I was always an annoyingly fussy child. Many hours of my childhood were spent at the dinner table, forbidden to move until I ate my meal. (To this day, I still wouldn’t touch girello with a ten-foot pole.) I usually “won”, as I would stay there all night, stubbornly, pouting until, alas, bedtime.
Naturally, I never really ate salad until I was about 22. I had just left home where I seldom cooked, had moved in with Alex and was shoved into a world of being the main cook. My only two recipes at that time were Chicken or Tofu Stir-Fry (using a packet sauce) and Spaghetti Bolognese (using a packet sauce). Given that Alex was a vegetarian, I was due to expand my cooking repertoire. I started following recipes and slowly I became a decent cook. At first it was mostly spaghetti, but soon my vegetarian cooking became more varied.
Salads never even crossed my mind before this time. I soon learned that salads were an important part of every meal by watching Alex cook. A very popular and much-loved dish in Costa Rica is the casado (literal translation: married). A traditional casado is made up of rice, black beans, fried plantains, an additional protein source (usually meat, but we use eggs, cheese or quesadillas mostly) and a salad. Alex loves casado. It puzzles him that I can eat an entire meal of one main without mixing it with anything else (eg. a risotto or pasta by itself).
So Alex introduced me to casado, and with that came salad. Basic at first – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and shredded carrot with a dollop of ranch dressing (which is delicious mixed with rice, mind you). As the years went by, I got more confident with salads. My favourite salad lately is this deliciousness: the Village Salad.
I first tried the Village Salad at a local Greek eatery called Jimmy Grants. Jimmy Grants sells delicious souvlaki (their falafel version is really incredible), amazing fries bathed in garlic oil and feta, and of course, a few salads. When I first tried this cucumber and mint grain salad, I was very impressed, and decided to recreate it at home. So simple, yet so fresh and delicious.
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 5 Lebanese cucumbers, peeled, cut in quarters lengthways, chopped into 2cm pieces
- 1 ½ cups mint leaves, roughly torn
- ½ cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- 150g feta, crumbled
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 ½ tbsp vinegar
- Juice of 1 small lemon
- ½ tsp salt
- Cracked black pepper to taste
- Cook pearl barley according to packet directions until tender but still slightly chewy. Drain, rinse with cold water and leave to cool in fridge.
- Combine the chilled barley, cucumber, oregano, mint, parsley and feta in a large salad bowl.
- Whisk dressing ingredients in a small jug and add to salad. Gently mix to combine. Serve.