I got sick over the weekend, with fever, fatigue and what my dad would call catarrh. I got a little delirious, in a way a fever does; but the doctor suspected it’s an infection from my long bout with seasonal allergies. I took a recommended extra day of rest and stayed in bed on Monday, reading everyone else’s commentary on Beyoncé’s Lemonade while Warsan Shire’s poetry played in the background (because… Lemonade).
Weeks ago, my sister and I discussed making saffron barley stew for Mother’s Day lunch – served perhaps as a side, with baked salmon. The original recipe has peas, chickpeas and cherry tomatoes; mom would love that, we’ve decided.
My sister makes this version of saffron barley with black-eyed peas. It’s a hearty and lush one-pot meal; simple, bright and colourful, which I think is perfect for when you’re sick, especially in springtime.
It’s perfect for other times as well, easy to make and not with a lot of ingredients. We made a big batch for our New Year’s lunch a few years back and everyone loved it – It’s filling, tender and stewy with deep distinctive flavours, and smells so good when it’s cooking.
It’s loaded with nourishing creamy black-eyed peas that pack a flavour punch. The delicate floral saffron notes pair well with the rich nutty flavours in barley. A tip, if you’re cooking dried beans, save the liquid from the cooked beans and replace one cup with your vegetable stock.
Also, although pricey, a little saffron goes a long way; buy small batches of saffron threads that are deep red with a strong fresh aroma. I should mention that you could probably use other grains if you want, although I prefer the soft, plumb chewy texture of barley with the beans.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced, plus more for garnish
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger, optional
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- 1 cup pearl, hull-less or hulled barley (or hull-less/hulled barley, use more stock and cook for longer)
- 3 – 5 cups vegetable stock, or more
- 1 pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons of hot water for 10 minutes
- 2 cups cooked black-eyed peas or 1 19oz/540ml can, drained and rinsed
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan over medium heat
- When oil is hot, add onions and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally until onions start to soften, about 3 minutes
- Add bell pepper, smoked paprika, ginger and season with salt
- Cook for another minute or so
- Add barley and stock (add up to 5 cups or more stock if you prefer a ‘saucier’ stew)
- Bring to a boil, then cover, lower heat and simmer gently, stirring often for about 30 – 45 minutes
- Halfway through, stir in saffron solution, and continue cooking until liquid is absorbed and the barley is soft yet chewy
- Add black-eyed peas, toss with barley and continue cooking for another 5 – 7 minutes until beans are warmed through
- Check seasoning and adjust if needed
- Serve with lots of ground black pepper, garnish and enjoy!