recipe: barley risotto

17 Jul

Do you read Smitten Kitchen? If not, you should. Well, maybe you should. Sometimes it features totally decadent recipes that are nearly irresistible.

But Deb, the blogger at SK, also posts some great healthier food. She has a light hand with vegetables. I recently made her Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens. It was pretty darn good, although it’s not going to be what you’re after if you love real risotto made with arborio rice–it has a much firmer texture. It’s delicious in its own right, though.

I have also made a risotto-style dish using steel-cut oats, and that was good, too. You’ll probably like these better if you can think of them more as a sort of savory porridge than as a substitute for traditional risotto. I highly recommend that you try Deb’s recipe–the beans and the greens are great–but I have also included, for your lazier moments, a very basic process for making risotto, whether with barley, oats, or the traditional arborio rice. (I’m told brown rice can make a nice dish too–but I haven’t tried preparing that this way.)

Grain “Risotto”

1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 to 1.5 cups pearled barley or steel-cut oats, or arborio rice for traditional risotto
8 cups of low-sodium stock (or water; you can add spices if you would rather flavor the risotto that way than with stock)
grated Parmesan cheese (or similar type), if desired

Cook the onion in the oil. At the same time, heat the stock or water in a separate pot.

When the onion is softened, stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the barley or oats. Cook and stir until the grain starts to smell a bit toasty. Add a ladleful or two of the stock. Stir. Cook until the water is all absorbed, then add another ladleful or two. Repeat, adding liquid whenever it’s absorbed, until the grains are tender (they’ll still retain some chewiness). If you use arborio rice, it will probably take a bit less stock.

Stir in the cheese or sprinkle it on top and serve. You can stir in almost anything you want here: chopped tomatoes or cherry tomatoes; green vegetables, lightly steamed; herbs of any kind; pesto; even meat (a little bacon in with the onions at the beginning is lovely and it only takes a strip to season your whole pot of grains). With barley or oats, this is a very filling whole-grain side dish. I like it the next morning with a poached egg, but that’s just me.

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