Continuing my post-France cleanse, I’m still attempting to be a vegan as much as possible, give or take the Girl Scout cookies that have miraciously popped-up in New York City these days. Nevertheless, being a veggie has not been as restricting as I have always imagined…although I do get a few groans from friends when making dinner plans. Although I often lack the discipline to resist those delectable afternoon Tagalongs, being a vegetarian has challenged me to explore new ingredients and think creatively about all those stockpiled beans and whole grains in my cupboard. Needless to say, let’s talk about barley! Plus or minus the mushroom barley soup of my childhood, the grain was more or less foreign to me. I picked up a Goya bag of it from the market, cooked it up, and was hooked. It can be mixed with soymilk milk and sugar for breakfast, mixed in with soups, or as a perfect addition to a chopped salad. And it’s a nutritional powerhouse! Amino acids! Fiber! Antioxidants! And let’s not forget that it has a similar texture of pasta! What’s not to love?
This afternoon, I had planned to do my own take on the classic mushroom and barley medley by just cooking the barley as instructed and giving it depth by adding sautéed mushrooms. I started by sautéing the mushrooms with shallots and onions. In the meantime, I had some homemade vegetable stock simmering away next to me. To my chagrin, I had all the components of a risotto at my fingertips. Since barley has the same rounded shape as Arborio rice, why not give it a try as a risotto? I threw the barley in with the nicely caramelized vegetables and added a half-cup of broth. I stirred the bubbling barley mixture until the liquid evaporated then added another half-cup of the broth. Continue stirring in the broth one half-cup at a time until the barley plumps up and the risotto begins to develop a creamy texture. But be prepared to stir; elbow grease is the only fool-proof ingredient added to risotto. I added a splash of red wine to give it a touch of depth and sweetness. And added a little brightness with a handful of chopped parsley and a small squeeze of lemon juice. And top it off with a handful of parmesan cheese (controversial for a vegan, but necessary for a risotto) and a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. And voila! Your accidental dinner is done!