Not Necessarily Vegan Barley Risotto
I know what you're thinking: Dandelion greens again? I have a tendency to get on kicks. These days recent, as you are my witness, it's dandelion greens. What can I say, I like a clean liver. You know that the mighty dandelion is an efficient detoxifier, right? So, welcome to my kick.
Speaking of those things that are meritorious for their healthful compounds, and the practice of eschewing those comestibles that contain but a few, I've been thinking about this thing that sort of ruffles me.
Let me bend your ear.
I'm not a fan of labels in the area of culinary predilection, even if certain eating styles are healthier. You know what I mean, vegan, vegetarian, lacto-ovo-pesce-dandelionarian. I think that labels create a private, psychological revolution. Whenever I tell myself that I can't have something specific, my inner Pancho Villa starts gathering troops for the uprising, and then whole cakes go missing.
I'm not a vegetarian, though I often go months without eating the fleshes of creatures, and quite naturally so. Here's the catch: I want the option of eating meat. If I want it. I've been told that as a woman, it's my prerogative to flaunt a fluctuating fancy. I like to think of it as the highly evolved ability to exercise discretionary latitude under protection of the silent and inviolable laws that govern womanly freedom. This allows me the comforts of chocolate for when the situation so calls, without the tyranny of labels and those who feel obliged to police them.
I'm a whatever-strikes-me-tarian.
This is good for the cows and pigs, whom of late I've regarded as friends. Soft-eyed, tender-souled friends. I can't eat my friends. Then who would read this blog?
Compassion aside, let it be known that should the day arrive that this friend turn a hard eye and stoned heart, well then, I reserve the right, as a woman, to hone the blade, and with full pardon.
Here is what was borne of my clemency today.
Not Necessarily Vegan Barley Risotto, the specifics
This dish could be called vegan, if you're taken with labels, and if you choose vegetable stock over chicken. It will take no time at all to put together, and will feed the lot of roughly 4. Begin your pursuit with the gather of these few things.
* 1.5 cups pearled barley
- 8 cups stock, preferably homemade, chicken or vegetable, you decide
- Enough summer squash that when diced, equals 2 cups
- Enough dandelion greens that when chopped, equals 2 cups
- 2/3 cup shelled, frozen edamame
- 1/2 yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (don't use low-fat)
- 3 TB dry white wine
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 3 sprigs marjoram
1) Heat your stock on the back burner. You always want to use a hot stock when making risotto. If you use cold stock, it will result in hard, uncooked grains that will not release their starches.
2) Dice the onion. Heat about one TB olive oil in a pan, add the onion and cook over medium flame. You want to sweat the onion rather than brown it, so watch the heat.
3) When the onion is tender, add the barley and saute. It will begin to smell toasty and turn light brown.
4) Deglaze the pan with 2 TB of the white wine and cook till it has been fully absorbed by the barley.
5) Begin to add the stock by the ladleful. I used a ladle that holds 1/2 cup of liquid.
Never leave your risotto unattended. You need to add the stock at precisely the right time or you will end up with unevenly cooked grains. This is one dish to which you must devote your undivided attention and pamper into being.
6) Rinse your edamame in a mesh strainer with cold water. This will thaw the beans.
7) Get your diced summer squash into a separate pan with the garlic, a splash of olive oil and salt to taste. Over medium flame, cook until just soft, then kill the fire. No color here, and don't overcook.
8) Strip the leaves from your herb stems and rough chop. Get the herbs and edamame into the pan. The residual heat will cook the edamame and bloom the herbs.
9) Back to the barley. You may or may not need all of the stock as required. It depends on how thirsty your grains are. If you find that you are running out of stock before the barley is sufficiently cooked, go ahead and add a little water to the pot, and keep ladling as you were. If the grains are cooked and there is stock left over, do not be tempted to add the rest to the pan merely to use it up or you can kiss your risotto goodbye and have soup for supper instead.
A note on salting risotto. It's one of those dishes that you season toward the end, because it is easy to over salt given that you are concentrating the stock as you cook the grains. As well, most people do add cheese to the finish, which can alone season the dish with its salt content. I have made risotto that needed no additional salt after adding the cheese.
Try this: When the grains are about 80% done, go ahead and get some salt into the pan. You can safely adjust the seasoning at the finish.
Back to your barley.
Your risotto is done when the grains are tender but al dente. That means 'to the teeth', in Italian. Meaning, you don't want mush. There should be some body in those grains, and a lovely, unctuous sauce in the pan.
Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.
10) Stir your dandies and veg into the barley. The greens will wilt in a minute. Then pour in a splash of white wine, about 1 TB, cook it out for about 30 seconds, and add about 1 TB of olive oil and the coconut milk. Stir all this in. The finished barley should be rich and creamy. Now would be the time to add cheese, if you are not vegan.
A couple of notes on risotto
Risotto is typically made with Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Two indigenous Italian, white, short grained rices that release quite a bit of starch when it's cooked, giving risotto its trademark creaminess.
Arborio rice is shorter and fatter than Carnaroli, and less expensive. Carnaroli is longer and comes with the label 'superfino', to describe its incomparable quality. It makes creamier risotto than Arborio, and you pay the price for it.
Today I am using barley because it releases quite a bit of starch when cooked, and can mimic the finished risotto that you've come to know and love in all its creaminess. Because it's a whole grain, it has its obvious benefits. You are welcome to finish your barley risotto with cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano would be my choice, but since I'm allergic to dairy, I've opted to finish mine with coconut milk, making the vegans (and me) satisfied with today's post.
Please, whatever you do, whenever making risotto using Arborio, Carnaroli, or a whole grain facsimile thereof, never rinse the grains before cooking. In doing so, you rinse away a good measure of that precious starch that contributes to the unctuous texture of the finished dish.
Mangia bene, vivi felice!