Sometimes you bring home a new grain or legume just because it is so darn pretty. Maybe it is exotic and has an interesting heirloom pedigree or even nutritional goodness like low-glycemic behaviour, high protein or high fiber. Sometimes all of the above.

That partly explains why at various times my pantry has a new item on hand that I don’t even have a recipe for. And if we are very lucky, it tastes really good. For all of the above reasons, as well as general cultural shopping, locally and especially when on the road, you might see in our pantry oddly coloured lentils, Mayacoba beans (several packages currently as a result of both local purchases and finding them in Arizona) and various exotic rice parcels. Now in the fridge, cooked, so even during the storms I can have a whole grain ready – Purple Prairie Barley.

The purple barley has a lush almost wine-coloured glossiness before cooking, and is known as a hull-free barley – thus not requiring pearling. Better for you – keeps all the germ, etc. With a series of storms marching towards us, I cooked up a pot of the purple barley yesterday, and flavoured it simply using bay leaves, dehydrated red and green bell pepper from a recent visit to Penzeys, and dehydrated onion (altho shallot would also do nicely). It cooked in about an hour and a half, simmering on low, with a grain:liquid ratio of 1:2½ using water, altho you could use broth. Since I did a large batch I wanted to keep my options open since it would be used in different dishes. After cooking it came out a bit more subdued in colour, but still nicely textured and pretty.

I let it cool, and it absorbed all the remaining liquid, then I cooled it in the fridge for supper.

The salad I assembled was a simple fresh spinach, with shreds of red cabbage and roasted zucchini, chopped green apple, with a mound of the barley to which I had added some good feta in chunks, and dressed all lightly with a garlic-olive oil-lemon juice vinaigrette. The result had some of the same appeal of a lentil salad I have had many times over the years at Greens at Fort Mason in the City, altho I like the barley better (maybe that is because barley likes me a bit better than lentils).

❦ notes on the gift of citrus: find good things to do quickly….not usually a problem
However, I was a little stumped when a good friend gifted us a precious Bergamot orange. Since I keep a pretty good supply of Earl Grey on hand, and actually have Bergamot essential oil as part of our blending library for soap scents, I was determined that this be used in a special way. Trust Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini to point me in the right direction. She had a lovely delicate salad using the tart juice of the bergamot. I also could not resist zesting it – it has a heady and lush perfume top note, which is funny since I often don’t like floral notes – I have a complete aversion to neroli (the essential oil from the blossom of the bitter orange tree). But this bergamot zest, even in a tiny amount, was like opening a fresh tin of lovely Earl Grey from the best sources.

I made the salad twice. The first time with some lovely oyster mushrooms and Pink Lady apples, but not having mâche on hand, I simply prepared the apples, tossing them in the bergamot juice from half the orange, while I sauteed the mushrooms that I had chunked. It is a very pale salad, and extremely delicate in flavour. I made the dressing per the recipe. I had never had such a subtle combination of flavours.

In the second try, I looked again for mâche, but it just wasn’t in the market, so I used a blend of baby lettuces. I made the complete recipe with pecans in place of the walnuts and having used up my oyster ‘shrooms greedily the previous night, I used some lovely brown beech mushrooms (cultivated, like a more interesting larger sibling to enoki mushrooms, found in an asian market). It was still lovely, but perhaps, with the lettuces, the subtle flavours were a bit overwhelmed.

We preferred the abridged apple + mushroom version. In both salads, I added the zest – it was too lovely not to use – and honored the kind friend who shared this exotic bounty.