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Wild Greens and Barley

The bright beauty of wild greens shines in this simple spring dish. Barley — another whole grain — stands in for traditional Irish oats. The dandelion or nettles are keepers, though And mint, for love. Like oats, barley benefits by cooking over low heat in a lot of liquid. Using three cups of broth yields a pilaf-like dish, while using four cups will give you something more on the order of a soupier risotto. Serve with a bountiful salad or roasted vegetables, especially earthy roasted mushrooms — foraged spring porcini, if you’re lucky enough.


  • 4 teaspoons olive oil divided use
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 leek cleaned within an inch of its life* and sliced thin
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup barley
  • 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bunch dandelion greens or common nettles rinsed and chopped into bite-sized bits
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 large handful fresh mint leaves chopped
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


  • Heat 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add minced garlic, thinly sliced leeks and red pepper flakes. Stir for a few minutes, until garlic turns golden and leeks turn translucent.
  • Add barley and let it toast for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally — this gives the barley a nice, toasty flavor.
  • Pour in the vegetable broth — three cups for a drier sort of pilaf, four cups for a brothier risotto-esque dish. When it comes to a boil, give everything a quick stir, reduce heat to low and cover the pot.
  • Leave the barley to simmer for 30 minutes. Gently stir in the chopped dandelion greens or nettles. Replace pot lid and continue cooking for another 15 minutes, or until barley grains are nice and plump and have absorbed most of the broth.
  • Grate in the lemon zest, squeeze in the juice and add the chopped mint leaves. Stir and season to taste. Drizzle the last teaspoon of olive oil on top and serve.
  • Makes 4 to 6 servings.


* Leeks are spring-fresh, fabulous, delicate and sweet — but often gritty when you get them. Rinse well. Slice lengthwise, so you have two long strips. Thinly slice the strips crosswise, so you have a bunch of skinny leek half-moons. Fan out the leek slices, so there’s nowhere for the dirt to hide. Add leeks to a large bowl, shake in a fair amount of table salt and cover with lukewarm water. Give it a swish or two. The salt water seems to coax the dirt out of the leeks. Rinse well one last time, to get rid of both salt and grit. Pat dry and proceed in cooking.