Five-Spiced Butternut and Barley Salad

I can’t believe it’s 2012! It feels like it was 1999 approximately 3.25 months ago. I remember everyone in my home town buying bulk dry goods, and cleaning out the shelves of our local hardware store for “Y2K Computer Apocalypse” like it was yesterday. I was reminded of this today when Ovi and I were confronted face to speaker by some very fervent, megaphone-wielding, street preachers. This year they’re reminding us about the 2012 Mayan calender apocalypse, but the message is the same. Always with the doom and gloom, fire and brimstone. Headache aside, I suppose I can admire their unwavering tenacity and strive to tackle my goals for this brand new year with a fraction of that dedication.

This year, I’m striving to clean up my act in the kitchen. The stuff I post on HGT is generally pretty clean (with the exception of some admittedly out of character Christmas desserts), but my personal intake is awash with too much espresso, lots of diet soda, and many a simple carb. I’m happy to say that day 1 of 2012 resolutions went swimmingly. At our place, we welcomed the new year with a beautiful dish of complex carbs, and seasonal veggies. Five-spiced butternut squash with barley is a simple dish with complex flavor, and  right in line with the type of food that I want to cook, eat and share here with you here on HGT.

Five spice powder is a popular addition in many Chinese dishes. From roasts to stir fry, salads and almost anything you can imagine – this aromatic blend of spices gives a unique sweet smelling, pungent flavor to any dish it touches. If you haven’t tried cooking with it before, and you enjoy the flavors of Chinese cooking, I recommend it. A little goes a long way with this stuff, and it’s a wonderful way to add flavor to your food without upping the sodium content. Five spice powder is traditionally made with a blend of cassia cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves and Szechuan peppercorns, but will vary by manufacturer. If you can smell the blend before purchasing, try and find the one most pleasing to your nose. The variety I used also had ginger in the mix, so I suppose it’s really a six-spice powder. No matter, it was delicious.

The roasted butternut squash is complemented perfectly here with the sweet and spicy aroma of the five-spice powder. When the little butternut bits were roasting in the oven, my  entire apartment smelled heavenly. I couldn’t wait to eat them, and if we’re being completely truthful – I didn’t. I ate a few pieces right off of the sheet pan, and had a hard time peeling myself away before I could eat them all.
I’m glad I didn’t eat all of the squash though, because it tasted absolutely wonderful in the salad. I loved the textures here. The chewy barley, the velvety squash and the crunch of celery made for a great textural experience. The sweet and tangy dressing amplified the flavor of the five-spiced butternut perfectly, and the bite of scallion and cilantro made for a fresh finish. I enjoyed this salad to the last bite.

For the best texture, it’s best to serve this dish within a couple hours of preparation. It tastes wonderful the second day, but the squash will continue to soften a bit in the fridge.

I opted to serve the butternut and barley salad as a side dish with a piece of hoisin glazed tilapia. As a side, this recipe will serve 6 with generous portions. It would also make a fantastic vegetarian meal, with a yield of about 4 servings as a main course.

Recipe serves 6 with a serving size of about 3/4 cup

Calories: 213 – Carbs: 40g – Fat: 5g – Protein: 4g – Sugar: 9g – Fiber: 6g

Ingredients for the salad:

  • 1 cup dry/raw pearl barley
  • 2 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 1/2 tablespoon tamari
  • 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 3 ribs celery (diced)
  • 4 scallions (sliced)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (coarse chopped)

For the dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tamari (I prefer tamari to soy sauce for it’s stronger taste. You can use less with more of an flavor impact)
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey (swap with agave for vegan diets)
  • 1 tablespoon spicy Chinese mustard (or Dijon)
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, or 1 teaspoon fresh grated


  • Prepare barley by adding to a medium sized pot (whatever you use for rice) with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook covered on low heat for 45 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool in the pot before use
  • While barley is cooking, peel your squash, remove seeds and cube into small 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Add to a baking sheet that has been prepared with non-stick cooking spray and toss with a bit of additional soy sauce (just a drizzle) and the five spice powder
  • Broil on medium high for about 15 minutes, stirring halfway through. You want the squash to be soft but not mushy with slightly charred, crispy edges. Keep on eye on it here, as cooking time will vary with every oven.

If your batch looks a little burned, fear not – it tastes amazing. The good news is, slightly charred butternut squash smells and tastes quite like roasted marshmallows. 

  • When the roasted squash and barley have cooled to a temperature that is comfortable to handle, they’re ready to use
  • Add barley, butternut, and remaining salad ingredients to a large bowl and toss to combine
  • In a medium to small sized seal-able jar (I use a jelly jar) add dressing ingredients and shake vigorously to emulsify.
  • Top salad with 3/4 of the dressing, reserving some to add just before serving, as the barley will absorb most of it.
  • Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving to allow flavors to combine


4 thoughts on “Five-Spiced Butternut and Barley Salad

  1. I love Chinese five spice powder, but I always put it on meat (and aubergines). This sounds great. Good luck with the Happy Good Time healthy eating resolution — sounds like you’re off to a good start.

    • Thanks Susan. I love five-spice so much. It even finds it’s way into my baking at times. Here’s to day 2 of resolutions – though I am drinking an espresso right now….shhhhhhh =)

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