A grain of sense

When it comes to talk of favourite dishes in this household, I can almost guarantee Dave will say risotto. I do a chicken and mushroom version he loves.

Silver beet, while not a green I like that much, works well with the other flavours in this dish.
Silver beet, while not a green I like that much, works well with the other flavours in this dish.

But I don’t do it often because I have a tendency to above-normal blood sugar and rice is one thing that is guaranteed to make it soar. Any kind. When I do make risotto, I load it up on the extra ingredients, especially proteins, and keep the rice part to a minimum.

Yesterday I had mushrooms (pine and swiss brown) and silver beet to use for dinner and started to wonder what to do with it. Risotto was the thing that came to mind.

But then I saw a version that took me off in another direction. Barley risotto. It wouldn’t really be like the real thing – not starchy enough to get that real creaminess – but still interesting. I even had enough time to soak the grain for several hours. (Soaking is important for grains and pulses to make them more digestible. The method where you quick-soak pulses in boiling water for an hour might help soften them, but achieves none of the health benefits of long soaking.)

Pearl barley has, I understand, the lowest GI rating of any grain and is generally considered pretty healthy. I love it in soups, but I wasn’t sure if it would be tasty enough for this.

Next stop was my favourite Obelix & Co. It seemed to me that duck would be a delicious protein with this, and they have confit legs that I thought would be perfect.

Barley risotto with mushrooms, silver beet and duck

Fresh thyme adds a beautiful flavour.
Fresh thyme adds a beautiful flavour.

This recipe will feed four medium appetites. For the reasons already outlined, I keep the grain content to a minimum. For a bigger serve, increase to 1½ cups of barley

Soak 1 cup of barley in water for at least 7 hours. Rinse and drain.

In a saucepan, gentle saute:
1/2 finely chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 stalks fresh thyme, stripped

Add and fry:
Sliced mushrooms (I used 12 swiss brown, 3 pine and 1 large field. Any combination of mushrooms you like will do)

Add and bring to boil, then let cook:
1/2 cup white wine

Duck, mushroom and silver beet blend beautifully with the barley.
Duck, mushroom and silver beet blend beautifully with the barley.

1½ cups stock (about that amount, but be ready to add more – because the grain is already well soaked, it won’t take up as much, so don’t overdo the liquid and add more later if you need to)
the soaked barley
1/2 cup small dices of pumpkin (optional, peas would also work)

After 25 minutes add:
two legs confit duck, meat stripped from bone

After 10 minutes, if barley tastes almost cooked enough, add:
chopped silver beet leaves (not stalks)
more thyme

When the silver beet has wilted and cooked down but is still bright green, remove from the heat.

At this stage, you could add parmesan, and if I had been using chicken I would, but the confit duck is very rich and oily, and I didn’t think it needed any more fat.

The barley was still chewy, but soft enough.

Verdict: It’s not really risotto, but it’s rich and delicious and I’ll make it again.


Corinna Hente


2 thoughts on “A grain of sense

  1. I’ve never cooked with barley and my husband doesn’t do rice because he is a type 1 diabetic. This seems like the perfect solution for us, because I miss rice sometimes. Thanks for the great recipe!


    1. Thanks! It really was delicious, though obviously not as creamy as a rice risotto would be. Though if I hadn’t used the confit duck legs, I would have added parmesan and that would have given it some of that creaminess. Just make sure you soak the barley! It’s probably not the same for everyone, but I find it makes a huge difference to how digestible it is. Hope you both enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s