In a recent podcast about time, our pastor referred to the "margins of our lives" and I was immediately struck by the term. I interpreted it to be the time that we are not concerned with being busy. There is the work that we have to do to make a living, there is the busyness that we make by way of cleaning, errands, seeing friends, working out, and so on, and then there is the margin - the unplanned time. I don't know many people who have a lot of it, but it exists, and it is ours to fill. To fill with yet more busyness or leave open for small pleasures. I fall default to the former. I pack it full in attempt to make that margin productive and efficient. I fill it to manipulate the most out of that time, which I realized is completely defeating of the entire idea, and make work of it instead. Enjoyable work, but not really the "no schedule" type of time that I really love when I do surrender to it.

That message sunk in. I've since found myself on multiple jogs with Hugh, dual headsets in the ipod, listening to a zombie apocolypse running motivational app. That wasn't on my to do list, but may be one of the most humorous memories I have with my husband to date. We had a family bbq to celebrate our new niece on Sunday and I stopped a few times to recognize the simple things - how comfortable I am with my inlaws, the charm of quirky personalities, my niece who gives THEE best face squishy snuggles on the planet, that my mom will drop off extra flowers for the table in a moments notice, how helpful Hugh is, and chatting with my sister in law, a now great friend of mine, over a kitchen full of dishes...a sign of a good party. The busy gets done, but the margin is where the good stuff is.

I made this salad to share with all that summer produce that's blazing forth into my kitchen. It is super easy to throw together, and can be made in advance (a perfect bbq dish). The vegetables here are sturdy to hold their shape in the sea of grains, each cooked seperately to retain their flavors. I cooked them in a cast iron pan as our charcoal grill is somewhat of a project for a few veggies, but if you're grill is on, they'd be great cooked there too. Keep it easy, that's the best thing about this salad.


I used pearled barley because I had a loose bag that I wanted to use up. You could use quinoa, farro, bulgar, rice etc., you just need about 2 1/2-3 cups cooked of whichever you choose. If you like some kick, a few pinches of red pepper flakes would work nicely here.

1 cup pearled barley

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tsp. agave nectar

1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2'' slices

about 6 zucchini, 1/2'' coins

olive oil + lemon pepper for cooking

2 cups baby tomatoes, halved

1/3 cup finely chopped basil

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

grated parmesan, as desired

sea salt, as needed

Rinse the barley. Put it in a pot with about 3 cups of water. Bring it to a boil then down to a simmer, add a few pinches of salt and cook for about 25-30 minutes until tender. Drain any excess water and transfer the grains to a big mixing bowl. Add the minced garlic and a pinch of salt while the grains are still hot, and stir. Add the oil, vinegar and agave and stir to coat. Set aside.

Heat a hearty drizzle of olive oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat (you can alternatively grill the eggplant and zucchini). Add the zucchini and a generous sprinkle of lemon pepper and saute until well charred and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the barley bowl. Rub lemon pepper or similar seasoning on all sides of the eggplant. Sear the eggplants in the pan, this will have to be done in two batches. I like to cook both sides with a bunch of seasonings until the eggplant starts to soften and then add a drizzle of oil. Turns out a bit less greasy this way. Let the eggplant cool slightly. Chop it into 2'' chunks and add it to the barley bowl. Add the halved tomatoes, basil, parsley and toss everything to mix. Taste for salt (remember you're adding parm so go easy) and pepper and maybe a bit more vinegar if you prefer.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Generously sprinkle the grated parmesan on top and another pinch of fresh herbs and fresh pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Keeps well in the fridge for about five days.

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Reader Comments (49)

My margins are too thin these days. Need to work on widening them a bit. And yum...I love barley. Perfect summer dish.

Such good timing, I have a bag of pearl barley that I need to use up and I was having a look for recipes earlier. This sounds just perfect for summer.

June 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn

People are amazed when I tell them I have never had a massage or that I had my first ever manicure just a month ago, but my margin time is spent cooking. Relaxing, rewarding and fulfilling. Love a bit o' barley.
T x

June 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTrish

Mmm pure deliciousness!

Made me tear up a bit! XO

June 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMollie

Looks so incredibly delicious! Wonderful photography too! Following:)

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

Ok, I'm going to take this as a sign that I need to lay off with the busyness. I'm like you: any spare moment must be filled with something productive, or else!! I can be so hard on myself. I have a fulltime job that often requires >40hrs/week, and then I force myself to come home and work on my recipes, photos, etc. I should stop and relax. Oh, and I should make this salad stat! :) Thanks, Sara, for being so inspirational (as always). Much love xox

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDessertForTwo

I have a had time doing "nothing" during my margin times as well; I always feel like I need to be up and doing something productive instead. Maybe we all need to work on that a bit more. I love this salad, by the way! It looks absolutely amazing. And what a great way to use up all that lovely summer produce! :)

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia @ Treble Tart

It looks delicious! Can't wait for your book.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Beautiful reflections. And beautiful recipe + photos (as always)! I'm bookmarking this as a potential graduation party dish...

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterL

WOW. That looks like an AMAZING salad!! Put cheese on anything, and it's a done deal for me :) See you tonight! I have a proposition to ask you as well :)

Nook & Sea

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristina Gulino

Yay, grain salad! Barley is criminally underused--so glad to see it here!

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

This looks so good. Definitely something I'm going to make when my tomatoes and zucchini grow. Yum!

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRikki

Love this post! The margins are the times I allow myself to take on a fun food project or go out for great food or try something new, but none of it is that spontaneous and I think that's what you are talking about here. I like the idea of using barley here -- I've been on a quinoa tip lately and am totally forgetting about the other awesome grains out there!

I fill my margin with busyness - just like you! I think if you're the sort of person that's motivated, active, and generally a go-getter, it's hard to think about not doing ANYTHING with your time. But you are so right that some of the best times in life happen in this margin time. I think of that often after returning from a camping trip, or spend hours just chatting with a friend on a long roadtrip. This salad looks like such a fantastic kickstart to summer! xo

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKasey

I am dazzled how your stories always are right on the spot Sara. Your words hit me, bam, and I realize how we have filled our life with work. Even during the nights. We are occupied with what should be our dream project, but instead of enjoying it we are stressed out. What can we do better, what can we do better, what can we do better ...
I am going to take a breath, lower my shoulders and not talk about work tonight. Thanks.
And the salad sounds perfect. Luise will love it – she is secretly obsessed with lemon pepper.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I love this. I've been trying to eat less pasta and more grains and this definitely fits the bill.

That looks so healthy and filling and delicious! I want some for lunch!


June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKacie

Your post really resonated with me. Thank you for giving your readers insight into more than just your recipes.

I love the image that "margins of our lives" provokes. It makes me picture all the little, simple things that mean so much and that you wrote about so eloquently in your post. It seems that the ratatouille barley salad would fit perfectly in one of those margins. Thanks for sharing.

This look perfectly summery! I'm always looking to collect recipes that utilize zucchini (our garden explodes with it every summer), and I have a large bag of barley just begging to be used. Thanks for the inspiration!

Barley is so good, I think putting it into a ratatouille is an excellent idea.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTender B.

I must say, this dish looks very delicious. I will make sure to try it. I loove pearled barley. Thanks for sharing! :)

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLea@leasgreenseasons

What a lovely way to prepare barley...looks delicious!

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMagic of Spice

What a good way of cooking a new recipe of barley. I will provide this dish for my family. I thank you for sharing this.

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkitchen renovation

Just stumbled upon your site and it is so lovely. So glad I found it!

June 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjolie @ joeycake

Lately my mantra has been "work work work" but all the good stuff happens in the margins. Thank you for the reminder to slow down. This salad looks incredible—I don't think I'll ever have enough hearty grain salads in my repertoire. They're perfect single girl food. :)

June 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathryne

once again, and again : délicieux !

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpierre prospero

I too am afflicted with the habit of filling the margins in ways that are more rushed than satisfying. THIS dish, however, looks deeply satisfying, and stands a chance of getting my husband to eat ratatouille. I think the grains will turn it in my favor. Thanks so much for sharing. Looks delish.

June 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLittle Sis

Can you substitute sugar for agave nectar? Is the substitution 1:1? This looks totally delish!

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterps

Didn't have barley, used Farro and this dish is truly awesome. Will make it regulalry. Good warm, room temperature, whatever...

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIndigomoon

I wanted a refreshing salad and this hit the spot! I made it today and it was delish! I have to admit I was a little heavy handed on the garlic so it was a nice spicy addition. (o: Thank you for the recipe!

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzan

Wow, I have been craving this exact salad, making it today for lunch. Thanks for sharing :)

June 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Just found some baby eggplants and I think they would go perfectly! Such great colors in this dish.

June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDani

Made this for my clients tonight (I'm a personal chef) It is a glorious dish. Reminded me how wonderful a grain barley is!

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteranina banana

Um, random question, but what is the name of the zombie motivational running app? It sounds exactly what I need! Salad looks yum too!

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

@Emma - get it, girl. The app is called "zombies, run!" It's so terrible, I love it.

June 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterSara

YUM! I love barley and I love ratatouille, what a delicious and veggie filled idea!

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLily @ Candied-Life

Made this for lunch this week and it's absolutely delicious! I will definitely be trying some more of your recipes!!

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Mmmm. looks sooo good!

July 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I love the flavors of ratatouille so how perfect to incorporate them in a summer salad!

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura (Tutti Dolci)

It looks sooooo delicious, it makes me very huangry and I will have a try!

August 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaisy

Delicious! This was my first time using barley (except in stews), will definitely use more often! Forgot to put in the agave nectar, but it was still great, didn't notice anything was missing! Thanks for a great recipe, this one's a keeper :)

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

I just discovered your blog and have fallen in love-- it is so great to not have to search for recipes that I think will be healthy AND delicious, this is just the right balance. I made this dish along with many others and they have all have been excellent. Thanks!

July 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterC

pretty nice and delicious recipe you've shared with. Thanks for sharing!

October 31, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercheap seo

The recipe looks delicious, thank you. What you wrote about "margins" was so incredibly timely for me. It's so important to pay attention to those little moments in life... it really is where the best parts of "living" happens. :)

July 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I cooked them in a cast iron pan as our charcoal grill is somewhat of a project for a few veggies, but if you're grill is on, they'd be great cooked there too. Keep it easy, that's the best thing about this salad.

March 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commentervoyance magie

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May 26, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergirlsdoporn

I cooked them in a cast iron pan as our charcoal grill is somewhat of a project for a few veggies, but if you're grill is on, they'd be great cooked there too. Keep it easy, that's the best thing about this salad.

June 14, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterfaizan ahmed

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