Herby Italian Barley Salad | Ambitious Kitchen

Cheers to summer filled with flavorful pasta salads that keep everyone coming back for seconds. I think pasta salads can get a bad rap for being gloppy and a little tasteless, so it has been my mission over the past few years to bring you fresh, beautiful, flavorful pasta salads that you can feel good about eating (and serving to guests !)

This herby Italian barley salad is a delicious pasta take on my Italian Chopped Brussels Sprouts Salad, which just so happens to be one of the most popular salad recipes on Ambitious Kitchen. One bite and you’ll truly be hooked – at least Abra and I were when we made it a few weeks back. This barley salad has everything you could ever want: fresh herbs and veggies, tender barley pasta, salty feta cheese, and plenty of savory elements from olives and pepperoncini.

Okay, anyone else drooling just thinking about this combo ?? Same.

The barley salad is tossed in a light Italian dressing made with super simple ingredients and the flavors tie everything together so beautifully. Like most pasta salads, this one keeps in the fridge for days so you can easily make it ahead of time for a party or store leftovers for meal prep. Get this one on your summer menu ASAP!

Ingredients in this Italian barley salad

This gorgeous, herby Italian barley salad is all about the delicious mix-ins. We’re packing in fresh veggies, plus lots of fun additions like pepperoncini and olives! Here’s what you’ll need to make it:

  • Barley: the base of this pasta salad is barley! I love the little pasta shape and how easy it is to scoop it up with the rest of the ingredients.
  • Veggies: we’re loading this barley salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red bell pepper and red onion.
  • Mix-ins: here’s where the salad gets extra delicious. You’ll mix in kalamata and green olives, pepperoncini and crumbled feta cheese for salty, savory goodness.
  • Herbs: basil and parsley give this barley salad a wonderful freshness. Don’t skip them!
  • For the dressing: we’re making a light Italian dressing with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic, dijon mustard, dried oregano, salt and pepper.

Italian barley pasta salad in bowl

Wait, what are pepperoncini?

Although “pepperoncini” sounds like a mini pepperoni, it’s actually a type of pepper. Pepperoncini are yellow-green and look similar to banana peppers, but are thinner and often a bit spicier. You can usually find them jarred near olives at the grocery store! If you’re sensitive to spice or aren’t a fan of banana peppers, feel free to omit the pepperoncini in this recipe.

pouring dressing into an Italian barley salad

Easy ways to customize

You can absolutely mix and match ingredients to make this Italian barley salad your own! Here are some recommendations:

  • Choose your pasta: I love using barley for this recipe but pearl couscous, bowties, or even fusilli would be great. If you want to get real wild toss everything with your fav tortellini!
  • Have fun with mix-ins: you can really get creative with the veggies and mix-ins here. Black olives, artichokes hearts, salami, cubed provolone, shaved parmesan, or even mozzarella pearls.
  • Add a boost of protein: this barley salad would be delicious with grilled chicken, chickpeas or white beans!
  • Go gluten free: simply use your favorite gluten free barley or pasta shape to keep the entire recipe gluten free.

vegetarian barley salad in a bowl with wooden spoons

Two ways to cook barley

We’ve established that barley is a variety of pasta, not rice, but you can actually cook it both ways!

  • The pasta method: I typically cook barley using this traditional pasta method. You’ll boil a large pot of water, add a pinch of salt, stir in barley, and cook until al dente about 6-8 minutes. Once barley is done cooking, drain it and set it aside in the colander.
  • The rice method: You can also cook it the same way you cook rice. In a pot bring the barley and double the amount of water to a boil, lower the heat, cover your pot, and let the barley simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed.
  • herby Italian barley salad in two bowls

    Make this barley salad ahead of time

    Probably what I love most about pasta salads is that they’re SO easy to prep ahead of time! A few days ahead of time you can either:

  • Chop up all of your veggies, cook your pasta and make your dressing, then store everything in separate containers in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble it.
  • OR make the whole Italian barley salad ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to enjoy it!
  • easy Italian barley salad in a bowl

    Storing tips

    Store any leftover Italian barley salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Enjoy straight from the fridge!

    More salad recipes you’ll love

    Get all of my salad recipes here!

    I hope you love this herby Italian barley salad! If you make it be sure to leave a comment and a rating so I know how you liked it. Enjoy, xo!

    Herby Olive Italian Barley Salad

    Beautiful herby Italian barley salad filled with crunchy veggies, savory olives and delicious feta crumbles. Everything gets tossed in a light homemade Italian dressing for the perfect summer lunch or dinner that’s easy to customize. Bring this fresh Italian barley salad to your next BBQ!

    • For the dressing:

    • 1/4 cup olive oil

    • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

    • 1 clove garlic, finely minced

    • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard

    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano

    • ½ teaspoon salt

    • Freshly ground black pepper

    • For the salad:

    • 10 ounces barley

    • 1 1/2 cups halved cherry or grape tomatoes (we love heirloom cherry tomatoes)

    • 2 persian cucumbers, sliced ​​and quartered (or 1 cucumber, sliced ​​and quartered)

    • 1 red bell pepper, diced

    • 1/2 cup pitted chopped or sliced ​​kalamata

    • 1/2 cup pitted chopped or sliced ​​green olives

    • 1/3 cup sliced ​​pepperoncinis

    • 1/4 cup thinly sliced ​​red onion

    • ½ cup made crumbles

    • ⅓ cup chopped fresh basil

    • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

  • First make the dressing: whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, dijon, oregano and salt and pepper in a small bowl until well combined. You can also add them all to a mason jar, add the lid and then shake until well combined.

  • Next cook your pasta until al dente according to the directions on the package. Once done cooking, drain and add to a large bowl.

  • Add the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, kalamata olives, green olives, pepperoncinis, red onion, feta, basil and parsley to the bowl with the pasta. Pour dressing over the top and toss together until combined. Serve and enjoy!

  • For extra protein, feel free to add grilled chicken, chickpeas or white beans to the salad.


    Servings: 6 servings

    Serving size: 1 serving (based on 6)

    Calories: 359kcal

    Fat: 18.3g

    Saturated fat: 3.8g

    Carbohydrates: 41.6g

    Fiber: 3.6g

    Sugar: 3.3g

    Protein: 8.9g

    Recipe by: Monique Volz // Ambitious Kitchen | Photography by: Eat Love Eats

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