Staff meals in restaurants can be pretty sad affairs. I recall working 16-hour days and being horrified that my only real meal of the day was baked chicken, white rice, and a simple salad. Where were the nutrients that would fuel and sustain my body? I began filling my purse with bags of dulse, which I’d furtively add to my salad each night. Eventually I was found out and lovingly roasted, but I kept on, knowing I needed the deep sustenance. Looking back on it later, I realized the dulse did more than keep me healthy – it added a subtle smokiness and depth of flavor to an otherwise bland salad.
While pumpkin with barley is an already delicious thing, it is even better with the bacon-like quality of pan-fried dulse.
1 ½ cups hulled barley
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 small (2 pound) pumpkin, such a Hokkaido
1 chile de arbol, halved
1 heaping cup dulse
4 green onions, thinly sliced
3 baby black, daikon or pink radishes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
2 cups mizuna, chickweed, or peppercress
2 teaspoons pumpkin seed oil
thinly sliced or freshly crushed chile de arbol, for serving (optional)
extra virgin olive oil
fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Dry-toast your barley, as I do most grains: place your pot over moderately high heat and add the barley. Stir with a wooden spoon until the grains are nutty and fragrant and few shades darker. Meanwhile, bring a kettle of water to a boil. Once the grains are well roasted, lower the heat, stand back a bit, and add enough simmering water to cover the barley by 1 inch. Add the garlic cloves and a pinch of salt; simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until tender. Strain through a colander and return to the pot. Season barley with another pinch of salt, a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and a tablespoon of olive oil. Set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, peel the pumpkin and cut off the stem and root end. Cut in half lengthwise; remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut into thick, 1 ½-inch wedges. On a parchment lined baking sheet, toss the pumpkin with chile de arbol, 2 pinches of salt, and olive oil to coat. Spread the pieces out into a single, even layer; don’t overcrowd the pan. Roast for approximately 30-45 minutes, or until deeply caramelized and tender to the core (cooking times vary widely depending on the type and age of the winter squash). Turn the pieces once during cooking to ensure both sides brown. Remove set aside to cool to room temperature on the pan. Season with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice; discard the chile.
Line a plate with paper towels. Unfold individual pieces of dulse; use scissors to cut them into approximately 2-inch pieces. Place a medium skillet over moderate heat and add enough olive oil to just coat the bottom. Fry the dulse in batches, using tongs to press the pieces into the hot oil and turning once – about 1 minute total. The dulse should turn one shade darker, but don’t let them burn. Drain on paper towels.
Gently toss the barley with the pumpkin, green onions, radishes, dulse, and baby greens or sprouts. Season to taste with salt, lemon juice, and pumpkin seed oil. A predictable preference, I like to top my bowl with a pinch of thinly sliced or crushed chile de arbol.