Some of the best things in life only happen once a year. The arrival of artichokes in the spring, peaches in the summer, satsumas in the fall and my grandma’s cookies in the winter (hey, I don’t eat just produce) are some of the annual events that I look forward to just as much as Halloween and Thanksgiving, if not more.

For the past three years, I’ve picked up another annual tradition, reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. He doesn’t come from a culinary or nutrition background, but Pollan writes with such conviction and about food, eating and the science (or lack thereof) behind it all, that if he can’t convince you to think more carefully about what you put in your mouth, then no one can. Seriously.

This book excites me. It makes me angry and makes me laugh a few times too. It helps me to realize that I’m a citizen of the world, not just my own person; that we all come from a long line of eaters, and we could probably benefit from eating more like they did. He’s not crazy about nutritionists or food scientists, or about the advent of agriculture for that matter. But that’s ok. His message is one I can get behind whole-heartedly:

Eat food.

Not too much.

Mostly plants.

Kinda like the stuff I post on this blog. So in honor of my yearly reading of In Defense of Food, I made you a salad. No ranch dressing or imitation bacon bits here, just real, delicious food. Crunchy red cabbage  and hearty beet greens play nicely with toothsome whole grain barley. Tossed in a creamy mustard vinaigrette (thanks to ground flaxseed) and punctuated with the ripest of summer nectarines, this salad won’t let you down. It’d be good with grilled salmon or chicken too, but you don’t even need it.

Nutrition Focus:

·         Barley is high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which studies have shown to promote a feeling of satiety, regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol and decrease your risk of cancer. Avoid “pearled” or “pot barley” which has been processed to remove the bran and germ, which contain precious nutrients.

·         Beets (and their greens) are a member of the “goosefoot” family, which also includes Swiss chard, spinach, epazote and quinoa. Beet greens are rich sources of vitamins K and calcium, both of which support bone health. In addition, vitamins A, E, and C are powerful antioxidants which work to reverse oxidative stress in the body.  Amen!

·         Flaxseeds are quite the nutrition powerhouse; half of their oil content is linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, which is essential for the health of brain tissue and the central nervous system. Flax has also been shown to limit inflammatory response in the body, decreasing risk of stroke, cancer and heart disease. Flaxseeds are also high in fiber, specifically a type of gum that forms a thick gel when combined with water, making it an excellent salad dressing emulsifier and thickener (and egg replacer for gluten-free baking).  

Barley & Beet Green Slaw with Nectarines

All the components of the salad can be prepared ahead of time, and then tossed together right before serving.

Serves 4


For the barley:

1 cup (200 grams) whole grain barley (not pearled)

2 cups (475 grams) water or stock (chicken or vegetable)

½ tsp (3 grams) salt, if desired

For the flax & mustard vinaigrette:

¼ cup (26 grams) ground flax seed

¼ cup (120 grams) apple cider vinegar

¼-½ cup (120-240 grams) water

1 tablespoon (15 grams) grainy mustard

Salt & black pepper to taste

For the slaw:

2 cup (200 grams) red cabbage, shredded

2 cups (100 grams) beet greens, shredded

2 ripe nectarines, sliced

Cook the barley. Put the barley, water or stock and salt together in a medium saucepot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 50-55 minutes. The barley should be tender but still have some bite. Drain thoroughly (reserving the cooking liquid for soup or vegetable stock if you wish) and spread out on a baking sheet to cool.

Make the vinaigrette. Place all ingredients in a mini food processor or blender and process for 3 minutes until emulsified and creamy. Adjust the consistency with water and correct the seasonings if necessary. Set aside; leftovers can be refrigerated for up to one week.

Assemble the salad. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, beet greens, nectarines and two cups of the cooked barley (extra barley can be refrigerated for up to five days or frozen for up to two months). Add just enough of the vinaigrette to coat everything and toss until combined and serve immediately.