Mushroom and Bacon Barley Risotto

This is a big call, but barley is my new favourite food. While I’m sure I did, I don’t really remember eating it as a child… in fact, I was well into my twenties before I even recognised it as anything other than one of the ingredients my dad put into this weird, green soup he used to make that nobody in the family was ever game enough to try. However, since the day I first bought it for a non-green, non sludge-looking soup, I’ve been an evangelical convert. I just adore the chewy nuttiness that adds so much texture and body to all manners of dishes. I almost peed myself with excitement when I realised you could make a risotto out of it!

Now, this dish might not really scream “diet food”at first glance, but really, it’s the best kind. It looks, feels and tastes like comfort food, it’s delicious, it’s nutritious, and it’s incredibly filling. The original recipe (from Taste) indicates that it serves 4, but it easily served 6, and that was still a very generous portion… you definitely can make a meal of it, and for only 250 calories a serve (6 serves), I’d recommend doing just that! It also makes a fine side dish.

A little word to the wise: give yourself a little extra time to cook the barley, because it can depend on so many factors: your pan, your stove, the alignment of the planets and stars – it’s the luck of the draw, really. Just keep testing it until the barley is cooked, adding a quarter cup of water (it won’t water the flavour down, there’s plenty to spare!)¬†as necessary.

serves 4-6

Ingredients

1tsp olive oil

1 leek (white part), halved lengthways and thinly sliced

1 tsp minced garlic

1tsp minced ginger

200g diced bacon

250g mushrooms, sliced

1 3/4 cups pearl barley

4 cups chicken stock

2 tbs grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup fresh parsley

Method

  1. Heat oil over medium-low heat in a cast iron pot or other heavy based saucepan. Add leek, ginger and garlic. Stir for 1 minute or until leek has softened but not coloured.
  2. Increase heat to medium-high. Add bacon and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes until bacon is coloured and mushrooms are softened and oozing their liquid.
  3. Stir in barley and add stock. Cover and bring to the boil.
  4. Stir, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Barley will be tender, but not completely cooked.
  5. Remove lid. Simmer for 15 minutes or until barley is tender and liquid has absorbed. If the barley starts to stick to the bottom, or is dry but not cooked through, add water and stir. This can be repeated as necessary.
  6.  Remove from heat. Serve with parmesan and parsley.
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