Pearl Barley Risotto

If you like grains you will love pearl barley. This grain takes a well deserved place in the same rank with quinoa and buckwheat. Barley contains a good amount of protein that is comparable to the protein amount in quinoa and all legumes. Barley also has a very special soluble fibre. There was a study early this year to investigate the effect of barley on cholesterol metabolism. One group of hamsters was fed barley bran and another was fed oats bran. Both lowered the concentration of plasma LDL-cholesterol significantly in comparison to the control group, although barley outperformed Oats in some other parameters. In conclusion, the article states ‘These results indicate that dietary …(barley bran).. reduces the concentration of plasma LDL cholesterol by promoting the excretion of fecal lipids, and regulating the activities’ …of the special enzymes that catalyse a reduction reaction. (Food Chemistry, Volume 169, 15 February 2015, Pages 344-349)

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But the miraculous impact of dietary fibre from barley does not end here. There are many epidemiological and experimental studies that suggest an important role for dietary fibre of cereals in the prevention of colon cancer. One article from my favourite Food Chemistry uses plain language to explain the benefits which said that barley fibre called rihane reduced the cancer cells and altered their disruption after 12 weeks. The effect of barley fibre that everyone can benefit from is in the conclusion that authors made: ‘In addition, DF (dietary fibre) of BR (Barley Rihane) increased significantly the mucus secretion compared to control group. The use of the … as colon specific carcinogen substance altered the liver and lung architectures, whereas the presence of DF of BR could be a protective factor for these organs.’ (Food Chemistry, Volume 149, 15 April 2014, Pages 271-276)

Barley is traditionally cooked in casseroles and stews, which are great family meals in winter. They are such comforting foods for an Australian winter. I wanted to create a special dish which will have barley as a central and honoured ingredient. So, here it is, my longest cooked meal out of all my recipes. I love it and cannot have enough. You could cook it Bianco and freeze in portions. Then whenever you feel like a healthy hearty meal you could finish them with various additions, such as pumpkin or zucchini, capsicum or fennel, lamb or chicken.

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Pearl Barley Risotto


500g barley
750ml boiling water
1kg organic chicken thigh fillet (500 g frozen green peas for a vegan option)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely diced
5 cups vegetable stock
1 whole nutmeg, 1/3 of it finely grated
500g pumpkin, or baked
Fresh parsley, finely sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons ghee

Choice of Mushrooms:
200g white or brown cup mushrooms, finely sliced
1 truffle, finely grated
5g dry European porcini
( or 5 frozen porcini mushrooms, finely diced)
100g Australian pie mushroom, sliced


1. Use a coffee grinder to process all barley in small batches. Just pulse twice each batch.
2. Put all processed barley into a pot or bowl with lid, season, pour boiling water over, cover and put aside for an hour.
3. In the meantime, bake pumpkin in the oven at 175C for 20-30 minutes or until soft. Do not overcook. The pumpkin should keep its form.
4. While waiting for barley and pumpkin, dice chicken thigh fillets into approximately 2cm pieces. Mix with minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, cover and leave aside for 30 minutes.
5. If you chose to use dry porcini, break into smaller pieces and cover with 1/2 cup of boiling water. For wild mushrooms, thoroughly wash, boil for 1 minute and drain.
6. Heat oil in a deep pan and cook diced onion for 5 minutes on low heat. Add barley and 1 cup of stock, simmer until the stock in fully absorbed. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper if required. Repeat 3 more times with the stock. Cooking barley in this step may take up to an hour, ensure barley is soft enough to your liking.
7. Cook chicken in a separate frying pan on medium heat for about 10 minutes, then add the chicken to the barley when barley is ready. Grate truffle if using it and a half of nutmeg over the pan.
8. Wild mushrooms can be added in this step. If dry porcini were soaked, do not drain them and use the water along with the mushrooms.
9. Cook until mushrooms and chicken are ready. Cut roasted pumpkin into small pieces and mix into the risotto.
10. At the end of cooking add sliced cup mushrooms, the remaining stock, ghee and just heat through, mushrooms need to remain juicy and crunchy. Sprinkle risotto with parsley and serve with the slices of ripe sweet tomatoes dressed in olive oil.

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