grain. I doubled-down on the “Moroccan-ness” of the original recipe, adding mint and carrots to the salad, and approximated a Ras el Hanout spice blend from what I had on hand. The result is a bright salad that is spicy, sweet and perfect for packing for lunch. If this is what Morocco tastes like, I think I need to book my next trip …
*This is a lie: I actually hate flying and the process of getting from Point A to Point B. But I love being in new places, so air travel is a necessary evil.
Moroccan Barley Salad
Adapted from Simply Recipes
I used black barley, which needed to be simmered longer and with a bit more liquid in order to cook properly. Follow the instructions on the package for whichever type of barley you use.
– 3/4 cup barley
– 1-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (you can substitute water)
– pinch of salt
– 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick coins
– 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
– 1/2 cup pine nuts
– 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
– 1 cup mint leaves, diced
– Juice of one lemon
– 1 tablespoon Ras el Hanout*
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– Salt to taste
*Ras el Hanout is a spice blend popular across North Africa. There is no standard recipe — it can vary widely, and sometimes includes more than 100 (!!) ingredients, but common components are: black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, turmeric, cayenne and black pepper. You can find the blend online or in some grocery stores, or make it yourself (here’s Elise’s recipe).
1) Cook the barley with the stock according to package directions. Strain the cooked barley and run it under cold water to cool it quickly. Make sure to remove as much water as possible afterward.
2) In a large bowl, combine the carrots, chickpeas, pine nuts, apricots, mint, lemon juice, spices, olive oil and the cooled barley. Mix well, and add salt to taste. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.