I'm trying to come up with healthier vegetarian meals lately. This week I'm trying out barley in place of white rice (which I like to call "evil" since it sticks to your belly in the worst way). For some reason, brown rice just doesn't cut it and takes too long to cook. I was inspired to try barley by some ready-to-eat meals I've gotten from Fresh Direct lately. They have a vegetable barley risotto that's not half bad alongside some chicken. Risotto is pretty popular in our household, but we rarely eat it for two reasons: white rice + cheese = fattening, and we always have too much leftover. The barley was much easier to work with. It did take a long time to cook, but it's much more forgiving. It doesn't stick down or stick together, yet it doesn't get mushy either. I followed this recipe from Food Network for methods, but changed up the ingredients for what I had in the fridge.
Barley Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash & Pearl Onions
(approx. 4 servings)
3/4C Pearl Barley
1/4C dry white wine
3 C Vegetable Stock
2 cloves Garlic, diced
15 Pearl Onions, peeled and halved
2 C butternut squash, (about 1/2 a medium squash) peeled, cut into roughly 1"x1" pieces
Olive Oil, Margarine (or butter) Salt, Pepper, Sugar
Grated Parmesan (about 1/4C + garnish)
Preheat oven to 425F. Arrange squash on baking sheet and drizzle with oil and season with salt & pepper. Bake about 15 minutes, flipping the pieces a couple times to evenly brown. Add the onions, drizzled with oil, salt, pepper and a tiny pinch of sugar sprinkled over. Sprinkle just a tiny bit more sugar over the squash. Bake until all are turning golden brown, and squash is tender, flipping once or twice (about 10 minutes). Remove from oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the stock in a small pot over medium heat, and keep at a simmer. Also, heat about 1T oil and 2T butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and barley and stir constantly while it browns (about 3-5 minutes), careful not to burn. Add the wine (watch out it will steam), and stir until absorbed. Lower the heat and add about 1C of the stock to the barley and stir in. Simmer until liquid is absorbed, and then repeat the process stirring in 1 ladle of stock each time and waiting for it to absorb.
The whole process will take about 40-60 minutes, depending on how well done you like the barley - I err on the side of mushy so I cooked mine an hour, but barley stays pretty firm no matter what.
When the barley is cooked to your liking, and it seems it won't absorb much more liquid, stir in 1/4C Parmesan and season with salt & pepper (I use a LOT of fresh ground pepper). Then add the squash and onions and stir in to just heat through. Serve with grated Parmesan.