Christa González

healthy recipes & support for breastfeeding success

Be inspired by the bowl.

Do you ever think about something so much, you convince yourself you’ve already done it? The letter to an old friend that’s been written in your head a million times, the reorganizing project or the recipe you’ve kept open in your browser for so long with the intention of getting the ingredients and not letting them compost in your veggie drawer…. Scheming this blog post has been like that for me, I had it written in my head for weeks before the holidays, and I had notes for the recipe scribbled in spots around the house and in the car.   (Going into labor for some friends was like that, they had thought it through every which way and dreamed about it so many times, that in some ways they felt they had already lived it!)


So my apologies, this post is a long time coming, and turned into quite a long post.

But here I am, and here we go. I want to give you a recipe that’s more of a framework. It can be a jumping off point, take what you like from it and keep it simple, or make a boatload of this very recipe and stay satiated, healthy, and excited about the next meal with this Barley Bowl of Veggies with two dressings.

Finished Barley Bowl of Veggies, Sesame dressing on the side

Finished Barley Bowl of Veggies, Sesame dressing on the side

I admit, when I was making the recipe, it ended up being more steps than I intended so I also have several notes on shortcuts. It reminded me of when my parents came here to wait for the arrival of our second child. Our first had come a few days early, so they came a week before the due date to help us prep and be ready for anything. Well, every birth is different, every child is different and we learned that the hard way when the second time around, I had to be induced, TEN days past his due date and my poor sweet parents met their second grandchild on the day their flight went back to the East Coast.   But they filled their time waiting by cooking amazing food for us, which they love to do. Being big fans of Cook’s Illustrated, they handed me an issue of the magazine, it might have been a “Best Of” issue and said pick something you want and we’ll make it. I picked this roasted vegetable torta, which had I known it was about 20 steps of roasting and combining and baking for long hours…. In July, in the heat of their airbnb kitchen…. I would have chosen something a little less involved!   But it was delicious and I love them for it, among other things.


So back to the Barley Bowl of Inspiration. The ingredient list is full of healthy choices for anyone, but especially if you’re breastfeeding and I want to share some of those tidbits to guide your choices (below, after the recipe). I should also say here as a friendly reminder, that as a trained and certified Lactation Counselor, if you’re looking to increase milk supply or ease letdown, the most important thing is to increase demand. Your supply will go up within 24-48 hours if you increase the frequency and duration of nursing, at the breast. If you don’t see that happening, it’s time to see a lactation specialist or a lactation consultant (IBCLC). These foods are supportive but won’t do anything if you’re not telling your body through the feedback of the baby’s demand that it needs to make more milk. Breastfeed more.


I hope you’ll take this recipe as a springboard and make it your own. It also keeps well in the fridge so make a giant bowl on the weekend and have it for lunch all week. Filling, beautiful to look at, complex flavors to taste – Bon Appetit and Buen Provecho!

Be inspired by the bowl.


Barley Bowl of Inspiration

Barley Bowl of Inspiration

Finished Barley Bowl of Veggies, Sesame dressing on the side


  • 1 1/2 cups barley
  • 4 or 5 medium beets, rinsed and scrubbed but not peeled
  • 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans/chick peas
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds, optional
    For the Fennel
  • 1 head of fennel, sliced thin
  • many Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • splash of white wine (1/4 cup to that last bit in the bottle that's in the fridge)
    For the Kale
  • 1 bunch of kale of your choice, I like the purple-tinged frilly leaves and big lacinato
  • juice and zest from one lemon
  • olive oil
    For the Tahini Dressing (adapted from Food52's winning recipe)
  • 1/2 cup tahini (I used Trader Joe's tahini dressing, which already has lemon in it. very zippy and light)
  • 2 Tbsps water (if you use the jarred pure tahini, not Trader Joe's refrigerated kind, you may need as much as 1/2 cup of water added.)
  • 2 Tablespoons (or more) toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated
    For the Orange Pomegranate Vinaigrette from Rebecca Katz's recipe
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon of Pomegranate Molasses (can substitute balsamic if you're not chasing down pom molasses!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


  1. Cook barley
  2. Bring 4 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add barley and cook for 55 minutes.
  3. This cooks barley well but not too much that it's exploding.
  4. You'll need to drain it in a sieve before you put it in your big bowl to build the rest of the salad.
  5. You can choose to save the drained water, if you're up for adding it to smoothies or tea, barley water is a galactagogue that goes back 2000 years to the Greeks!
  6. Roast beets
  7. While barley is cooking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse and scrub, but don't peel the beets. Rub them all over with olive oil. Perky little guys with their pokey heads.
  8. Cover with foil and roast for about 45 minutes, until you can poke with a sharp knife.
  9. When cool enough to handle, peel them with said sharp knife by just making a few slits on the skin and then rubbing it off. It should come easily.
  10. Braise fennel
  11. Lightly brown the sliced fennel in a good glug of olive oil for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add thyme, bay leaf and splash of vino.
  12. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer for 12-15 minutes, with a stir here and there.
  13. Drain the liquid or toss it in with the barley.
  14. Kale, pretty standard really
  15. Once you've chopped the kale into manageable ribbons, toss it with the juice and zest of one lemon and about 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Now put down the knife and spoon and get in there with your hands and rub the leaves around with your finger tips.
  16. Tahini Dressing
  17. Put it all in a small blender and blend. In a pinch, you could put this all in a mason jar (having chopped and minced the garlic and ginger) and shake vigorously.
  18. Orange Pomegranate Vinaigrette (from one of my favorite cookbook authors Rebecca Katz)
  19. This you can definitely throw all in a jar and shake, and Ta-Dah Done!
  20. Assemble
  21. Put all your prepared ingredients together in one bowl, beets sliced or diced, kale massaged, braised fennel, and rinsed garbanzos, without the dressing.
  22. Stir to combine.
  23. Then add all of the Orange Pomegranate dressing and stir to coat.
  24. Sprinkle with sesame seeds for a little extra nutty touch.
  25. Serve with Tahini Dressing on the side, for each to serve on their own. The salad is good with just one dressing or the other, but the contrast is delightful and makes this salad have an addictive complexity to it.


Barley. Fennel. Beets. Kale. Garbanzos. Sesame Tahini. The nitty gritty on why I chose these ingredients (aka what was written on the post-it notes all over my life for several weeks).

Barley is a whole grain that is not as popular here as in other parts of the world but is a strong breastfeeding support food. You can freeze extra grains, you can add it to oatmeal or serve it instead of brown rice. It’s chewy and nutty and satiating. The way I make it also provides a little extra barley water that can be a great boost for mom to drink to boost milk supply.   Barley is the key ingredient in beer that makes people recommend drinking a Guinness for milk production! (When I shared a bite of this with a neighbor, he said, “no wonder I like it!”)


Fennel. Eating whole real food is so important, and I would rather make something tasty than pop pills of unknown origins with purported benefits.   This bulb is another famous breastfeeding support food, it doesn’t actually help increase supply but can help with letdown, which is especially good for moms who have started pumping away from baby. But it’s strong licorice flavor makes some people shy away, myself included. Until I braised it in a little water, white wine with sprigs of thyme and fennel seeds just for added zing. It mellows the flavor to something sweet and innocuous. (Thank you, Alice Waters, of course.) But it’s a great flavor, and one of my shortcuts for this recipe is to throw in everything raw, for a crunchier, zingier bowl. Slivers of fennel provide good crunch and flavor contrast to the rest of the veggies.


Beets. I love beets! It’s one of the things I grow in the backyard and often I have them in my fridge already steamed and ready to go, thank you Trader Joe’s for that SHORTCUT #2!

Beets do so much, for blood flow, loaded with iron, vitamins and minerals…….. Iron (MobiMotherhood reference) Shortcut #3 if you’re going for the raw version of this bowl, just grate the beets on the coarse side of a cheese grater. Stains, yes, but beautiful.


Tahini Dressing

Sesame seeds have calcium !! Did you know that? Full of calcium, potent calcium for bones and absorption of other vitamins. In Asia, sesame seeds are the go-to galactagogue, I love learning about other cultures’ food and nutrition knowledge.   In Asia, they more frequently use the larger black sesame seed but I prefer the taste and digestibility of our more common pale sesame seed. If you take nothing more from this blog post, the Tahini Dressing could be your new favorite for everything – grilled meat, veggies, salads, any cooked grains. Really, it’s SO good.


Kale. So maybe you already know and love kale, or you’re looking for a little revitalization to the kale routine.   Kale massaged with lemon zest, salt and olive oil, combined with the rest of these ingredients mellows it into something so far from its fibrous, gnarly-to-chew, health nut salad, you’ll fall in love with it (again.)


Chickpeas. Which are really not peas at all, but legumes!

For more on combining galactagogues and research behind effectiveness, good information can be found here. I have nothing to do with this particular website, just found it informative and backed by science.

Chickpeas are great for fiber and protein and I’ll probably do another post on them later. Throw them into any soup or salad for a nutrient boost.


Pomegranate Orange dressing

This is for contrast and to encourage you to try a new dressing. Zingy, sweet and tart, this Pomegranate dressing does require an unusual ingredient – Pomegranate Molasses – found in the Middle Eastern section of grocery stores or specialty food stores. I think you’ll like it. If you can’t find it, substitute some good homemade balsamic vinaigrette.


If you need to plan things in stages, say to do part of this at naptime in the morning and then pull it together at dinner time, here are some ways to break up the recipe.

Things to do ahead:

Roast Beets

Cook Barley

Make Dressings


Or cut out several steps and make this more of a raw salad:

Grate raw beets on large holes of cheese grater. Toss in with cooked barley.

Slice extra thin slivers of fennel and toss in with cooked barley. (You’ll definitely taste the licorice-anise flavor of fennel if you go this route.)

Don’t massage the kale, just cut it and throw it in to the rest of the salad.

You’re still reading?!  You’re still here?!     THANK YOU!!   Blogging is so new to me, and I clearly have a lot to learn about food photography and wordpress and recipe card uploading, so thank you for your patience and for your visit.  Please let me know what you think of this recipe and I’ll be back soon to share more.

1 Comment

  1. Looks delicious! Hope you’ll make it for us during our next visit – love, Mom!

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