Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pea & Okra Barley Risotto with Fried Porcini

This barley risotto is all vegetarian, and has garden peas, okra, and parmesan cheese. I comes topped with fried porcini, which you could easily replace with a mushroom to your liking (or availability) or if you don't like mushrooms: try it with grilled halloumi, for instance. For the carnivorous, I attach a link at the bottom of this post for braised lamb shanks that would go wonderful with this barley risotto instead of the porcini.

Culinary Trivia
Pearl Barley is a chewy grain with a nutty, hearty flavor. It is a wholesome grain, even if it has been polished (to which it owes it's name: pearl). Polished barley is still very rich in dietary fiber.

Okra is a pod vegetable also known as lady finger. Highly nutritious and loaded with dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins, it has a very distinctive-hate-it-or-love it characteristic: it is slimy. It is why okra can be used as a thickener, as it is in a thick, spicy soup served over rice called gumbo. Okra in this risotto has the same effect: it thickens and thus binds stock and barley grains, giving the barley risotto a little more depth of flavor in the process. I tell you, even if you're not a fan of okra because of its sliminess, you will like it in this risotto, where the sliminess "dissolves" into a creaminess you would associate with a classic risotto.

I use dried porcini - somehow, this mushroom packs deeper, almost meaty flavors dried than it does fresh. I use some of the rehydration water to add to the stock used to make the barley risotto.

I use pea and okra here, which you could easily substitute for whatever leftover vegetables you have. If the vegetables are too big, just cut them up. And if they are cooked already, add them last minute. I have made this barley risotto with sauteed mushrooms, with leftover fresh tomato and basil sauce, with grilled eggplant, with sauteed zucchini.

Pea and Okra Barley Risotto with Fried Porcini
(recipe for 3-4)

about one cup dried porcini, rehydrated
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 cup cleaned fresh garden peas
1 cup okra
1/2 small preserved lemon (if you have no preserved lemon: use a tsp grated fresh lemon peel)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 tbsp (or to taste) grated parmesan
salt/pepper to taste
hearty (vegetable) stock (about a liter), add a tbsp of the porcini soaking water
1 tbsp olive oil
  • rehydrate the porcini: place in a bowl and cover with hot to boiling water. Leave to stand for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft. Drain and pat dry. Use some of the liquid to add to the stock!
  • bring the stock to a boil and keep on a very low simmer.
  • Heat the olive oil in a casserole over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat for 3-4 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and the pearl barley, toss in the onions and add a cup of stock.
  • Simmer gently so the barley can soak up all the liquid. When the liquid has gone dry, add another cup of hot stock. 
  • After about 20 minutes cooking time, taste the barley, cut the okra in small rings and add to the barley. Stir and continue to add stock whenever the liquid has gone dry, and repeat this process until the barley is soft to eat : it will still have a chewy bite, but is pleasant to eat. It takes about 30-40 minutes, from the first cup of hot stock you add.
  • In the last 5 minutes of cooking the barley, add the garden peas. They do not need long to cook. Finish the risotto to taste with the preserved lemon (skin only, discard the pulp), salt/pepper to taste, and grated parmesan.
  • pat the rehydrated porcini dry, and heat a tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. Add the porcini (cut into smaller pieces if you prefer) and fry crisp in 1-2 minutes. 
  • spoon the barley risotto onto plates, and top with the fried porcini. To taste, grate some more parmesan over the dish, and serve.
  • ps. you can precook the barley for about 10 minutes, drain and then proceed. It will speed up the process (in a way: you will have another dirty pan and colander...)

This barley risotto is also excellent as a side for braised lamb shanks. In this case, leave off the porcini mushrooms. Of course you could add porcini as well, but it will be an overload of flavors.

Recipe for braised lamb shanks (click)

these fork-tender lamb shanks combine well with the nutty and refreshing tastes of pea and okra barley risotto
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  1. Very very interesting recipe Francine. I've never come across a barley Risotto. Where do you get Pearl Barley here? We are always making Risotto with the standard Arborio available in supermarkets. But this is a superb alternative. That Okra can be used as a thickener is #todayslearning. Do you think that we can use (sieve the seeds) and use it it soup as a cornflour substitute?

    1. Ishita, thanks! Me too, I usually make Arborio rice based risotto. I've made this risotto a couple of years ago as the vegetarian option in a 4-course dinner I catered at the time. You can make this recipe with spelt or barley - different grains, but very similar in taste, texture and cooking time! I've bought both barley and spelt at the Organics shop, Spinneys, Waitrose, Carrefour, and Geant. As for okra as a thickener: okra has mucilaginous (basically that means gelatinous) fibers that break up in liquid and thus binds it. Unlike cornstarch, it does come with a flavor, and it also doesn't give the kind of gloss cornstarch does. Other than that: if you're looking for a non-flour based thickening agent, okra is great. Puree it if you don't want the seeds.