The following originally appeared on 9/4/08 at Exit 51.
One thing I really miss cooking is creamy, tender risotto. It’s one of my favorite comfort foods. But the arborrio rice presents a problem. We’re just not far enough along on our SB journey to have even a little bit of it. And really, can you honestly just have a little risotto? No, it calls to you from the pot until you find yourself licking the last bit off the serving spoon. It’s dangerous business.
So I was excited to find a recipe for an alternate interpretation of risotto. Instead of the troublesome arborrio, I could use pearled barley. And that’s where I got afraid. Things like barley and lentils scare me. Beans and chickpeas too. In my mind, they are pasty and bland and take more time to cook than they’re worth. So I really never even tried them. It wasn’t until I was in Scotland that I thought maybe I was being unfair.
The day we arrived in Scotland, we had reservations at the swank Witchery at the Castle. We’d purposely made the reservation for that day so that we would be less inclined to immediately go to sleep upon our arrival after spending twenty hours traveling. Jet lagged and weary, we made our way from the hotel to the restaurant for some of the finest dining I’ve ever experienced. Warm, hearty, cream of broccoli soup like I’ve never had before started the meal. It was the perfect counterpoint to the cold drizzly Edinburgh weather that greeted us. Then for reasons I do not understand, I ordered the spiced lentils and chicken. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was lack of sleep. Or maybe it was divine intervention. Because when I tasted the first forkful, I was in heaven. Juicy roasted chicken and lentils seasoned with cinnamon and maybe just the faintest hint of ginger opened my eyes to what I had so long ignored. These lentils, they were good. Not at all bland or pasty as I had long assumed they would be.
With every intention to bring lentils and such things into my cooking vocabulary, I returned home. And promptly forgot all about it. It wasn’t until last week as I was flipping though one of the cookbooks that I stumbled across the alt riosotto recipe and decided it was high time to take action. I was still apprehensive though. How well could barley play the role so well executed by arborrio? Would the end result be worth the extra time it would take standing and stirring? I’m a less is more girl when it comes to cooking. The less I have to fuss with it the more I like it. This was definitely not that kind of recipe.
But I have to say that the final product was surprising. The simmered barley had the same toothy bite as my beloved arborrio. And once the grated parmesan was added, it was every bit as good as any risotto I’d ever made. I think I could have even fooled SFC into thinking it was rice but he saw me with the bag of barley. In the end, we still found ourselves hunting for those last bits off of the serving spoon.
From The South Beach Diet
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion finely diced (optional)
- 1/2 cup pearled barley
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
In a small saucepan, heat the chicken broth till simmering. Cover pan and remove from heat.
In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion (if using) and barely, stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and barley is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.
Add about one third of the broth and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until broth is almost absorbed, about 10 – 15 minutes. Repeat with an additional one cup of warmed broth (reheat if necessary), and then with the remaining broth.
Remove pan from heat and stir in cheese. Season to taste with salt. Serve warm.