A few weeks ago a Twitter friend asked if I could try my hand at making a vegetarian friendly Thanksgiving entree. The story was that last year she had made a lemony seafood dish, which while delicious, did not evoke the feelings of Thanksgiving that she had wanted. I can definitely understand her concerns. I love seafood, and it pairs beautifully with lemon, but at Thanksgiving, I want something warm and hearty full of the flavors of fall.
When I started to imagine what would be a tasty Thanksgiving vegetarian option, I started to think about all those wonderful grains that have so many nutrients and can be combined and blended with other flavors to really make them shine. One of my favorites is Barley. Barley is chock full of fiber, protein, vitamin B6, calcium, iron and a host of other amazing nutrients. It also has a great ability to blend with all sorts of herbs and spices and take on a different personality every time.
1 cup barley, prepared as the package directs
2 cloves garlic
1/3 yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 large white mushrooms, sliced
1/2 large zucchini, sliced then halved
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 wedge Laughing Cow light Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper
I started by cooking a cup of barley according to the directions on the package, basically to wash it, and then boil it in water. The only change I made was to add two roughly chopped garlic cloves and a few leaves of fresh sage, also roughly chopped, to the boiling water to help season the barley as it cooked.
While that cooked, I blended a teaspoon of whole fennel seed, garlic powder and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon in my mortar and pestle, and ground them till most of the fennel was powder, but some seeds remained intact. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, put the same ingredients in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to grind them. In a large sauté pan, I added a tablespoon of olive oil, chopped onion, celery, and the ground spice mix, salt and pepper. As the onions began to become translucent, add the mushrooms and cook until they brown slightly. Add the zucchini and the cranberries. Let cook for another 2 minutes or so, then add the barley to the mix. Once that is fully incorporated, add spinach and the wedge of soft cheese. Break up the cheese the blend it in with the other ingredients. Finally stir in about a teaspoon fresh chopped sage.
I am incredibly pleased with how this turned out. The fennel seeds combined with cinnamon, and sage. The flavors brought forth all of those great flavors of thanksgiving, but into a dish chock full of vegetables and high in nutritional goodness. I really enjoyed this as a perfect celebration of fall flavors.