Chickpea and pearl barley with lemon, garlic and chilli

Lemon, garlic and chilli.

There’s not a lot that these three can’t do.

Brighten a bland piece of toast with ricotta? Um; yes. Add life to a bowl of spaghetti? Of course they can.

Make me feel better when I’m a little poorly? Cross fingers…

This zippy little trio of lemon, garlic and chilli is something I turn to when I’m not feeling great. Twirled together they’re life affirmingly cheerful. Cooking with them is like drawing with primary colours.

They’re always lurking around my kitchen in one form of another.  Which is a good thing.

Last night we weren’t having dinner. The Hungry One was supposed to be on a late conference call. I was feeling a touch feeble.  Nothing dramatic; just a sore head and throat. My body was standing at the doorway of sick and procrastinating over whether it would cross the threshold.

It had all the hallmarks of one of those nights where I pour a glass of pink wine and pick at a piece of cheese.

Then The Hungry One’s call finished early and he was excited to be heading home for dinner. I figured I should pretend to be a good wife, pull my finger out and stitch together something proper for us to eat.

Here’s what I found in the fridge; there were couple of lonely stems of celery (left over from last week’s pork and beans) and half a bag of baby spinach. Up to the left was tiny wedge of forlorn goat’s cheese and some chopped chilli in a jar.

In the onion basket there was half a red onion and a dislocated head of garlic.

In the fruit bowl; a lemon (and a bruised and battered banana).

In the cupboard; some basics including pearl barley, pumpkin seeds and a tin of chickpeas.

I spy the skeleton of a dinner (minus the banana).

It was a bish and a bash job, making it up a bit as we went along. I cooked the pearl barley separately, just covering it with water before putting it onto an enthusiastic boil.  The onions and celery were sweated in some olive oil. Then in went the chickpeas, grated garlic and lemon rind.

When the pearl barley was fluffy it went in to join the others, lubricated with the juice of the lemon. The spinach was folded through to wilt.

We topped the nutty jumble with chilli, pumpkin seeds and a little crumbled goat’s cheese and ate it out of bowls. We sat on the couch, with a lap rug of comfortable silence. It’s the kind of silence that descends when you’ve been with someone for a good period of time and you’ve both had long days.

It was soothing, cheap and filling dinner. It still fit within our brief for Meatless Mondays. And there was enough garlic, lemon and chilli to make me feel a little better. Which was a good thing.

You see, today is our third wedding anniversary and I didn’t want to be sick.

Obviously The Hungry One’s body didn’t get that memo. He’s was up all night with a stomach flu.

He did make the mistake of asking at 4 am if dinner could have made him sick. I pretended not to hear him.

He’s now feeling mildly more human. I just asked him what he wanted to eat tonight. If by any chance he thinks the axis of good might help, there’s just enough left over from last night for his tea.

Luckily he said ice cream. Which means all the more for me.

Chickpea and pearl barley with the axis of goodness (lemon, garlic and chilli)

Serves 2, with some for lunch the next day. Add a piece of grilled fish over the top, or some poached chicken and it could stretch to feed 4. 


200 grams pearl barley
400 ml of water or stock
1 tin chickpeas
2 sticks of celery, diced
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 teaspoons of chopped red chilli
2 large handfuls of baby spinach
2 teaspoons of crumbled goat’s cheese
2 teaspoons of pumpkin seeds
4 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper


A casserole dish/ large saucepan. A microplane. A can opener.

Here’s how we roll

1) Cover the barley with water and bring to the boil. Let it simmer, like pasta or rice for about 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The barley should absorb the water and puff up.

2) Sauté the diced celery and onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent.

3) Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add them to the celery and onion.

4) Grate in 3 large cloves of garlic and the zest of the lemon.

5) Add the cooked pearl barley and about 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. If there is no water left then add 2 tablespoons of hot water to loosen everything and the juice of the lemon.

6) Add the spinach over the top of the pearl barley and chickpeas and turn the heat down. Clamp a lid on.

7) When the spinach has wilted season with salt and pepper.

8) Serve in bowls with the crumbled goat’s cheese, chilli and pumpkin seeds over the top.

  1. Congrats on coming up with the great meal and evading sickness. Oh, and the anniversary:)

  2. Garlic is always in my pantry, I can'y survive without it! It goes with nearly everything that I cook these days.

    This looks great and a good meal to pack for lunch.

  3. Lemon, garlic, and chili tastes good when mixed the right away.

  4. Harvin Paul on 9 March 2011

    Whipped this up for dinner tonight, delicious – I’m a fan !

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