Pomegranates have always been a powerful symbol in Jewish cuisine. Originating in Persia, pomegranates are especially meaningful on the High Holidays. It is customary for Sephardic Jews on the second night of Rosh Hashanah to recite this lovely blessing: “Ken Yehi Ratzon—may it be thy will, O Creator, that our year be rich and replete with blessings as the pomegranate is rich and replete with seeds.” Barley, along with wheat, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates, is one of the seven biblical species, often used throughout the Middle East in soups, stews, and salads.
Although this salad can be made in its entirety a day in advance and refrigerated overnight in a covered bowl, you might want to bring it to room temperature and stir in another teaspoon each of white wine vinegar, and olive oil before serving. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, as needed.
2½ cup pearl barley10 oz. block feta cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes1 cup pomegranate arils (seeds), plus more for garnishing¾ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves, plus additional for garnishing3 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus additional for garnishing4 scallions, ends trimmed, and thinly sliced½ cup dried currants
1 tbsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground (or 4 tsp. ground cumin powder)¼ cup white wine vinegar2 tbsp. honey1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely minced½ tsp. coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Rinse barley in a sieve with cold water. Bring 4 1/2 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan; add barley, stir, and partially cover with a lid. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until barley is just tender with a slight bite.Drain barley in a colander, and then spread it out onto a large baking sheet to cool; reserve.Combine pomegranate seeds, toasted walnuts, fresh herbs, scallions, and currants in a large serving bowl. Add warm barley and feta cubes and toss gently to combine.In a separate small bowl, whisk together ground cumin, white wine vinegar, honey, minced garlic, salt and pepper. While whisking, gradually add in olive oil.(Vinaigrette can be made a day in advance, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated.)Add vinaigrette to barley mixture, tossing gently to thoroughly combine. Garnish salad with additional mint and parsley, pomegranate arils, and drizzle lightly with additional extra virgin olive oil.Makes 8-12 side servings.