Ultimate Healthy Comfort: Recipe for Barley, Butternut Squash and Walnuts

Ultimate Healthy Comfort: Recipe for Barley, Butternut Squash and Walnuts

I’m a big fan of doing a bulk meal prep of a few dishes at the beginning of the week. It streamlines your time in the kitchen, plus ensures you have a quick, healthy options available at all times. Bringing together a handful of delicious ingredients in this recipe for barley adds a new favorite to my rotation.

Salads are a traditional no-brained for the summer, yet I truly love eating a healthy, comforting salad any time of the year. No matter how crazy your day gets, a hearty salad is a perfect go-to option.

Choosing Comforting Ingredients

When I make new recipes, I start by focusing on lists of targeted ingredients. This recipe is chock-full of what I call my Comfort & Calm foods: barley, squash, walnuts, cheese, olive oil and antioxidants. I’d never actually had a recipe for barley salad before, but it my mouth started to water when I imagined it paired with the other ingredients,.

Each item is super ‘sturdy,’ so it’s also a great on-the-run option to toss into your car or bag at the beginning of the day. You can dive-into lunch on the go or enjoy nibbles to keep you fueled during the day. (Doesn’t everyone graze throughout the day like me? Ha Ha)

Flexible Recipe for Barley: Pre-Cook or Quick Build

It’s so funny… I dreamed up this recipe quickly, but then took a day to actually make it. Sure, you can cook/prep all ingredients at one time and then compose the salad. Yet, I had a busy day and ended up cooking the barley in the morning, then roasting the butternut squash in the afternoon. Finally, I tossed the salad together for dinner.

That’s just how my day flowed and it was nice to have a recipe that could work with my small windows for cooking.

Sure, it took me a day to build the salad. If you wanted to build the salad all at one time, it’ll take about an hour total to prep, cook, cool and toss. Of course, there are multi-tasking windows there while the barley and squash are cooking, then cooling. Take it as an opportunity to hide in the kitchen with a good book, or plan a dance party with your kiddo… totally your call.

This is certainly a new favorite of mine! (I’m craving it as I type…) Looking forward to hearing your comments; please share below.

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Comforting Barley Salad in a Bowl

Ultimate Healthy Comfort: Recipe for Barley, Butternut Squash and Walnuts

  • Author: nicholebanducci
  • Prep Time: 25
  • Cook Time: 30
  • Total Time: 55 minutes




  • 3 cups cooked Pearl Barley
  • 1 cup roasted butternut squash (see ingredients and recipe, below)
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbles (or vegan feta)
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 6 Tbsp easy vinaigrette dressing (see ingredients and recipe, below)
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped


  • 1 small butternut squash, diced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper



  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Dice small butternut squash into 1/2 inch pieces
  • coat with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder
  • place on baking sheet and cook for 25-30 minutes till tender, but not soft
  • Remove from oven and let cool


  • Mix olive oil, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic powder in a jar or small bowl
  • Set aside to dress the salad, to taste
  • Note – the recipe makes 10 tablespoons/5 servings, you’ll use about 6 tablespoons for this salad. Save the remaining amount for a future salad.


  • Cook the barley per package instructions (30 minutes for stovetop)
  • Let cool


  • Add the cooked/cooled butternut squash & pearl barley to a large bowl
  • Mix-in the walnuts, feta and pomegranate seeds
  • Add the vinaigrette dressing, mix and season as needed to taste
  • Garnish with freshly chopped oregano

Serve the salad right away (cool/room temperature) or store in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.

Delicious Plant Based Recipe Everyone Will Love:  ‘Chorizo’ Green Beans

Delicious Plant Based Recipe Everyone Will Love: ‘Chorizo’ Green Beans

Looking to eat more plant based meals? Are your vegan or vegetarian family members tired of salads and rice at get together? This phenomenal recipe is savory and hearty enough to satisfy anyone, while delivering on a plant based lifestyle.

Before eating plant based, one of my favorite meals was Chinese green beans with pork (Pad Prik King). It’s a super flavorful dish that always made me feel good about eating more veggies, while satisfying my cravings for a hearty, savory meal.

Today, I center much of my personal meal planning on plant proteins, paired with vegetable sides. This recipe, however has the vegetable as the hero ingredient, with the plant protein added for seasoning and texture.

Simplifying Plant Based Meals

Because my family still eats meat, meal time typically means creating two separate recipes. Often, I can simply make myself tofu or tempeh and add it to whatever side dishes I’m serving the rest of the gang. Making a separate recipe is often out-of-the-question… unless I can make it super easy in just one pan.

This recipe simply involves one pan and a microwave. Easy-peasy. Although fresh green beans are a snap, I like having frozen beans on hand. Most grocers have the microwave-in-a-bag variety of frozen beans. Microwave the green beans for 3 minutes instead of 5 and then toss into the pan with sautéed shallots and plant based chorizo.

A Super Flexible Recipe

The animal lover in me hates to tell you this, but you insist… you can easily substitute dairy butter and pork chorizo into this recipe. Heck, you can add nearly any meat… plant based or not and it’ll surly be delicious. (I may try a tofu taco meat version someday soon.)

Yet, I beg you to try this plant based version first. We can all do well by increasing our intake of veggies & plants. Click on these links to learn more about Miyoko’s Butter or the Simple Truth Sausage. Why not check the box with a delicious and simple recipe that everyone will love? 🙂

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A serving bowl of green beans with plant based chorizo and shallots

‘Chorizo’ Green Beans

  • Author: Nichole Banducci
  • Prep Time: 5 min
  • Cook Time: 15 min
  • Total Time: 20 min
  • Yield: 4 servings (as a side) 1x
  • Category: Sides
  • Diet: Vegan


This recipe works well as side or entree


  • 1 bag Birds Eye Steamfresh Whole Green Beans
  • 1 Simple Truth Plant-Based Meatless Chorizo Sausage (just one sausage), diced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 3 Tbsp Miyoko’s Cultured Vegan Butter
  • 2 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (to taste)


  • Add sliced shallot to a large pan with 1 Tbsp of butter, stir until translucent
  • Microwave the green beans on high in the unopened bag for 3 minutes. This is less than the package directions, but help ensure they don’t overcook. Let them sit in the microwave to cool once done.
  • Add diced sausage to the shallots
  • Cook the shallots and sausage, stirring occasionally, until they both are browned
  • Take the green beans out of the microwave, open the bag and add them directly to the pan with shallots and sausage. (Make sure they’ve cooled enough before opening the bag.)
  • Add garlic powder, salt, pepper and 2 Tbsp of butter to the pan and stir to incorporate
  • Serve with your choice of entree or eat as a meal

Strawberry Crisp Cereal: My New favorite healthy Breakfast Treat

Strawberry Crisp Cereal: My New favorite healthy Breakfast Treat

Want to enjoy a healthy strawberry crisp cereal for breakfast? This easy-to-make recipe is delicious cold, hot or over yogurt as a parfait.

To be honest, this recipe started as a total mistake. I was trying to make moist oatmeal bars and ended up with dry, crispy bars. Because I don’t like wasting food, Strawberry Crisp Cereal was born.

Here’s the story. I was developing a Strawberry Oatmeal Bar recipe for RAISE Magazine and my first round turned out wrong. The result of the first round didn’t taste bad; it was just not as chewy and moist as I intended.

They were dry because I tried to short-change the amount of brown sugar in the recipe. (I’m always trying to cut-out sugar.) Yet, it was still pretty delicious. So, instead of throwing away the batch, I tossed it in the fridge and kept on working.

After finishing and photographing the final (phenomenally moist & delicious) strawberry oatmeal bars, I remembered their crispy cousins in the fridge.

“What if I put them in a bowl with soymilk,” I asked?

OMG. What was once a crispy mistake became a delicious homemade strawberry crisp cereal. Simply take about 1/8 of the recipe and crumble it into a bowl. Then, add your favorite milk.

In cooler weather, you can microwave the strawberry crisp cereal for 30 seconds prior to adding the milk. You’d swear you were eating dessert for breakfast!

It is also fantastic crumbled over yogurt for a new twist on a homemade parfait.

To keep things healthy, I developed this recipe using a strawberry chia jam: strawberries + chia + lemon juice. (Trust me, you’ll want to make an extra batch of the jam to keep in the fridge.) You can also substitute your favorite fruit in the chia jam. Or, in a pinch, use store-bought jam.

Most importantly, I hope you enjoy!

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Strawberry Crisp Cereal

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Category: Breakfast
  • Method: Baked


Bar Base:
1 stick (8 tbsp)           salted butter, softened
2 cups                         rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup                           whole wheat flour (white flour works, too)
1/4 cup                       brown sugar (pressed)
1 tsp                            baking powder

Strawberry Filling:
2 cups                         frozen or fresh strawberries
2 tbsp                          chia seeds
1 tbsp                          lemon juice


Strawberry Filling:

  • Put strawberries into a saucepan over medium heat
  • Soften for about 5 minutes, then smash with a potato masher or wooden spoon
  • Once mashed strawberries reach your desired consistency and being to bubble, then remove from heat
  • Stir-in chia seeds and lemon juice
  • Cool for about 30 minutes. The chia seeds will thicken the strawberries and create a jam-like consistency.


  • Preheat oven to 350-degrees
  • Prepare an 8×8 baking dish with either parchment or non-stick spray/butter
  • In a large bowl, mix together butter, oats, flour, brown sugar and baking powder. Once incorporated, the ingredients will be crumbly and slightly moist
  • Spoon just over half of the mixture into the 8×8 pan and press down firmly
  • Spread 1 cup (8oz) of strawberry jam over the pressed bar base
  • Sprinkle remaining mixture from the bowl over the jam layer. Press down lightly, but don’t push through to the jam layer
  • Bake for 35 minutes in a 350-degree oven
  • Remove and let cool about 15 minutes
  • Crumble about 1/8 of the recipe into a bowl. Top with your favorite milk.


Store uneaten bars in the refrigerator. 

When ready to eat more, you can crumble directly into a bowl or over yogurt.

In cooler weather, you can microwave the strawberry crisp cereal for 30 seconds. Then, pour milk over it for a dessert-like treat.

Keywords: Strawberry, Oatmeal, Breakfast, Chia

Hearty Lentil Bolognese: My New Cozy Comfort Food Recipe

Hearty Lentil Bolognese: My New Cozy Comfort Food Recipe

Ah, comfort food. The perfect companion to cold weather, stress, and our monthly cycles. (yup, I went there) When I was eating meat, bolognese was one of my favorite things to order at a restaurant. Talk about warm, delicious depth of flavor. Now that I’m plant-based, I’ve discovered that lentils can give you a similar savory indulgence. Hence, this deliciously easy lentil bolognese recipe.

When I first stopped eating meat, I wanted to make sure that I got enough protein in my diet. Lentils were a key item to increase in my diet. On nights I made spaghetti and meatballs for my family, I cooked-up some lentils on the side and added them to my marinara sauce. OMG… I was blown away by the savory goodness lentils can bring to pasta sauce.

Healthy Ingredients Make Lentil Bolognese Extra Special

Why lentils? They’re nutritional powerhouses with a host of benefits:

  • Protein – Lentils are one of the highest protein beans (second only to soy).
  • Fiber – a serving of lentils gives you a whopping 35% of your RDA of fiber.
  • Micronutrients – with high levels of potassium, iron, and folate, lentils have some phenomenal nutrients… especially for women.

The great thing about this lentil bolognese recipe is that every ingredient has purposeful, nutrient-dense properties.

  • Canned San Marzano Tomatoes – one of the healthiest varieties you can choose. Perfect for winter recipes when fresh tomatoes are not an option.⁠ You can get these at nearly any grocery store. I figure if you’re going to do canned, you might as well get the best… especially with a tomato-based sauce.
  • Caramelized Onions & Garlic – super good for your gut health and immune system. By caramelizing them in olive oil at the beginning of the recipe, you get an extra sweet & rich flavor profile.⁠
  • Oregano – a wonderfully healthy herb that is an antibacterial agent, full of antioxidants and valuable phytonutrients. I use dried in the cooking process and then garnish with fresh from my garden.⁠
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Photo of lentil bolognese on a white plate

Easy Lentil Bolognese: My New Cozy Comfort Food Recipe

  • Author: Nichole Banducci
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 35
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings
  • Diet: Vegan



  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils, thoroughly rinsed and picked through
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water



  • Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add onion and cook until translucent, making sure to not burn it.
  • Add garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes, cook until the garlic softens, stirring frequently.
  • Add lentils, tomatoes, and water. Stir to combine.
  • Increase heat and bring the sauce to a rapid boil. Then, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
  • Serve over pasta, or scoop onto crostini and eat like warm bruschetta


  • For my Vegan friends out there… I even used Vegan parm in my version. Yum)⁠
  • You can cook the sauce in just one pot. Comes together in about 35 minutes.⁠
  • If you have meat-lovers in your family, you can easily substitute ground beef in the recipe. I’d add it right after the onions and garlic are caramelized.⁠
  • If you have both plant-based and meat-eaters, make the sauce without the lentils. Cook the lentils and meat separately and then add to the sauce for each person. (I’d rather take an extra step to adjust to folks’ desires vs. make food a drama point in our day.)⁠
Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Salad

Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Salad

Looking for a fall or Thanksgiving side dish that goes beyond the ordinary? This Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Salad will fit the bill. It dishes-up a perfect balance of roasted fall comfort, with a tart cranberry vinaigrette.

As a bonus, it is served a room temperature, so it doesn’t add complexity to meal prep. (a winner in my books) Plus, since it is so unique, it doesn’t have to ‘de-throne’ any other family favorite recipes at the table.

My mom got this family-favorite recipe from a Chef Jose Sanchez. It is my FAVORITE part of the Thanksgiving table, so I will be eternally grateful to him!

This dish is also fantastic beyond Thanksgiving. In fact, after I made the recipe for this post, I stored the extra in the fridge and enjoyed it as a lunch salad for several days. Roasted butternut squash pairs extremely well with meat, but is also fantastic piled on-top of baby arugula.

(Note – if cutting into a butternut squash sends you into kitchen chaos, check out this post by the Minimalist Baker.)

Recipe Highlights

  • You’ll want to cube the squash, apples and onions first thing. Get them in the oven so you can work on the other elements.
  • Next, start the cranberry syrup, which will simmer down in the background (keep an eye on it, but you don’t have to stir constantly if it’s at the right temperature)
  • Chopping the toasted pecans and herbs will be an olfactory delight… I think I could do that forever! So basically, I’m encouraging you to enjoy 🙂
  • Once the roasted squash & friends are out of the oven and cooled-down to room temperature, you can toss all the ingredients together and enjoy right away. If you haven’t tried roasted squash, apples or onions together, give-it-a-go before mixing-in the other ingredients. The combination is really incredible and unique.
  • BONUS… try dipping a whole pecan or a chunk of Manchego into the cooled cranberry syrup. YUM!
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Ready to take a delicious bite of Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Salad

Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Salad

  • Author: Nichole Banducci
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 45
  • Total Time: 1 hour


You’ve gotta try this perfect, unexpected fall / winter salad. It’s a family favorite at Thanksgiving, but honestly… I can sit down with a plate of it at any time. Roasted squash, onions and apples provide a uniquely delicious base. Highlighted by tart cranberries, crunchy pecans and salty/sweet manchego cheese. The best part? You can make it ahead and serve it room temperature. Of course, it’s also delicious straight from the fridge.

Recipe Credit: Chef Jose Sanchez, who graciously shared the recipe with my mom.


  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 4 fuji apples, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup manchego cheese, diced
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for roasting squash, onion, and apples
  • 1 tsp chopped sage
  • 1 tsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon and nutmeg)
  • salt & pepper

Plus… Cranberry Syrup

  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp sugar


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a baking pan, toss the first three ingredients with the olive oil and pumpkin pie spice. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45-60 minutes till the squash is barely fork tender, but not mushy.
  • Let the roasted ingredients cool before adding other ingredients
  • Add the cooled roasted ingredients, plus chopped pecans, cranberries, manchego cheese, sage, and parsley to a large serving bowl
  • Drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of the cranberry syrup (see below) and stir to incorporate
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Place cranberry juice, red wine and sugar in a small sauce pan and reduce on medium heat to a syrup consistency. (You’ll end up with about 1/4 cup of syrup.)


You can serve the salad right away, or store in the refrigerator for up to three days. Longer than that, the manchego cheese starts to break down and the salad loses it’s complexity.

The recipe gives you about 2 tbsp of extra cranberry syrup. This is GOLD in a margarita or a glass of bubbly during the holidays.

Here are a few other of my favorite recipes for fall:
My new Healthy Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte
The Best Baked Pumpkin Seeds