Like many of the women I know, I went through a couple of phases when I was younger during which I decided that I would be a lifelong confirmed vegetarian. Once or twice, I became fairly militant about it, and stopped eating cheese and eggs. Growing up in Alberta, surrounded by cattle farmers and hunters, this put me somewhat at odds with my community. The concern on the part of my mother was mostly centred on the possibility of malnutrition. During my meat-free months, my mom fretted that I would keel over from lack of red meat protein.
It’s been many years since I’ve had any desire to give up the pleasures of veal osso bucco and baby back ribs, but there are still several nights a week when our family eats meatless meals. We also have several vegetarian and vegan friends, so we’re constantly developing a repertoire of tasty, flavourful, and animal-friendly foods.
There is no cure for the carnivorous craving some of us have for succulent red meat and fresh seafood, but as most vegetarians are very well aware, there is no reason to worry about suffering from any nutritional deficiencies from going without animal products. High quality proteins can easily be obtained by combining grains and legumes.
One of my favourite grains is barley, a perfect component of the low fat and high fibre diet that doctors and nutritionists insist will have us living healthy, lengthy lives. According to my friend Sheila, a dietician, Barley is packed full of B-vitamins (including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin), is a source of antioxidants, and is a great source of dietary fibre. As I understand it, there are two types of dietary fibre: soluble and insoluble. Barley contains both of these, and is especially rich in soluble fibre. As an added bonus, Sheila assures me that soluble fibre is effective in lowering LDL blood cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol, so at the very least it makes a pretty sensible side dish to go along with that roasted lamb and glass of red wine. Plus, it’s a carbohydrate, which makes it a great source of energy. Oh, did I mention that it’s low in fat?
Cooking barley is a process as simple as boiling water. You simply add one cup of raw barley slowly to three cups of boiling water, reduce the heat to low, cover and slowly simmer until tender but still slightly chewy (we don’t want something that resembles over-cooked porridge). This process takes roughly an hour.
My favourite barley dish is Tabouleh, a Lebanese salad. It involves combining three cups of cooled, cooked barley with a chopped long English cucumber, a couple of chopped tomatoes, several chopped green onions, and plenty of fresh mint and parsley. Make a dressing using a quarter to a half cup of lemon juice, a quarter cup of good olive oil, two or three cloves of crushed or minced garlic, and some freshly ground black pepper. Then start looking for your picnic hamper.