Like they always say, you eat first with the eyes and then with the mouth. (Hopefully not literally. That would be painful.)
When food is beautiful or unique or put together in an interesting way, it adds to the anticipation. It makes it special.
For example, there’s a vegetarian restaurant that I used to frequent in Southern California, where they would bring paella out to you in your own mini paella pan. That act of bringing out a miniature pan to the table, still piping hot, added to the presentation. It was arguably the best part of the experience.
It’s like the first time you saw someone getting veggie fajitas at a restaurant, sizzling and smoking from the kitchen door, past envious onlookers, until it arrived at the eager face of the person who had ordered them.
Everyone loves a bit of spectacle. The arrival of the tiny paella pan was elegant and cute all at once.
While I have fond memories of my personal-paella pan evenings, when I make paella at home, there are some aspects that get dropped.
The first, sadly, are the miniature pans. I’ve been tested, and I’m very miniature pan deficient. Sadness.
Second, I say no thanks to paella rice itself in favor of a heartier grain, the very robust barley.
Finally, I ignore the usual inclusion of pine nuts for the more unconventional pistachios since they’re less expensive but still entirely tasty.
After the paella pan is gone and the paella rice and the pine nuts as well, is it still really paella? Probably not.
Whatever it’s called, it’s a delightful mix of flavors and textures. Briny olives, salty hearts of palm, chickpeas, vegetables, and crunchy pine nuts with saffron-infused barley that has the essence of the original.
(You’ll notice below that I offer up either hearts of palm or artichoke hearts in the ingredient list. I prefer it with jarred hearts of palm. But if you can only find canned hearts of palm in your area, I’d opt for jarred artichokes instead. Hearts of palm are so mild in flavor that the tin taste overwhelms in canned versions.)
Paella-style Barley with Chickpeas
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup pearled barley rinsed and sorted
- 1 pinch saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 leek remove root and dry leafy ends, slice white and light green parts into thin half moons (about one cup)
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 pound Roma tomatoes chopped into medium-sized pieces (about four large Romas)
- 3 stalks hearts of palm from jar, sliced (or 4 jarred artichoke hearts, quartered)
- ½ red bell pepper chopped
- 1 carrot chopped
- 1 cup chickpeas drained
- ¼ cup roasted pistachios chopped
- ¼ cup green olives sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Put barley and water in a soup pot and bring to a boil.* Once it has reached a boil, lower the heat to a simmer. Add a pinch of saffron to the pot and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let the barley cook for 40 minutes or until it has soaked all of the water.
- When the barley has about twenty minutes left to cook, put a large skillet on the stove at a medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add oil and coat evenly over the pan. Sauté leek slices and garlic for 3-4 minutes, until they are translucent.
- Add carrots, bell pepper, and tomatoes to the pan. Fully combine and cover. Cook the mixture for about ten minutes, until the tomatoes release their juices and the carrot softens.
- Add chickpeas, artichokes, and fully cooked barley to the pan and combine.
- Once the chickpeas and artichokes have heated through, top with nuts and olives. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.