Zucchini flower and pearl barley salad

Hey, it’s been a while!

I’ve just returned from a month away, visiting family and friends in Sydney (with a dreamy diversion to Yellowstone National Park). Returning home is always a surreal experience, as we balance the emotions of nostalgia with the heart-warming feelings of familiarity.

Sydney was “same, but different”. The city was the same, I was different. Walking down Crown Street in my old neighbourhood of Surry Hills, well-known faces popped out of shop fronts to say hello. Locals and neighbours stopped to catch up. We exchanged stories and expressed a genuine joy to see one another. These faces, and this community, are such an important part of my history and my present. They represent my roots and continue to contribute to my identity.

In Sydney, I ate well and healthy. The food in this city is so good, better than I remember. The fare isn’t fancy or complex. The produce is fresh, the flavours are clean, and the preparation is casually elegant. But after being away, I now see Aussie food in a new, refreshed light. I appreciate and savour what I once took for granted. And, most importantly, I feel so inspired by it all. In fact, I think it’s time I put together a guide to my favourite places to eat in Sydney – that list is coming soon!

Apart from eating a load of ice cream at Gelato Messina, consuming mountains of sourdough from Bourke Street Bakery and drinking my body weight in skim flat whites, I also had fun times catching up with good mates, old and new. One warm winter night, we enjoyed smashing middle eastern food at the sensational Kepos and Co with friends Luisa, Sam and the lovely Molly (who also happened to be in Sydney!).

While in Sydney, I also received an advance copy of my new book Neighbourhood. What a moment! After an initial brief touch and feel, it then took me days to actually look at the book in any detail. When you invest so much of yourself in a project, the finished product can be a tad confronting. In the end, I can say that I’m very proud of this book - I’m proud of the beautiful pages (thanks to my Art Director Daniel), I’m proud of my wonderful collaborators (Luisa Brimble and Erika Raxworthy) and I’m proud to be bringing more delicious meat-free recipes to audiences, old and new. And while I’m on the topic of Neighbourhood, I will actually be returning to Melbourne and Sydney for a book tour during the first week of September, so make sure you check out the new Events page on my website for all the news and happenings. Hope to meet many of you there.

After this reflective preamble, it’s time we get to the food! Back in Brooklyn, it is the peak of summer and with that, we have the joys of summer produce. While stopping in at my neighbourhood deli Caputo’s, I was given a bag of stunning zucchini flowers (or blossoms as they are known in the US) homegrown in Long Island. Rather than stuffing with cheese and frying, I decided to lighten things up by using these pretty flowers in a grain salad. Hearty, light yet tasty, this is exactly the salad I needed after a month on the road!


Zucchini flower and pearl barley salad

There are two types of zucchini flowers – male and female. The female flowers usually have a tiny zucchini attached and the male blossoms have a long thing stem. Some people like to remove the stamen from inside of male flowers, but I left them untouched. It is perfectly edible and has a lovely delicate flavour!

Serves 4

  • ¼ tsp saffron
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 15-16 large zucchini flowers, brushed clean
  • 1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 cups cooked pearl barley (or other grain)
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 tsp toasted pine nuts
  • 2-3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • ½ lemon
  • handful of chopped flat leaf parsley, to serve
  • extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Soak the saffron threads in two tablespoons of boiling water for 10 minutes.

In a large frypan on medium heat, add the olive oil and garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the zucchini flowers, season with sea salt and cook for 1-2 minutes, until just wilted.  

Next, add the parsley, saffron with soaking water, and the cooked pearl barley. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and season again with sea salt. Panfry for 2-3 minutes, until the barley is heated through.

Take off the heat and stir through the pine nuts, and parmesan cheese. Allow to cool slightly. To serve, top with extra parmesan, squeeze over the lemon juice, sprinkle over some more parsley, season with sea salt and black pepper and drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil.


SALADHetty McKinnon