Every week, around tuesday or wednesday, I start to get a nagging feeling in the back of my mind. A feeling that something needs to be done, and if it’s not done soon, it will lead to disasterous consequences. Like if I don’t act now, I’ll wake up one morning (soon) and everything will have gone wrong, terribly wrong. And no matter what I do, the only way I can shake this feeling is to head to my kitchen, open the fridge, and face my worst nightmare.
That’s right. Rotting produce. Yummmmmmmy.
Well, not quite rotting yet. As a regular sunday food shopper and a great purchaser of fruits and veggies, each week requires a day to day in a balance of making sure I eat the fastest-to-ripen goods first, and save the heartier items, like sweet potatoes and apples, for the weekend, or even (gasp) next week.
Mushrooms have been a bane of contention for me for a while. I absolutely love mushrooms, love how they soak up the flavors you cook them with, going from a stringy white fungus to a delicious caramelized delight in just a few minutes. They can be garlicky, creamy, earthy, hearty… but leave them in the fridge for more than a few days and you’ll start to have a soggy, slimy mess on your hands.
Early last week, whiling away the hours in my cubicle, I found my lunch break the perfect opportunity to ponder what I would eat for dinner. What better time to think about food than while eating it, right? And the more I surmised my supper, the more I realized what the perfect mate for my peaking mushrooms was. Barley! Organic pearl barley that I had picked up at Food Emporium on a health food kick months ago, which was gathering dust at the topmost, back-most corner of my kitchen cupboards (which speaks volumes for the staying power of my “health kicks”).
I did a little googling on the redeeming qualities of barley, and what I learned was quite fantastic news. Apparently barley, which is a fiber-rich, dense grain that requires low and slow cooking just to be edible, can be prepared in such a way that POOF! It practically turns into risotto. As one who worships on the alter of risotto, this was pretty much a no brainer.
Barley takes at least an hour to cook, just like risotto. Barley, however, requires far less heavy lifting; unlike risotto which must constantly be stirred and “fed” a strict diet of stock or other cooking liquid, barley can be thrown in a pot with some liquid and will pretty much take care of itself (though I recommend stirring every five minutes or so to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot). So on this fine Tuesday, I decided that the 8 grams of fiber and negligible fat content in those little pearls of joy justified skipping the gym, so I headed home with ample time ahead of me to prepare my glorious dinner.
Let me preface this by saying that this dish was super fun to make. Even more fun was seeing the look of skepticism on my roommate’s face turn to utter delight when I force-fed her a spoonful of the finished product. So without further delay, here’s the recipe for Balsamic Mushroom “Barl-sotto”. Just try not to lick the bowl when you’re done. (Kidding, totally go for it).
Balsamic Mushroom Barley-Risotto
The following recipe makes 2 one-cup servings (for a main course if you feel like going to town!) or 4 1/2 cup servings (ideal for a side dish served along side chicken or fish).
- 1/2 cup of Organic Pearl Barley
- 1 3/4 cups of low sodium chicken stock
- 2 cups of white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp of olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup of grape tomatoes, diced
- Spices to season broth – to taste (I used a dash of each, but this provides the seasoning for the barley so use your own discretion)
- Chili powder
- Sea Salt & fresh ground black pepper
Add 1 1/2 cups of the chicken stock to a medium sauce pan with salt, pepper, and spices (to taste). Add the barley and stir this around to make sure everything is evenly dispersed. Put over medium heat, cover, and bring to a simmer; then reduce heat and continue to simmer, stirring occassionally (I like to use a whisk to break up the clumps of barley).
Meanwhile, add the oil and garlic to a saute pan over medium heat. Sweat garlic until fragrant, about one minute. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and saute until softened. How long you do this is a matter of taste; I like my mushrooms really soft and well done, so I saute them for at least five minutes. If you like your mushrooms a little heartier, saute them for less time.
Once mushrooms are soft and beginning to carmelize, add the balsamic vinegar and reduce heat to low. You want to keep cooking this, stirring, until the balsamic thickens and most of the liquid is evaporated. The mushrooms will be a dark brown now. Remove the mushrooms from heat and set aside.
After the barley has been cooking for about an hour, the liquid should be mostly absorbed. Taste the barley; it will probably be aldente, and if you like that then turn off the heat and proceed to the next step. If not, you can add the remaining quarter cup of stock and cook this for another 15 or so minutes until that liquid is absorbed. Note – the longer you cook it and keep adding liquid, the more “risotto-ey” your barley will become.
Turn off the heat, and add the balsamic mushrooms and tomatoes to the barley. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Okay, now on to the best part. Go eat
Nutritional Breakdown for this Recipe:
For 2 main course servings – 260 calories, 4 grams of fat, 10 grams of fiber, 12.5 grams of protien per serving
For 4 side-dish sized servings – 130 calories, 2 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protien.