Recipes from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking, by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer.
In ancient times, these very days of the Omer determined if there would be feast or famine in the coming year. As they reaped their barley day-by-day in the mostly mild spring weather, our ancestors faced the possibility of sudden north winds that could be so rainy the new fruit on the trees would be destroyed, or south winds so hot their wheat could be stunted before the harvest, just weeks away at Shavuot. This was and still remains, the windy season.
This was the time of fresh barley, gathered by Ruth in the fields of Boaz, and the last days to collect green wheat before it ripened on the stalk, and toast it to make the "kali" of the Bible. The farmers brought their new sheaves of barley -- the meaning of the "Omer" -- to the Temple in Jerusalem to wave as an offering, in the hope that God would control those potentially "injurious winds" and "injurious dews" (Leviticus Rabbah 27:5 and Song of Songs Rabbah, 7:2, 2).
This year, start a new Omer tradition, by celebrating with ingredients like barley in the delicious new recipes that follow. And for dessert, how about a carob brownie? The Talmud says that when Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai and his son Reb Elazar hid in a cave in the Galilee to escape the Romans, a miracle occurred -- a carob tree suddenly appeared and a spring of water burst forth nearby. For 12 or 13 years they studied Torah together and developed the Zohar, surviving only on the carob pods and water. What could be more appropriate than celebrating Lag B'Omer with a carob-based confection!
MINI SPRING BARLEY CROQUETTES WITH TAHINA & FRESH HERB SAUCE
Serve medium-sized croquettes as a vegetarian main dish, or make mini-croquettes as serve as hor d'ouevres, while the barbecue heats up.
Makes about 10 medium or 16 mini-croquettes - Serves 4-6
1 cup pearled barley
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons honey
3/4 cup finely grated carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
Extra flour for dusting
2-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons butter
For the Tahina Sauce:
2/3 cup tahina (sesame) paste
1/2 cup hot water
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 gloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint (optional)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Rinse the barley in several changes of water till the water remains clear. Drain well and place in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, skim off the foam, cover and cook over low heat about 15-20 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Barley should be tender, but not mushy. Let cool till easy enough to handle.
Transfer barley to a mixing bowl, and add the salt, flour, garlic, honey, and vegetables. Mix well, using your hands to combine the ingredients. Form the mixture into about 10 palm-sized patties, or 15-16 mini-croquettes, if preferred. Dip on both sides in a light coating of flour and shake off excess.
Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy skillet. When hot, add the barley cakes and brown over medium-high heat. Turn and brown on the other side. Lower heat and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.
Place the tahina in a small bowl. (Stir the contents of the can or jar before measuring -- the tahina usually separates). Add the hot water gradually while mixing with a spoon till smooth. Add lemon juice, garlic and herbs. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Serve as a sauce for the medium croquettes, a dip for the mini-croquettes, or even as a salad dressing. Thin with an extra tablespoon or two of boiling water if necessary.
BARLEY SALAD WITH LEMON & FRESH CORIANDER (CILANTRO)
Cubed avocado may also be added, or the salad may be stuffed into large avocado halves.
1 cup pearled barley
2 cups water
1 cup chopped (unpeeled) English or hothouse cucumber
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
For the dressing:
1/2 cup safflower or extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander) or flat parsley
Salt to taste
Rinse the barley in several changes of water till the water remains clear. Drain well and place in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, partially cover and cook over low heat about 15-20 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process, drain and cool. Add the chopped cucumber and sliced mushrooms.
In a small bowl, whisk all of the ingredients for the dressing, except the cilantro, till well blended. Stir in the cilantro and pour over the salad.
Let stand a few minutes to blend flavors, or cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill. Save some of the dressing to refresh the salad before serving.
CAROB WALNUT BROWNIES
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (or canola oil)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons boiling water
6 tablespoons carob powder
1 tablespoon brewed strong instant coffee or espresso
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose white or whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan, knocking out excess flour, or line the bottom with parchment paper and slightly grease the sides.
Beat butter or oil and sugar together. Add vanilla and eggs and beat well.
In a small bowl, mix boiling water and carob powder till smooth. Add the coffee, and stir into the butter mixture.
Mix flour, baking powder and salt, and add to the bowl gradually, blending just until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts.
Pour into the prepared pan (for more and smaller brownies use an 8" x 12-inch" rectangular pan) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly before cutting into squares.