Whole Grain Barley (No-Stir!) Risotto with Tomato, Chilli & Creamy Cauliflower
I love risotto, but a recent move towards eating more whole grains had started to make this comforting dish look less appealing. I have been reading Michael Pollan’s In Defence of Food which strongly emphasises the importance of eating foods that have been as minimally processed as possible. The arguments in favour of whole foods are convincing. I have been making almost all my food from scratch for a few years now, but have still been using refined carbohydrates in the ingredients. Reading about how much of the nutrition has been stripped from these ingredients (even if I always kind of knew this was happening) was sobering. So whole grains it is.
I recently ate barley risotto in a restaurant, but with so many other delicious things to cook, I hadn’t quite got round to trying it out. Until now that is.
I knew that barley would make this dish more nutritious. What I was not expecting was that it would make it more delicious. Cooked like this, barley is not only creamy, it also has some bite – very welcome texture in a dish that sometimes feels a little mushy.
A quick flick through some recipes to get an idea of this dish’s process revealed something exciting – barley risotto does not need to be stirred! Now I personally quite enjoy standing over a pot, adding bits here and there, stirring away, but freeing up time in the kitchen means I have more time to make exciting things to go with it, so I wasn’t going to complain.
I was hoping to find a standard liquid to barley ratio during my research, but this task proved fruitless. Almost every recipe I looked at suggested a different volume ratio – from 1 barley to between 2 and 8 liquid! Very helpful! So I experimented, and settled on 1/3.5 for this recipe. Even accepting the fact that different people like their risotto different ways, I cannot understand this disparity – can anyone shed any light on this?
My ratio was enough to cook the barley, with the cauliflower added at the end to loosen it up and make it more creamy. I used one of my favourite cauliflower preparations in this dish – chopped fine and boiled in just enough water and for just enough time to make it tender, then blended to a purée. This flexible, amazingly creamy liquid has so many applications (see it utilised in a fabulously healthy soup here). It can be stirred into many a dish and almost undetectably will add fantastic nutrition and silky, dairy-free creaminess.
This risotto doesn’t really taste like cauliflower. The chilli and tomato flavours come through much more. This may be a positive if you are trying to sneak vegetables past a reluctant family member or guest. If you’re a real cauliflower enthusiast, however, some roasted and sprinkled on top would be fab. Cauliflower enthusiasts may also like to check out my dedicated Pinterest board here.
I have also eaten this with juicy garlic mushrooms spooned over. A recipe for this is on it’s way once I work out how to photograph this drab-looking, but freakin’ yummy, kitchen staple.
This dish is completely vegan, but you will see from the picture that I couldn’t quite resist adding a little feta on top. Oh cheese, how I love you through my guilt.
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