Barley & Chickpea Salad with Dates & Goat Cheese

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I am very finicky when it comes to salad especially with greens. I want perfectly crisp greens, firm and juicy tomatoes, no onions, and must have tons of flavor from simple vinaigrette preferably with herbs and spices rather than bottled salad dressing...That is why I don't eat salad very regularly and I only share salad recipes on the blog if its really really really good. This is definitely one of them. 

The main component of this salad is barley, a grain that has a nutty flavor and chewy texture similar to pasta. It's a great source of fiber (1 cup, cooked has 13 grams fiber), selenium, phosphorus, and copper to name a few. 

Chickpea adds protein, additional fiber and crunch to the salad. Cherry tomatoes are in season so I am trying to use it in everything before they disappear. Chopped dates adds sweetness and complements the tangy, creamy goat cheese and cumin-kissed dressing very well. 

The boyfriend was questioning the chopped dates as I was stirring them in the salad but after the first bite - he was sold. We ate for dinner, packed some for lunch, and I am thinking of another batch already. It's great as a side with some grilled chicken or veggies, or eat it alone as a meal - either way just make it ASAP! 

Barley & Chickpea Salad with Dates & Goat Cheese

makes 5-6 servings

Ingredients 

1/2 cup barley, uncooked
2 cups water or stock (I used water)
1-14 oz. canned chickpea, drained and rinsed
6 cherry tomatoes, chopped 
8 dates, chopped (I used mejdool)
1.5 tablespoon olive oil
2.5-3 tablespoon lemon juice 
1 tablespoon cumin powder
2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder
2 oz mild goat cheese (I used this
salt and pepper, to taste
Directions
- In a medium sauce pan, bring water/stock, barley and salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 45 minutes, or until tender and the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix olive oil, lemon juice, cumin powder, cinnamon powder, red chili powder. 
- In a mixing bowl, add barley, chickpeas, dates, tomatoes and drizzle the dressing making sure everything is well coated. Add salt and pepper and adjust other seasonings as necessary.
- Stir in goat cheese and garnish with chopped cilantro.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes (preferably) or serve right away. - It can be eaten either cold or warm. 
 
This is a pretty flexible salad, use what you have, substitute with what you prefer. Here are few recommendations:
- Instead of barley, try quinoa or wheat berries.
- Feta is a good substitute for goat cheese.
- Cilantro can be easily replaced with parsley, mint or basil.
- Do not skip the dates or the dressing - they are essential in this salad.