The Palette of the Palate

I knew I had a problem when the gift that I was most excited to receive for Christmas was a bright red colander.

Not just any colander. The same colander that Gina Neely uses on her Food Network show, "Down Home with the Neelys." The one that drains potatoes for Mama Neely's "Keep-Yo-Man" Sweet Potato Salad. Among other things...

So I have a problem. Well, not a problem, but a serious passion for anything that involves chopping, sauteing, grilling, mincing, mixing, draining, marinating, stir-frying, simmering, boiling, slicing or measuring. I instinctively turn to the Food Network channel. I get more excited to shop at the Fresh Market than at the mall. I've recently acquired this love for cooking. I think I'm drawn to the kitchen because I see as an opportunity to experiment and create. A way to unleash the artist within me. It is like painting with an unlimited palette. But even better: the result is edible.

I aim to challenge myself in the kitchen -- I thrive on the thrill of cooking something I have never made before. My goal is to combine the freshest, most colorful, most diverse ingredients to create something that arrests the taste buds in euphoria.

Tonight I decided to put a spin on a bulgar salad recipe that I've come to love. I often combine various chopped vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts with bulgar wheat (or a similar type of grain), add spices and dress it in lemon juice and olive oil. It's great because its very easy, always flavorful and the possibilities are endless. This time, instead of using bulgar (which takes an hour to prepare), I took a chance with instant barley (which I've never prepared before). I figured anything I can do with bulgar, couscous, etc. I can do with barley. So, I looked up some barley salad recipes for inspiration and improvised with what I had available.
The result:

Dijon Barley Salad

1 cup instant pearl barley
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup chopped baby carrot
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
parsley (to taste)
sliced almonds

I cooked the barley according to package directions, then simply added vinegar, olive oil, mustard, veggies, almonds and parsley. Incredibly fast, nutritious and DELICIOUS. The Dijon mustard gave the dish such a unique flavor. I will definitely put this one in my repertoire -- I love how versatile it is.

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