In the northern half of the world, March 20 is the first day of spring and the time to begin putting away the winter sweaters and roasting pans.

Meals begin to lighten up and the first spring greens come to the market. A dish of grains and greens is a nice way to welcome spring. Barley and spring greens is a good transitional dish, light but hearty.

Barley is a grain dating back to the Stone Age. It is used in breads, soups, stews and other dishes. It is usually sold as "pearl barley," which is barley that has been steamed and polished.

Aromatic fennel is a nice complement to the earthy taste of barley. Fennel is a plant with pale green celery-like stems and feathery fronds attached to a broad bulb. The whole fennel can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in a variety of ways. It has a slight licorice flavor - sweet and delicate, not overpowering. Fennel is rich in vitamin A and contains a good amount of calcium, phosphorous and potassium.

When buying fennel, look for bulbs with no brown spots or edges. The greenery should be a fresh, bright green. Store fennel wrapped tightly in a plastic bag, refrigerated, for up to five days.

Baby spinach is another green that works well in this dish, and offers a different mix of nutrients. Spinach is full of folate, the natural form of the B vitamin found in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, strawberries and oranges. Scientists believe folate could be essential to the body's efforts to prevent cancer. Spinach also is a rich source of iron as well as of vitamins A and C.

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Baby lima beans add another shade of green, texture and flavor to this dish. Top with fresh basil for some lively zip, and this dish becomes a virtual bowl of spring.

Barley and Spring Greens

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Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • Canola oil spray
  • 3/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1-3 cloves garlic (or to taste), finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup thin slices of red, orange, and/or yellow bell pepper (about 1 medium)
  • 1 cups pearl barley
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried marjoram
  • 4-5 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup spinach leaves, torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. finely-chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Generously coat a large heavy pot with spray oil and place over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fennel and saute until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Add oil and heat until hot. Add the garlic and bell peppers and saute lightly for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in barley, thyme, marjoram and broth. Bring to a boil, immediate reduce heat to low and simmer until the liquid is almost absorbed, stirring occasionally, 40 to 50 minutes or until barley is tender. Midway through the cooking process, add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. When barley is cooked, add spinach, cheese and basil. Stir to blend and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, to taste.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
172 calories,
3 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
32 g. carbohydrate,
7 g. protein,
7 g. dietary fiber,
464 mg. sodium

Diabetic Exchanges: 2 Bread/Starch, 1/2 Low-Fat Meat


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