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Yogurt Barley Soup with Cilantro Walnut Pesto

1 cup pearl barley
4 cups water or broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely minced onion
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1 cup plain yogurt (Greek-style okay), at room temperature
Black pepper to taste

Cilantro-Walnut Pesto:
1 cup California walnuts
1/2 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1 cup firmly packed cilantro (leaves and smaller stems)
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Optional Additional Toppings:
Minced fresh mint
Chopped California walnuts
For The Soup:
Combine the barley, water, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a medium-large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the barley is tender – about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a medium-sized skillet over medium heat and wait about a minute, then add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the onion and cumin and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent. Add the garlic and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and continue to sauté until the onion becomes very soft – about another 5 to 8 minutes.
When steps 1 and 2 are done, add the sautéed mixture to the barley mixture, and simmer them together, covered, over lowest possible heat, for about 10 minutes – to meld the flavors.
Stir and/or whisk the room-temperature yogurt into the hot soup until it blends in completely. Season to taste with black pepper, and serve right away, with a heaping teaspoon (or more) of the pesto added to each serving. If desired, you can also top with scatterings of fresh mint and minced walnuts.
For the Cilantro-Walnut Pesto:
Place the walnuts in a blender or the small bowl of a food processor, and grind to a coarse meal.
Add the garlic, cilantro, and salt, and continue to run the machine until it becomes a uniform green paste (some light walnut texture is fine).
Run the machine while you drizzle in the oil. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid, and refrigerate until use.
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