Mushroom and barley risotto (a craving cured)

In past posts, I’ve admitted to several food cravings that I’m not so proud of. Be it five-minute cupcakes, half a bowl of unused cream cheese icing, or cold Kraft Dinner eaten straight from the fridge, these are the cravings that make me wonder how it is that I’m supposed to be a 20-something-year-old.

Then there’s the weird, but positive cravings. Like how I lose my mind for Magic Bullet smoothies after I go for a run. Or like how sometimes I cannot stop eating raspberries. You get the point.

This week’s bizarre and healthy choice came in the form of barley, that delicious grain that resembles the cutest of tiny beads. Barley is just the latest of the super grain family to catch my attention (its extended family tree includes my beloved quinoa and the elusive wheat berry). You can only imagine how thrilled I was when I received my latest issue of Canadian Living, flipped straight to the food section and discovered – low and behold – a brilliant series on Super Grains.

I did a flailing, happy food dance in my dining room.

My favourite of the recipes was one for mushroom and barley risotto. Mushrooms! Barley! Easily two of the best things in the universe. I set out to make this my Thursday night mission. I have a long day of classes on Friday, and said day is severely improved upon if I bring a delicious lunch of leftovers.

Since I didn’t have all the same ingredients as the recipe requested and since I am more frequently throwing caution to the wind and experimenting, my creation turned out a little differently than what you’ll see in the glossy pages of CL. Still, they get 100 per cent of the inspiration credit for this meal.

I added frozen peas and used fresh mushrooms rather than dry. I also made some other minor tweaks. This was yummy and reminded me of the rice risotto that Gord and I once made in Amsterdam.

Finally, winter photo season isn’t working out half as badly as I thought it would! I am totally digging these photos, and have fully delved into the wonderful world of Photoshop in order to make any lighting/colour adjustments that may be necessary. I may have gone a little overboard with the pine cones and oven rack props (fact: the latter was picked up off the side of the road, washed promptly and is now a multi-function house piece!), but hey, for someone who is used to standing on a chair on her outdoor patio to get a good shot, this is nothing. UPDATE: Okay, I just realized that you can’t see the pine cones in the photos I picked, but I promise you that they’re there. I’ll just have to include them in future photos. Aside: isn’t this bowl perfect for these photos?!

PPS: I imagine that this could easily be made vegetarian, should you choose to substitute the chicken stock with veggie stock.

Recipe: Mushroom and barley risotto
Adapted from Canadian Living
– 1 tsp olive oil
– 4 cups shiitake mushrooms, chopped into bite size pieces
– 1 small onion, chopped
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 3 green onions, diced (including greens)
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1/4 tsp pepper
– 3/4 tsp dried parsley
– 3 cups chicken broth
– 2 cups water
–  1 1/4 cup pearl barley
– 1 cup frozen peas
– Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet. Fry the mushrooms, onion, garlic, green onions, parsley, salt and pepper on medium heat until soft, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the chicken stock and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer.

Add the barley to the pan with the mushroom combination, stirring to coat, for one minute. Add the hot broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until liquid is absorbed before adding more. Do this until the barley is tending and the mixture is creamy. It takes about 30 minutes.

About halfway through the 30 minute cooking time, add in the frozen peas, stirring to incorporate them with the mixture.

Serve with Parmesan cheese and a grinding of pepper.

Makes 4 servings.

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