New Ingredient Week 1: Barley

I enjoy cooking. The methodical process of chopping ingredients is relaxing. Recipes are simultaneously math problems and chemistry experiments. (For example, one time the garlic in my pasta dish turned blue when I added lemon juice. What chemical reaction caused this remains a mystery. Thankfully, my dear friend was still brave enough to eat the pasta, and no one got sick.) I enjoy the medley of colors in a salad or a stir fry. The best part, of course, is serving others and watching loved ones’ plates empty.

But sometimes I get lazy. The thought of dirty pots and pans strewn around the kitchen–and the clean up that entails–causes me to open the freezer and grab a veggie burger. They involve only one plate and are ready to eat in ninety seconds.

And sometimes I get bored. Nothing in the pantry sounds appealing. So I end up going out to eat.

I am going to combat my laziness and cooking doldrums with an experiment. Each week, I am going to choose an ingredient that I’ve never cooked with (or use an ingredient in a non-traditional way) and prepare a dish with that ingredient. Although you readers can’t taste the results, I will share the recipe with you here.

The first ingredient is barley. When I chose this, I was actually looking for millet, but my little grocery store didn’t carry it. In the organic section, I found a bag of pearled barley and tossed that in my cart instead, uncertain what exactly I would do with it.

Barley seems like a fairly ordinary ingredient, but it’s never made an appearance in my own kitchen. What to do with this newcomer? After Googling several recipes, I settled on a risotto. Creamy risotto is traditionally made with arborio rice, and I liked the idea of putting a new spin on this tasty comfort food.

I combined two recipes: Smitten Kitchen’s Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens and this Barley Risotto Recipe on Mark Bittman’s site.

I apologize for the lack of photos. The lighting in my kitchen is often bad, and my food photos frequently come out looking decidedly unappetizing. Also, I often gobble down my dishes before thinking to snap a photo. I promise to work on these issues.

mushrooms ii

Barley Risotto

Serves 4

  • 12 oz. mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Wash the mushrooms, pat them dry, and slice them.
  2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook until the mushrooms are browned and soft, about eight minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Add the barley, garlic and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine, stirring until absorbed, about one minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions, until the barley is creamy and al dente. This will take between 35 and 45 minutes.
  5. Stir in the mushrooms and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at once, topping each serving with a few shavings of cheese.

The verdict? I thought it was extremely delicious. Jesse cleaned his plate, but he felt arborio rice results in a creamier risotto.

Be forewarned: making risotto is a labor intensive process. Your arm will get a workout from all the stirring. I usually make risotto on a weekend evening when I have lots of time on my hands. While stirring the barley, I listened to music and sipped a glass of wine, and I was quite content.

Questions of the Day: Do you enjoy cooking, or do you avoid spending time in the kitchen? How do you combat cooking boredom?

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2 thoughts on “New Ingredient Week 1: Barley

  1. Wasn’t it me who at the blue pasta? I think I remember that!

    I really, really, really should call or email you, it feels like it’s been ages… hopefully tonight.

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