If you’re a foodie, you’ve likely already tried barley risotto — but if not, I highly recommend it. A more-nutritious cousin to regular Arborio rice risotto (barley has three times more fiber than white rice and is packed with vitamins and minerals), barley risotto is easy to make and easy to modify with whatever you have in your kitchen. We ran a recipe for it when I was an editor for Natural Home & Garden magazine a few years ago, but you can make this dish with a huge variety of ingredients. Since we first tried it a few months ago, my husband and I make it at least once a week — if not more!
Because I’ve been raving about it to our staff, I thought I’d share the basic recipe with you.
Start by mincing some crushed garlic (did you know you’ll get more health benefits from cooked garlic if you crush it and let it sit for 15 minutes before cooking?) and dicing some onions (one large onion will do).
Throw a couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil into a pan (I like cast-iron) over medium-high heat. When it’s warm, add your onions and garlic and sauté until fragrant.
If you’re familiar with cooking risotto, you know that you start with a dried grain, then continuously add liquid, letting it boil down, then adding more, which cooks and puffs the grain, giving you a creamy consistency. For your liquid in this recipe, you can use low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, boiled bouillon, or just water. If you’re going to use boiled bouillon, prepare it as you are sautéing your onions and garlic.
When your garlic and onions are fragrant, add your barley to the pan (I use about a cup of barley for two servings — often with some leftovers) and toast it for a few minutes until it starts to just slightly brown. Then add about a cup of liquid. Stir frequently as your barley cooks, and when you can clear a space in the barley and see no liquid, add more.
When your barley is cooked to the texture you desire (I like it with some tooth), add about a cup of grated cheese — traditionally, you would use Parmesan (and I normally do), but I’ve also made a “barley mac-and-cheese” version with broccoli and smoked cheddar, and many kinds of cheese work fine. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. I almost always also add diced fresh rosemary.
We add all sorts of things to the barley risotto. It can be easier to prepare your additions in a second pan, but you can also add them to the barley mix as it’s steam-cooking (especially for something like broccoli). A mix of mushrooms sautéed in butter and garlic makes a fabulous addition. Diced sweet potatoes, added about halfway through the barley cooking time, makes for a hearty winter dish. We’ve also added delicious chicken meatballs from Aidells (made with chicken and turkey raised humanely on independent farms) to bring in some additional protein — Aidells Caramelized Onion meatballs and sautéed Brussels sprouts is a delicious combination.
Try your own variation of this recipe, and let me know what you come up with!
Photo By Fotolia/Marco Mayer