Barley salad with figs and tarragon-lemon dressing
2 cups water;
¾ cup pearl barley;
1 (2- by 1-inch) strip lemon zest (optional);
Pinch of fine sea salt.
SALAD, AND TO FINISH:
¼ cup chopped dried figs, preferably Greek or Turkish (4 to 6);
2 stalks chopped celery, halved lengthwise if large, and cut into ¼-inch slices (1 cup);
½ cup finely chopped green onions, white and light green parts (about 4);
½ cup chopped tangy apple, such as Macintosh or Granny Smith (about ½ apple);
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil;
2 to 3 teaspoons honey;
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt;
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper;
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon;
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley.
To prepare the barley, bring the water, barley, lemon zest, peppercorns, and salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the barley is tender but still slightly chewy, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and, if you have time, let sit, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and transfer the barley to a large serving bowl to cool. Remove the zest and the peppercorns.
To prepare the salad, finely grate the zest of the lemon until you have 2 teaspoons zest. Squeeze the fruit to get 2 tablespoons juice (reserve leftover lemon for another use). Place the dried figs in a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Set aside. Add the celery, green onions, and apple to the serving bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, the zest, and 2 teaspoons of the honey. Season with the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more honey if you like, and then stir in 1 tablespoon of the tarragon and 1 tablespoon of the parsley.
To finish, add the barley and the plumped figs with any juices to the bowl and stir together. Drizzle on the dressing and toss to combine. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes for the flavors to mingle. Toss again, sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of tarragon and 1 tablespoon of parsley, and serve.
TO GET A HEAD START: Make the barley, as in step 1, ahead. The entire salad can also be prepared up to 8 hours ahead. Chill, covered. Bring to room temperature and refresh with a bit more olive oil before serving.
TO VARY IT: For a more textured dish, you can use whole grain hulled barley, soaked overnight. Or combine ¼ cup soaked, hulled barley with ½ cup pearl barley for a pleasing mixture.