Food for your soul and your sinus

My husband has a business dinner tonight.  It is only February 3 in the Northeast, where I live.  It snowed this morning; but, we still had to get up early and go to school.  I can feel a cold brewing in the deep recesses of my brain.  Any one of these facts would be reason enough to crave comfort food…but together they make my psyche scream for it.  And, because of the cold I am craving a little heat-you know, that wasabi or chili pepper rush that clears out your sinuses and has you breathing again.  But, what to make? 

It just so happens that a few days ago I came across a recipe that I had cut out from some long ago NY Times Dining section for Coconut Barley Pilaf with Corn, Chicken and Cashews.  I had tried it and thought it was just fair-but held promise.  The barley was an inspired idea-slightly crunchy; and, the coconut gave the dish a richness that put it squarely in the comfort food zone.  Yet, I had thought that it was bland.  It needed more.  I put it aside to revisit and tinker with.  Today I tinkered.  And, the results were everything I hoped for:  creamy, slightly nutty, but with a lovely heat that provided depth.  

So, on winter blah days- when you need a shot of spice cloaked in velvety, slightly crunchy goodness that is easy to make-this is it.  It is truly comfort food worthy of taking a bowl of it to bed and watching a chick flick. 

Asian Inspired Chicken and Barley Pilaf- serves 4

1 large boneless, skinless, chicken breast (about 10 oz), rinsed and patted dry

sea salt


2 T. olive oil

1/2 c. roasted cashews, roughly chopped

1/2 medium onion, diced- about 1 c.

1 jalapeno pepper, diced

2 t. Thai red curry paste

2 c. pearled barley

1 can (15 oz) coconut milk

1/2- 1 c. chicken stock or broth

1/2 c. packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

1 T. fish sauce

2 t. grated lemon peel

juice of one lime

1 cup frozen edamame, shelled

1. Cut the chicken into 1-inch chunks; season with salt and pepper

2. Heat 1 T. olive oil in medium pot over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden and almost cooked through, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the cashews and cook 1 minute more.  Transfer the chicken and nut mixture to a bowl.

3.  Add the remaining oil to the pot.  Stir in the onions, jalapeno, chili paste and a pinch of salt.  Cooking, stirring, until the onions are slightly softened, 3 minutes.  

4. Add the coconut milk, 1/2 c. chicken stock, basil leaves, fish sauce, lemon peel, lime juice.  Stir to combine and bring the liquid to a simmer.  Add the barley.  Then cook, covered and stirring occasionally for 35-40 minutes.  Add edamame.  Check mixture and if it looks dry, add 1/2 c. more chicken stock.  Cook 10 minutes more until barley and edamame is tender.

One note:  I think that this would be just as good- maybe better-with shrimp.  If you decide to try it that way, keep the shrimp raw and add them when you add the edamame.  Otherwise they will be tough.



  1. Posted February 3, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Yummy to my tummy, Caroline! I am going to try it with Quinoa instead of Barley this Sunday.
    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog! I do find myself prickling with a bit of envy! Your passion and enthusiasm for what you are creating bounces off of my computer screen! Perhaps some of it will slap me in the face!
    I hope to see you soon!


  2. Betsy L
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Help! I am terrified of Jalapenos, and any pepper that is not big (and red, orange, green, or yellow). How do I prepare them (rubber gloves – yuck – they have soap scum on them!) and how do I know I am not going to totally blow out my taste buds with the searing heat? I need a pepper primer.

    • Posted February 4, 2010 at 7:42 am | Permalink | Reply

      Jalapenos are not that hot and the odds are that using your bare hands will be fine. I rinse the pepper, cut the end off and use a spoon to carve the seeds out. I then dice it in my mini-cuiinart (the one that looks like a coffee grinder.) Just don’t put your hands near your eyes until you have washed them well with hot water and soap.

      In terms of your taste buds, the best bet is to start slow-use a 1/2 a jalapeno the first time you make the recipe, and see how it tastes to you. Remember though that the jalepeno (and chili paste) are seasoning alot of barley. Hope that helps!

  3. Miquele Pizzol
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Delicious!! The perferct combination. The spicy-nutty taste is irrisistable. It’s the perfect comfort dish!

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