I had plans. Big plans that involved a ton of peanut and sesame oils, chilis, mala peppercorns, and high wattage wok usage. During Golden Week, one of the 2 times a year all of China is off from work and I’m completely free of teaching, I was going to cook up a storm.
But I’m currently down in Shanghai, in a wok-less apartment with nary a soy sauce bottle in sight. Don’t get me wrong. I love being here, in this nice, renovated lane house that belongs to a friend. But he’s in Canada so much that the kitchen is as empty as that of a college dorm. Upon arrival I did a quick cabinet assessment. I found a handful of spices, Bisquick, expired peanut butter, and a Sherpa guide offering delivery from 73 restaurants around town. There are, happily, chopsticks in the drawers.
I quickly jettisoned my cooking plans for the week; it made little sense to stock a pantry full of Chinese cooking oils, sauces, and dried goods just to make a few dinners. Instead, I got grain-happy at the grocery store and stocked up on chickpeas, barley, and inexpensive fresh produce. The fewer ingredients needed for a dish, the better. This teaches me to not take my pantry staples in my own apartment for granted. At least I’m forced to be more creative when planning meals.
Adapted from Barley Foods Council
Makes 6 servings
3/4 cup pearl barley
3 to 4 cups water
6 large tomatoes
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup bell pepper, finely chopped
Pecan halves, for garnish
In a medium-sized pot, bring water, 1 tablespoon butter, and a pinch of salt to boil. Add barley and simmer on low heat for 45 to 50 minutes, or until barley is tender and the water is absorbed.
While barley is simmering, cut tops from tomatoes. With a spoon, gently scoop out pulp and save for use in other soups or sauces. (Careful to not scoop out so much that the sides of the tomatoes split open or collapse during baking.) Sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes with salt and pepper and invert them to drain on paper towels.
In a skillet, sauté onions, bell peppers, and chopped pecans in remaining 2 tablespoons butter for about 3 minutes, or until onions are softened and fragrant. Stir sautéed mixture into cooked barley. With a spoon, carefully fill the tomatoes with barley mixture.
Line tomatoes in a glass baking dish and add 1/4 cup water to cover the bottom. Bake at 375° F for 20 minutes, then remove from oven. Garnish each tomato with a pecan half and serve.