Asparagus, Fig and Butter Bean Barley Bowl

Brown turkey fig trees fruit in late August and September in the South. Because of it’s limited availability this recipe allows you to use them at any time of the year. Dried figs are not just for baking.

While asparagus is not a “Southern” ingredient, American pokeweed, Phytolacca esculenta, is. Appalachian families used cooked pokeweed in salads, sauteed with onions and in scrambled eggs. Creole cooks called it chou grass. It’s taste has been compared to asparagus. Since pokeweed shoots are blanched several times in order to take out the toxins and their use is considered controversial we will skip ahead to a more suitable substitute – asparagus!

Asparagus, Fig and Butter Bean Barley Bowl

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
15 ounce can butter beans
2 tsp sunflower olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
1/3 cup pecan pieces, toasted
6 dried figs, tough stems removed
1 cup barley, pearl
2 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp lemon peel, freshly grated
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt to taste
Pepper to taste

1. Add barley to saucepan with broth or water, bring to a boil and then let simmer for 30 – 40 minutes. When done, fluff with a fork.

2. Cut the stems off of the figs and chop into 1/2″ pieces and place them in a glass mixing bowl or large measuring cup.

3. Pour a cup of boiling water over the figs and let sit for 10 – 15 minutes. When done, remove figs from water set aside. Reserve soaking water.

4. Rinse and chop parsley.

5. Drain and rinse butter beans.

6. Trim the bottoms off of the asparagus and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces. Separate tips from the rest of the asparagus as the tips cook more quickly.

7. Toast chopped pecans in a saucepan over low heat.

8. Heat 1 tsp oil in sauce pan and add asparagus. Let it cook for a minute in the oil. Add figs and season with salt, pepper and pepper flakes. Then add 1/2 cup of fig-soaking water. Cover pan and let steam for 1 – 2 minutes.

9. Gently fold in butter beans, lemon zest, pecans and chopped parsley.

10. Serve in bowls atop 1/8 – 1/4 cup cooked barley and top with more parsley and pecans (if desired).

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