Velvety and nutty textured this is the comfort that the creeping of Autumn is calling for. It’s deeply savory, it’s salty and it’s brightened with parsley and a breath of lemon juice. Let’s give rice a run for it’s money!
Pearl barley. It used to be an old world something food that Grandma’s put in their stews, now it has a new lease of life as the star of the show. Salads are built around it (particularly good with grilled chicken, plums and basil), it’s soaked with flavour giving stock and stuffed into delicious things. It makes a great sweet dessert (more on that later) and it’s a beautiful rice substitute.
Here, it is used exactly the same way you would for a normal risotto, except it is way less needy than rice. It doesn’t need to be constantly stirred to give up a silky result. As long as you’re on watch as the cooking time draws to a close, so you don’t add too much liquid, you’ll be left with a risotto that falls from the spoon the way it should.
This makes enough for two of us for dinner
12g (ish) dried mushrooms – I had shiitake to hand
1 medium/large onion, diced quite small
250g pearl barley
800ml chicken/mushroom/vegetable stock – I used one Kallo chicken and one Kallo mushroom stock cube
150g portobello mushrooms
350g chestnut mushrrooms
ground black pepper
1 garlic clove minced/crushed/chopped
handful of chopped parsley
1-2 tsp lemon juice
handful of finely grated parmesan/grana padano
Pop the dried mushrooms into a bowl and cover them with boiling water.
Into a deep saucepan add the butter and the onions on low. Cook until the mushrooms begin to go translucent but not brown.
Have the stock/s to hand. Tip in the pearl barley and stir to coat the grains with the butter. They will catch on the bottom of the pan as they absorb the butter, they don’t ‘fry’ in it, so once they’re coated pop in the stock and bring to a boil then turn to medium/low.
While this is bubbling away slice up your mushrooms and put them into a separate pan with the butter, pepper and garlic. Let the mushrooms cook and begin to wilt, they’ll give up quite a bit of water. Boil off most of this water but not all of it. This is concentrated mushroom stock, it is delicious savory flavour, it is UMAMI!
Turn the heat off under the mushrooms. Slap on a lid and they can just wait their turn.
Pour the dried mushrooms and all their liquid into the barley.
Check the barley, it should be approaching al dente. Nutty chewiness is good, a raw snap is not. If it’s approaching the delicious chewy stage but still has lots of water left, whack up the heat to boil it off but stir occasionally to prevent burning. Don’t worry, barley is resilient. On the flip side, if it’s not ready yet but seems to be drying out – add more water or stock. (If using stock cubes don’t add more than two! Just add more water or it will be too salty.. yes, there is such a thing as too much salt).
When it’s ready turn off the heat. Add the cooked mushrooms and all their ‘resting juice’. Add in the parmesan, parsley and lemon. Mix it through. Taste it to see if it needs any seasoning adjustment.
Like a risotto, slap on the lid and let it sit for five minutes. I’m sure you can find something else to do for that time. Toss the salad, soak the dishes, make sure everyone has
wine cutlery or just go feed the cat.
Dish up and devour. Salad goes really well, but so do wilted greens with a little lemon juice. Savoy cabbage, broccoli.. whatever you fancy or have to hand.
Leftovers are also really good cold, eaten from a bowl with a spoon. Just gonna put that out there..