East Meets West: Colourful Barley Provençal, Winter Barley Pilaf, Spicy Cool Tabbouleh, and Himmat’s Kasha Varnishkes

Good morning everyone,

As of today we have tackled 107 recipes out of 875 – or just over 12% of The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.  Not bad for 3 months work, I think.  Today we’re on to grains – particularly barley, buckwheat and bulgur.  Those were three words I never wanted to hear as a kid.  As a grown up though, I have a much better appreciation for each of them.

The four recipes we’ll tackle today are from pages 309 & 310 of the cookbook – Basil Barley Provençal, Barley Pilaf, Minty Tabouleh, and Kasha Varnishkes.  The biggest challenge with these was to replace the chicken stock in the original recipes and since that was not enough of a challenge, we’re going to kick things up a notch by infusing the original recipes with some spicy South Asian flavour.

Our versions will be Colourful Barley Provençal, Winter Barley Pilaf, Spicy Cool Tabbouleh, and Himmat’s Kasha Varnishkes.

Colourful Barley Provençal

There was a lot of oil in the original recipe.  We’ve cut down on that.  Also there wasn’t a whole lot of colour in the original, so we’ve ramped it up here and reduced the amount of zucchini used.  As this is a fairly heavy dish, suitable for cold evenings, we used a few vegetables that are available here in the winter.  Also, we’ve kicked up the heat a notch.  Barley does not have to be boring.

Barley is a member of the grass family and is one of the first cereal grains cultivated by humans.  The origin of the word ‘barn’ comes from barley apparently, and originally meant ‘barley-house’.  Fun to know!  Barley grew wild behind our house when I was growing up.  It probably helped that we would wait for the grass to grow high in the fall and then had fun stripping the plants of their seeds and spreading them into the wind.  We did a lot of strange things as kids.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into 1″ pieces
1 zucchini, cut into 1″ dice
1 small acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ dice
4 gloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 cup Light Vegetable Stock (recipe here)
4 ripe plum tomatoes, halved, seeded and cut into 1″ dice
1 yellow bell peppers, stem removed, seeded and cut into 1″ dice
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup cooked pearl barley (follow instructions on the bag)
1 cup pine nuts, dry roasted
1 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp hot chili powder


Heat the oil in a large skillet, and add the onion, zucchini, squash and garlic.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the zucchini is just tender and the onions are wilted, 8 minutes.  Add the stock and cook 2 minutes more.  Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, and salt and pepper.  Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.  Add the barley, pine nuts, basil, coriander, paprika and chili powder to the skillet.  Stir well, and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.  Adjust the seasonings if necessary and serve immediately.  Makes 6 servings.

Winter Barley Pilaf

I could be wrong but beige, colourless food just isn’t that appetizing.  There’s no reason that good, healthy grains like barley, buckwheat, bulgur, oats and the like can’t be made bright and colourful with the addition of equally good herbs, spices and vegetables.  We also cut down on the butter from the original recipe.


2 tbls unsalted butter
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tbls fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup pearl barley
3 cups Light Vegetable Stock (recipe here)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
3 large kale leaves, cut into thin strips
2 red chilies, chopped finely
2 tbls fresh chives


In a microwave-safe 2-quart casserole, melt 1 tbls of the butter at full power for 2 minutes.  Stir in the mushrooms, onion, pecans, and thyme.  Cook 3 minutes.  Stir in the barley, cook 2 minutes.  Stir in the stock, cranberries, kale, chilies and chives along with the remaining 1 tbls of butter.  Cover, and cook for 30 minutes.  Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes before serving.

Spicy Cool Tabbouleh

Bulgur is not the same as cracked wheat, though it’s close.  Bulgur is parboiled and then dried while cracked wheat is just crushed (requiring more cooking time).  Tabbouleh is a cold, middle-eastern salad that is wonderful except for the overwhelming flavour of parsley.  We reduced the oil in the original recipe because who needs almost a cup of freakin’ olive oil, as delicious as it is?  Our version has some heat, switched out that parsley overload and included one our favourite things to do to tabbouleh – seedless grapes.  Oh yes, we did.


1 heaping cup bulgur
1 cup cold water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin, dark olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1 cup small, seedless grapes, halved
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 chilies, chopped finely
4 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ dice

Combine the bulgur, water, lemon juice and 1/3 cup olive oil in a large bowl.  Mix well, and set aside for 30 minutes at room temperature.  Fluff with a fork.  Add the mint, coriander, red onion, grapes, garlic, pepper, salt and chilies.  Toss well with a fork.  Add the tomatoes and cucumber, and toss again.  Adjust the seasonings if necessary, and allow to stand, loosely covered, for at least 30 minutes for the flavours to develop.  Serve.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Himmat’s Kasha Varnishkes

Kasha Varnishkes is a traditional Jewish dish made with buckwheat and bow-tie pasta.  We removed the egg, replaced the chicken stock and add some more vegetables and flavour.  No reason Kasha Vanishkes has to be boring, right?  Also, the authors of The New Basic Cookbook like their microwave… a lot.  We don’t use it that often frankly so this version uses the stove top and the oven.


3 ounces eggless bow-tie pasta
1 tbls canola oil
1/2 cup whole-kernel buckwheat groats, toasted
1 cup Light Vegetable Broth (recipe here)
2 tbls unsalted butter
15 or so, fresh mushrooms, trimmed
3 large leaves kale, stems removed and sliced thinly
1/2 red cabbage, sliced thinly
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
2 tbls balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 250F.  Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until just tender; then drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Allow to cool to room temperature.  In another large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot.  Add the buckwheat and cook until toasted and fragrant, stirring to keep the kernels from clumping up.  Stir in the stock and cook, uncovered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the kernels are cooked through.  Stir occasionally.  Remove the buckwheat to a medium casserole.  Melt the butter in the saucepan.  Stir in the mushrooms, shallot, kale and cabbage and cook until the kale and cabbage become a little tender, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the green onions, pepper and balsamic vinegar.  Stir thoroughly and remove from heat.  Stir the mushroom mixture and the pasta into the casserole with the buckwheat mixture.   Put casserole dish in the oven, uncovered for 5 – 6 minutes until heated through.


Fish is next up in this project, though we’ll come back to deal with more grains later on.  Well, not fish but maybe some vaishno alternative to fish?  Can it be done?  Don’t know yet… we’ll see how it goes.  I hope you enjoy our renditions of these recipes.  As always, feel free to experiment and let me know how it goes.



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