In my quest for trying out a greater variety of wholegrains, I tried making risotto last night with pearl barley rather than white rice. Now, don’t let this put you off, but it was definitely a chewfest. If you’ve ever had pearl barley before, it was most likely in a soup mix, where you’d come across the grain every now and then, savouring the satisfying chewiness and bite in the middle. That’s not to say cooked barley is hard (to make or to eat), but do be prepared for a lot of jaw action.
Apart from the amount of chewing required (if that has put you off, at least try half barley and half rice or something), the flavour was amaaazing. I threw in roasted red peppers, kale and lemon zest, and these didn’t just make the risotto look more colourful and appealing, they were a great match, especially the lemon zest, which made the flavour a little fresher by cutting the richness of the cheesy buttery addition at the end. I loved the fact that the kale stayed together and provided a nice crunchy texture alongside the silky barley and soft peppers. The barley also made this a lot more rich in flavour, like I had added a glug of wine (even though I didn’t). Another pleasant surprise was that the barley didn’t take as long as I thought it would to cook. I didn’t keep a timer on it, but it didn’t feel like I was stirring any longer than I would for rice. By the way, barley puffs up to be about three times its original size. So, don’t scorn the tiny amount of barley required.
Barley risotto with red peppers, kale and lemon zest
- cooking oil
- 1 large onion
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- a few sprigs fresh thyme (de-sprigged) or 1/4 tsp dried thyme, chopped
- just under a cup of uncooked, unsoaked pearl barley
- 2-3c best vegetable stock, kept hot on an element on lowest heat setting.
- 2 packed cups chopped kale (stalks cut thinner than leaves)
- 2 red peppers, cut into 2.5cm (1″) squares
- 1/2c freshly grated parmesan
- 2 Tbs butter
- zest of one lemon
- freshly ground black pepper
- oil and butter for cooking
Oil a small roasting dish, add red peppers and brush with more oil. Arrange peppers on a single layer. Place on the bottom rack of your oven, whack the heat up to 200C and roast for about 10 minutes until the skins have started to blacken in spots. Once cooked, set aside.
Meanwhile, heat about 3 Tbs oil and a little butter on medium low heat, add onions and cook, stirring every now and then until lightly browned. Add garlic, stir and cook until garlic goes slightly golden. Add barley,turn up heat to medium high and cook about a minute, stirring. Add a ladleful of stock and the thyme and poke around the gunk at the bottom to dislodge. Add another ladleful of stock until the barley is mostly immersed in liquid, but you don’t want things to float. Stir constantly. Repeat this process until the barley is firm to the bite but chewy rather than hard. Taste every now and then – if it’s just about salty enough, stop adding stock and start adding boiling water. Add kale once barley is cooked, continue stirring and adding stock if required. Once kale is cooked to your liking, add roasted red peppers and stir through. Turn off heat, roughly stir through the parmesan and butter, and cover, letting it bubble away for 2-3 minutes. Uncover, stir to distribute the cheese evenly. Scatter lemon zest in and stir through. Grind over some pepper and serve hot (I like to keep some bowls in the oven after the peppers are out so the cold bowls don’t steal lots of heat.