Michael Smith’s Family Meals Review and Barley Kale Tabbouleh Recipe

“It’s never optional.”  Cooking, that is, and so Michael Smith begins his latest book, Family Meals (available now locally and on Amazon and Amazon.ca).

I completely agree with him.  Feeding my family is one of my main responsibilities as a parent and the food that I give them should always be the best possible.

How do we give our families the best possible food?  By making it ourselves, from scratch, using wholesome, nourishing seasonal ingredients.

And how do we help our children learn how to enjoy cooking and eating good, real food?  By making it and eating it together!  Smith points out that “It’s the whole point of cooking, to come together as a family and share.”

Family Meals*  is a beautiful celebration of family cooking, with wonderful photography and a wide diversity of snacks, meals, make-aheads, tips, and tricks.  The recipes are straight-forward and easy to follow.  They use ingredients that are typically found in a well-stocked pantry or fridge.  There is no use of processed foods, unless you count the “Just-Add-Water Noodle Jar” which uses instant ramen noodles but tosses the mysterious flavor packet, replacing it with a ton of real food!

michael smith family meals

Although it’s the recipes that make up the bulk of the book, what sets it apart from other cookbooks is the focus on family inclusion and tips for parents who want to set a standard for real food in their homes.  One of my favorite tips came from the “Easy Snacks” section: Make a snack shelf in your fridge where your kids can look when they’re hungry and find the “Snack of the Day.”  Fill this spot with healthy munchibles like carrot sticks and other fresh fruits and veggies.  It’s a great idea and my family should incorporate it soon since our young assistant can now open the fridge!

Another great tip is this: “Go beyond the farmers’ market and meet a farmer.  Support local so your kids can meet and get to know real people making real food.”  This is one reason why we’ve joined a CSA this year, and we couldn’t be happier!  Our young assistants go to the pickup with us and see our farmer and her team and all the wonderful food set out for all of us CSA members.  There is a clear presentation for our kids that food is not made at the store, but grown by real people!

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Right, youngest assistant?  Real food is grown by real people!

After reading through the tips and cooking tricks I spent a quiet evening (Madame and the boys were gone) reading through most of the cookbook. I ended up writing down 22 recipes I wanted to try.  You know, it’s just a starting place….  I narrowed that down to one that I would share here on the blog.  The recipe is Barley Kale Tabbouleh and it stood out to me mainly because of its use of two ingredients that are very local, barley and kale!

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I actually made the recipe twice, one time following it to the letter and another time with some substitutions and tweaks.  Both turned out great but I preferred the original recipe to my version which substituted cracked wheat berries for the barley.  It turns out that the wheat berries became too gelatinous, causing the whole salad to be overly creamy.  So I am glad to report that the original recipe is tested and turns out very well according to its instructions!

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Enjoy this salad as a side to a good summer barbecue or as a simple yet filling lunch by itself.  Feel free to play around with the ingredients and ratios but start with the original first, it’s awesome!

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Barley Kale Tabbouleh
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
  • 4 large kale leaves, tough center stems trimmed away
  • 1 cup (250mL) of any barley
  • 1 teaspoon (5mL) of salt
  • A handful of finely chopped parsley
  • Leaves from 1 bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint (500mL) of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large dill pickle, minced
  • The zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons (30mL) of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15mL) of honey
  • 1 tablespoon (15mL) of your favorite mustard
  • ½ teaspoon (2mL) of salt
  • ½ teaspoon (2mL) of your favorite hot sauce
  1. Stack the kale leaves, then roll them up tightly. Slice them as thinly as possible, forming fine threads. Cram into a small saucepan and add ¼ cup (60mL) of water. Cover and cook over high heat until the kale softens, just 2 or 3 minutes. Drain and spread out on a plate to cool.
  2. Measure the barley into the same saucepan and add 3 cups (750mL) of water and the salt. Bring to a full boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Cover tightly and continue cooking until the grains swell, absorbing the water and tenderizing, about 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until emulsified. Throw in the tender barley, the kale, parsley, mint, green onions, tomatoes and pickle. Toss the works together, evenly mixing the flavors, textures and colours. Serve and share!

barley kale tabbouleh
My Final Thoughts

This cookbook is going to be center stage for the next good while in our kitchen.  I’m giving the book a  4/5 and that is because I would like to see more plant-based rather than animal-based meals.  We live in a time when family cooking should be emphasizing sustainability and increasingly that should mean more meatless meals.  The cookbook does contain a good number of vegetarian meals and sides, but meal plays a big role in several sections.  Other than that it is a great cookbook and I recommend it for any family wanting to cook more together!

*Disclaimer: Penguin Random House Canada provided me with an advance copy of the book to review.  The thoughts are all my own.  Well, except for the quotes.