Lately I’ve been trying to incorporate some new foods into my diet, mainly in place of other items that have less nutritional value. First up was quinoa, which looks a lot like a grain and is cooked similarly but is actually the seed of a plant that is related to leafy green veggies like spinach. I’d seen a ton of recipes floating around the web incorporating quinoa that I couldn’t wait to try, but first I cooked it simply in a saucepan on my stove-top. Unfortunately, when I took my first bite, I hated it (sorry to be brutally honest). I can’t even put my finger on what bothered me (I rinsed my quinoa, but it definitely still tasted bitter to me though that doesn’t entirely describe the problem), but I knew this wasn’t a food I could grow to like, no matter how I prepared it. Nutrition is nice, but if something doesn’t taste good, I’m not going to eat it.
Undeterred, I moved on to pearl barley. I really enjoy risotto and I’d seen quite a few recipes substituting barley for the arborio rice so I figured why not give it a shot? Pearl barley isn’t a whole grain, but it’s still healthier than white rice (there’s a nice discussion on barley and where it falls on the grain spectrum here). This recipe comes from Martha Stewart’s new book, Fresh Flavor Fast, and the original version included corn and basil. It’s asparagus season though and I’ve been on an asparagus kick so I swapped the corn for some asparagus that I roasted with a bit of olive oil. Like most risotto recipes, this one was a bit time-consuming but simple enough as long as you stirred occasionally. The verdict? The risotto was creamy and definitely warmed me up on a chilly afternoon. As for the barley, it was tender yet chewy with a slightly nutty flavor. Did I love it? Not exactly – I still prefer arborio rice, but I can definitely see myself using it in place of the arborio from time to time in risotto dishes. I’d like to try some other applications as well so if you have any recipe suggestions, please let me know!
Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Basil
from Fresh Flavor Fast by Martha Stewart Living Magazine
2 cans (14.5 oz each) low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) broth
4 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 lb roasted asparagus
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1/2 cup grated (about 2 oz) parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
In a medium saucepan, bring broth and 4 cups water just to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the barley; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Pour in the wine and stir until it is absorbed, about 1 minute.
Ladle in 2 cups of the warm broth mixture; cook, stirring occasionally, until almost completely absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. Continue adding broth mixture 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently and allowing liquid to be almost absorbed before adding more, until barley is tender and mixture is creamy, 40 to 50 minutes (you may not have to use all the broth). Add the asparagus; cook just briefly to reheat if necessary.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the basil and parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, garnished with extra cheese if desired.