Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Credit: Earl Carter

Black barley, farro, hibiscus and labne salad

Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.

Credit: Earl Carter

This salad has been through a process of evolution that started at Cumulus last year. 

After a decade of cooking and serving a cracked-wheat salad, we got to the point where we couldn’t crack another kernel, or at least soak one. A supplier dropped off a bag of black barley for us to have a look at and chef Dean – credit where credit is due – took this grain and played around with it.

This was a variation on a theme, to have a nutritious, healthy, vegetarian salad that was not just iceberg lettuce. Salads like this should not just be accompaniments; they should be able to stand up for themselves and live on their own.

What’s different about this salad, and which you don’t often see, is the use of hibiscus flowers. These flowers come candied, slow cooked in sugar syrup. This brings a nice sweet-and-sour quality to the salad. 

Candied hibiscus flowers have been used for many years, more often dropped into a glass of execrable sparkling wine. There is no excuse for this behaviour, and little explanation. At best it might mask some of the steely qualities in cheaper bubbles. The final taste, though, will be one of regret.

In this salad, it adds depth and brings an elusive flavour. The hibiscus is used to replace barberry, a small Middle Eastern fruit, similar to a sour cherry when dried.

For a salad, I’ll admit there’s a fair bit of mucking around. But it is worth it, especially if you think about it as a standalone meal. I had it the other night with some roast chicken – I made the salad while the chicken was roasting – and my word it was delicious. It was a wonderful alternative to roast potatoes that have been sitting in chicken fat.

But if you aren’t going to go to the trouble of cooking the multiple grains that go into this salad, I would encourage you to keep the recipe for preserved lemon dressing and use it for other salads.

This dressing is fantastic tossed with some green leaves and a bit of mint for a refreshing spring salad. It would also be terrific as a sauce for a piece of fish, or teaspooned onto an oyster in the shell.

But, really, make an effort: the salad’s worthwhile.

Wine pairing:

2016 Arfion Rosé pinot noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria ($28)  – Mark Williamson, wine buyer for Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up and the Builders Arms Hotel


Serves 6

  • 2/3  cup black barley
  • 2/3  cup farro
  • ½ cup dried currants
  • ½ bunch parsley leaves, finely shredded
  • ½ bunch mint, finely shredded
  • ½ bunch spring onions, finely sliced
  • 50g candied hibiscus, sliced
  • ½ cup puffed farro
  • 3 tbsp chopped, roasted almonds


  • 250g labne 
  • 1 tbsp za’atar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  1. Place the grains in separate saucepans and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25-35 minutes or until tender. Strain the grains and set them aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. Soak the currants in hot water for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, toss together the cooled grains, herbs, spring onions, candied hibiscus, puffed farro, almonds and currants.
  4. In another bowl, mix the labne with the za’atar, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
  5. Dress the salad with the preserved lemon dressing (recipe below) to taste.
  6. Spoon the labne into a large shallow serving dish and spread it over the base. Heap the mixed salad over the top and serve immediately.

Preserved lemon dressing

  • 3 tbsp verjuice
  • ¼ piece preserved lemon rind
  • ½ clove garlic
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • ½ tbsp chardonnay vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 150ml olive oil

Blend all the ingredients, except the oil, in a blender. With the blender running, slowly pour the oil into the blender to emulsify the dressing. Strain the dressing through a fine mesh sieve before using.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 17, 2016 as "Black barley, farro, hibiscus and labne salad".

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Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.