May 15, 2008

Mushroom Barley "Risotto"

It's true, I have not posted in a few days. This is because I have been "cleansing," i.e., taking a break, exercising some much-needed moderation after an indulgent few days in Atlanta and in preparation for a decadent Bay area trip coming up soon. Every once in a while it's a good thing to lay off the desserts, the pasta and the heavy food. It's not fun. But it's a small price to pay and it makes the return to real food that much more enjoyable.

This week I have been juicing fresh fruits and vegetables, eating whole grains in small quantities and only steamed vegetables for dinner. I eliminated coffee and alcohol, sugar, dairy and meat. Needless to say, I feel great and have lots of energy. But I am in fear of being too virtuous to the point of being boring. That's a preoccupation of mine. I don't like to be too good. It cramps my style.

I will, however, continue to take a break from some things that I tend to over-indulge in, like coffee and sweets. But I had to get back to cooking! I missed it terribly. Juicing is all well and good and much can be said about the beneficial nutrients in pure carrot, beet, kale and apples in the form of juice. But too much purity can be a bad thing. It can make you weird and edgy. And cause serious lapses in judgement. But I digress.

My firt meal back was a good balance between tasty and healthy: mushroom and barley "risotto." I am not typically a fan of healthy substitutions. I would rather eat small amounts of the real thing and load up on vegetables in lieu of meat-centered meals. Whole wheat pastas, for example, have never really appealed to me. I prefer the real thing, homemade and fresh if possible.

But I thought, for this week I could give those alternatives a try and see what happens. Thus, the barley risotto. And, actually, it had a nuttier, full-flavored intensity that matched the creamier, arborio rice version. I also used less butter, less cheese and a mushroom broth I had in the fridge from something I had made a little while ago. That, combined with the woodsy flavor of shitake mushrooms elevated this risotto from the realm of hippy-dippy health food to a truly delicious dish.

Mushroom Barley Risotto (adapted from that little book Joy of Cooking)

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 T garlic paste or finely minced garlic
8 oz of shitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps chopped
1 cup pearl barley
2/3 cup of dry white wine
4-5 cups broth
parsely and parmesan cheese as garnish

Heat oil and butter, add onion and cook a few minutes, then add the mushrooms until soft

Add garlic, barley,, wine, salt and pepper and cook until liquid is evaporated

(broth should be simmering in a pot alongside your risotto)
Once dry, add broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring and repeat until the barley is cooked (about 45-50 min)

When finished, let the risotto sit for a couple of minutes so the flavors blend. Serve with fresh parmesan and parsley. And tell yourself how virtuous and good you are while eating...


  1. This is very good... I too have been neglecting my stove in favor of simpler foods. I'm ready to get back in the kitchen!

  2. Ooh, this sounds delicious! I'm going to have to try it. I've got some barley in the pantry that's been neglected for too long.