I have a difficult relationship with yoghurt. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been unable to stand the stuff. I think I ate it as a child, but at some point something clicked in the back of my brain somewhere and I became deeply averse to the substance, to the point where watching a woman tucking into a big pot with a spoon early one morning at a bus stop in Oxford made me feel physically sick and sidle in precaution over to the nearest bin. I’ve tried to conquer my aversion, finding it irritating that there is a foodstuff out there that I don’t like, generally priding myself on my diverse omnivorousness – I used to hate melon, but a fairly un-rigorous process involving making myself eat more melon soon conquered that minor affliction – but I simply cannot get over it.
I’m not quite sure what repels me so much. I think it’s the lack of texture coupled with its intense dairy sourness. I can’t drink milk, either, for the same reason, nor do I like cream. I will, however, eat any of the above when combined in other dishes: a creamy pasta sauce, for example; milk in my tea or porridge; a dollop of yoghurt with a Middle Eastern style dish of spiced roast meat and couscous. Apply some texture, and some other flavours, and I’m right there with a fork.
This dish has changed the way I cook with and eat yoghurt. It’s adapted from a lovely breakfast recipe from food blogger Megan Gordon’s cookbook Whole Grain Mornings, though I added the peas and greens and swapped queso fresco for feta, as it’s more readily available over here. I’ve also been eating it for lunch, though if you’re into savoury breakfasts it would make a fine one.
Essentially, there’s a lovely nutty bed of cooked pearl barley, wilted spinach, and peas. To this you add crumbled feta and sliced avocado, before scattering the lot with toasted almonds and applying a liberal dollop of yoghurt. But it’s OK, because the yoghurt is enhanced with the savoury note of chopped spring onions and the tang of lemon juice, fragrant zest, and lemon salt for an extra boost.
To top the lot off, something that sits on my kitchen counter and I find myself reaching for every time avocado is involved: lime and paprika salt. Easily made by crushing some coarse sea salt with smoked paprika and lime zest, this incredible jar of kitchen magic brings an incredibly zingy life to the creamy avocado (sprinkle it over avocado on toast for an addictiveness that will have you making this a daily feature), and is also excellent with Mexican-style meat or fish dishes. I find it works beautifully with the creamy, nutty flavours in this dish, giving everything a lift.
The yoghurt sauce is essentially a dressing for the nutty barley and is beautifully tangy and vibrant against the avocado and greens. Feta and the flavoured salt gives it all a kick, while those toasted almonds really bring something important to the balance of the dish. It’s a gorgeous combination and also quietly beautiful in its own way, whispering of green nourishment and riotous complementary flavours.
Plus, if the idea of eating a pot of yoghurt with a spoon repels you, this might just be a way of sneaking the stuff into your diet (it’s good for you after all).
Pearl barley with avocado, crumbled feta, toasted almonds & lemon yoghurt sauce and paprika & lime salt (serves 2):
- 130g pearl barley
- 100g frozen peas
- A couple of handfuls of spinach
- 200ml thick yoghurt
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 spring onion, finely chopped
- Pinch of lemon salt
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp flaked almonds
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 100g feta cheese
- For the paprika and lime salt:
- 6 tbsp coarse sea salt
- Zest of 1 lime
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
First, make the lime and paprika salt by roughly crushing the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar. Transfer to a small jar – this keeps well and is excellent with other avocado dishes, or Mexican food.
Next cook the barley. Bring a large pan of water to the boil then add the barley. Simmer for 25 minutes, then add the peas and simmer for a further 3-4 minutes until cooked. Drain well and set aside. Mix in the spinach while still warm so it wilts.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Mix the yoghurt, lemon zest, spring onion, lemon salt and lemon juice. Taste to check the seasoning. Toast the almonds in a dry pan.
Divide the barley between two bowls. Divide the avocado between them, then crumble over the feta. Scatter over the toasted almonds and serve with a dollop of the yoghurt sauce. Sprinkle over a generous pinch of lime and paprika salt before serving.