Sweet potato Barley risotto

N: My mother’s catholicity of interest in food is rather impressive. She would use vinegar in traditional Bengali dishes, add dried orange peels to cakes and bake a cake upside down – even as she lived a quiet life in a small town in Bengal. Even for her, cooking barley (traditionally only served to the sick) for healthy people is taking it a bit too far. But then she never served barley to sick either; her recipes for recuperating people were awesome and I will have to document them for posterity.

A risotto with Barley is rather rich and I would not recommend it for the ailing. Pearl barley, true to its name, is subtle but gorgeous when it soaks up the richness of the companion ingredients. The pearl barley, polished to perfection, probably is not as wholesome as barley could be but that is what I get in my neighbourhood. It is a dish to be enjoyed in the months of autumn when the days are shorter and the leeks are ready for harvest after soaking in the warm sunshine of the long summer days.

This is dish for two and takes about 40 minutes to complete.

–          Start with about 130 gms of barley which is equivalent to ½ cup of barley. If you manage to plan in advance, soak the barley overnight. If you are impromptu don’t worry, you can still prepare this dish with fresh barley, although cooking will take a bit longer.

–          Finely chop up ½ red onion. You can use white onion but in my experience red onion makes this dish more interesting. To compliment the onion finely chop 1 leek.

–          Chop 1 carrot and 2 celery sticks into small pieces and set aside.

–          Now the star ingredient – 1 sweet potato chopped into 2 cm chunks.

–          Fry the onion and the leek in 1 tsp of olive oil. Season it with black pepper and thyme.

–          It should take about 5 to 7 minutes to soften the onions. While the onions are softening, get together 200 ml of vegetable stock. I do not get time to prepare my own stock so I use 1 OXO cube.

–          Add the barley to the softened onions, top it up with about 100 ml of stock and bring to boil.

Turn down the heat and simmer it for about 10 minutes.

–          While the barley is simmering take another small sauté pan and lightly fry the carrot and the celery with plenty of black pepper for about 10 minutes. Frying the carrots and celery before adding them to the main risotto mix helps maintain the texture of the vegetables.

–          Add the softened celery and the carrot to the barley. Add some stock to keep the mixture moist. As you may already know the secret to any risotto is to drip feed it with stock. A risotto dish is not well mannered to appreciate generosity. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

–          Time to fry the star ingredient. You can use the same sauté pan – why waste the residual oil? Soften the potatoes with 1 tsp sweet paprika and ½ tsp hot cayenne pepper. Add a few drops of the stock to the sauté pan if you feel the sweet potato is desperate to cling to the base.

–          The end is nigh. Add the softened potatoes to the risotto pan. You may have to add some more stock. If the mixture looks a bit runny you can add a few strands of grated cheese to minimize the damage.

–          Check for seasoning and add salt/pepper if necessary.

–          If you have any grated cheese (hard cheddar or parmesan) and flat leaf parsley in your fridge the risotto will be happy to have them as its topping.

–          Plate up and Enjoy.

A: For such a simple dish, this one is surprisingly tasty and refreshing. I think barley is definitely a better substitute to rice in a risotto. As barley is slow burning, energy release is quite slow. As such it is a good way to have wholesome food. It is good as a simple supper or if it’s to be part of a four course Italian meal, it will be good as a primo.

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